SlutWalk: Changing a 'don't get raped' culture to a 'don't rape' culture

| April 5, 2011
Photo: Dave Coombs/Flickr

There are moments that can melt the hardest of activist hearts.

I was in a crowd of thousands for the 1st Annual Toronto SlutWalk on April 3, 2011 -- the march a statement against labels and the shame/blame game played against a woman's sexuality -- feeling proud of myself for dressing the way that I wanted as opposed to dressing with my normal shyness of my body.

This feeling often compounded with the socially-derived feeling that: "dis/ability isn't sexy." I started to feel ridiculous wearing my favourite fancy pants since people were staring at me.

To my left was a mother and daughter, the six year old dressed in a fluffy pink dress worthy of any princess. She was more free at that age than I have ever been, skipping and running around with that lack of self-consciousness that I know plagues many women. You just knew she picked that outfit out herself and she was proud of it.

This little girl turned to her mom and said, "I will wear what I wear."

Her mom beamed down at her, quietly saying, "Do you mean you will wear what you want to wear?"

The little girl nodded and said louder, proud, "I will wear what I want to wear!"

And that's when my heart melted. Right then and there. As the mother and daughter proceeded to make a sign -- the little girl wrote it herself -- that said that magical statement that is so absent of fear and self-doubt: "I will wear what I want to wear!"

Maybe I should have asked to take a picture but I didn't want anything to break up that kind of love and support from mother to daughter and I pray to Creator that they both remember that moment between them for the rest of their lives.

I will wear what I want to wear. Because whatever I wear, it is never an invitation for sexual objectification, sexual harassment or sexual abuse. Never.

The ocean of signs with slogans carried by the 3,000 people who partook in the SlutWalk carried the same pride, defiance and strength.

What a woman wears should never be a target.

Unfortunately, in the media, music and mainstream culture women paint themselves with targets when they paint their lips red.

In a larger context, we hear rappers pontificate about "bitches and hoes," sliding credit cards through bum cracks. We get rap stars like Chris Brown who beat up Rhianna and then throw a tantrum when people won't conveniently forget that the incident happens.

Or we get heavy metal albums like that feature busty, blond and blue-eyed women where a woman's degradation is the shock value that sells. I remember a T-shirt -- burned in my mind -- with an image of a woman menstruating while crucified on a cross.

It's also a culture in our protective services where Toronto police suggest that rape victims could have avoided their fate by not dressing as sluts.

Enough with blaming the victim. Enough with a culture that tells a woman to not dress in a way what would garner "negative, undue attention" for looking like a "slut." Our society needs to change from a culture that tells women not to get raped to a culture that demands that men do not rape.

As Jane Doe spoke during the demo, "Rape is about power and violence." She also dismissed the "woman as whore" myth when she dares to express her sexuality, when she admits she "enjoys hot, consensual sex" with a partner of her preference (not always the preference of her family or religion).

Because sexual objectification, sexual harassment and sexual assault is about power, and I do not want to live in a society where my power is diminished for my own good and men's power is heightened by a culture of permissiveness and impunity regarding sexual oppression.

Perhaps you think I speak harshly of our polite Canadian society but the low point at the demo was when a CBC cameraman asked two "slutty" young women to dance for his camera.

They hesitated and I shouted over to them, "You know, you don't have to." They declined and the CBC cameraman went off hunting elsewhere.

Or the tweet I got the next morning from XXXX about my coverage of SlutWalk who suggested that if I only had him as a "partner" and commented: "Bored need new vagina."

In fact, the rally itself was organized -- and titled "SlutWalk" -- in reference to comments made by Constable Michael Sanguinetti who earlier this year advised women at York University to "not dress like sluts" to avoid getting sexually assaulted. The Toronto Police Service has promised to discipline him, but how this will be carried out the public does not know.

This is also a polite Canada where Manitoba Judge Robert Dewar can sentence a rapist to house arrest instead of prison, partly because of the way his female victim was dressed.

A higher court later stated under immense public pressure that Judge Dewar wrongly suggested that the woman's decision to wear a tube top and behave flirtatiously somehow played a part in the sexual assault she suffered in 2006.

Or where over 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women are not given concern nor justice by a society or real, Indigenous-focused solutions.

In a press release by SlutWalk:

"Historically, the term 'slut' has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one's character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we're taking it back.

"We are tired of being oppressed by slut shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."

Because of the Toronto success of SlutWalk, other cities will begin to host their own demonstrations, including Vancouver B.C., London Ont., Ottawa, in Boston and Dallas in the U.S. and in Adelaide, Australia. Please click here to find out more details.

Organizers of the demonstration declared their wish to work with the police -- despite the fact that when asked by organizers, the police refused to send a representative to address the demonstration -- and had three recommendations: to restructure its training and education protocols, implement third-party recommendations regarding said training and improve its public education messaging.

Anna Willats, a member of the Police Accountability Coalition who was standing among the crowd of demonstrators, commented to me that women in Toronto have been working with the police for over 30 years and have still not received the changes they feel will keep them safe.

Others at the march were more critical of the police, chanting "No Justice/No Peace/No Sexist Police." In the Toronto Star on Monday -- along with coverage of the SlutWalk -- of a settled sexual harassment case against a Hamilton Police Sergeant from within the Hamilton police force itself.

Deb Singh of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre also addressed the crowd to add context to the demonstration as she noted that the police, in the process of investigating domestic assault or sexual assault complaints have in the past ended up arresting non-status women complainants for later deportation.

Jane Doe while addressing the crowd reminded the issue of police misogyny was "not about one bad apple cop." A refrain echoed by those critical of policing during the G20 summit.

It's true that is it not just about one bad cop, or one bad male, but rape culture is systemically entrenched in polite Canadian society.

Again, we must move beyond a "don't get raped" culture to a "don't rape" culture. Ever.

It is ironic that while packing for the demonstration, I hesitated in front of the mirror, studying myself in my fancy, furry, tight Zebra-print pants, thinking: Perhaps I should pack an change of clothes, do I really want to be stuck wearing these the rest of the day?

But I promised myself that I stick to my promise to honour myself and I rocked those pants the rest of the day, regardless of the sometimes-stares I got or the lewd "hooker" comment I overheard when in Chinatown.

To hell with that!

I will wear what I want to wear!

Krystalline Kraus is a regular contributor to rabble.ca, writing the Activist Communiqué blog and covered the G20 weekend for rabble.ca. More photos from the SlutWalk can be seen here.

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