Documentation:Open Case Studies/GRSJ306/SlutWalk

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SlutWalk

Introduction

As globally conscious GRSJ students we are all aware of the current issues of gender inequalities that exist within our societies. Therefore we are also aware of the current schools of thought that are being discussed within the modern feminist movement. We are in a moment of empowerment, third-wave feminism, which is abandoning the notion of the “victim feminist” and attempting to redefine the female role within society. [1] Women should no longer be seen as victims of the patriarchy but as individuals who are free to make decisions about their lifestyle without fear of prejudice. Unfortunately our contemporary culture is still saturated with misogynist ideologies that continue to oppress gender minorities. In this particular circumstance we will be discussing, these manifest themselves as the normalised violence towards women.

Deborah M. Weissman in her article on the Gender-Based Murders of Ciudad Juarez discusses the epidemic of violence within the city following the signing of the NAFTA agreement by the Mexican government. She poses two theories to explain the sudden increase in gendered violence: firstly, human rights groups have identified the apparent lack of civil, political and legal rights for the victims, leading to cases very rarely being brought to justice. A second theory, taken up by the public prosecutor and the police, suggest “provocative dress and late night activity” are to be attributed for the murders. [2] These theories have also been attributed to the missing and murdered indigenous women along Highway 16 in British Columbia, coined by the media as the “Highway of Tears”, which embodies the problem of systemic racism in cases of gendered violence that affords assailants the ability to carry out such acts without fear of prosecution. [3] As with Ciudad Juarez, the Highway of Tears also falls victim to societal prejudices that blame the murders and disappearances on the constructed lifestyles of victims.

When discussing the topic of sexual assault it is vital to address what is considered such in the eyes of the law. With all following statistics and laws being specific to Canada. According to Canada’s Criminal justice code there are several elements that warrant a prosecution and sentencing of a sexual assault case. Assault itself is defined as: the application of force intentionally to the victim directly or indirectly. Or an attempts or threat to apply force with reasonable grounds to believe that the assailant is capable of effecting their purpose. Lack of consent is defined as: when the complainant submits or does not resist by reason of application of force, fear of application of force, fraud or the exercising of authority. For the judicial systems these lines become blurred with the involvement of drugs and alcohol. Sentencing normally includes: anywhere up to ten years depending on prior offensives, but will normally be much lower. [4] For example varsity athlete Brock Turner is serving a mere 6 months for sexual assaulting an unconscious woman behind a skip. With his upper-class white male demeanour being without a doubt a contributing factor to the ruling. [5] The Rape Shield Law, states that, unless in special circumstances, sexual history between assailant and victim can no longer be used in court in order to discourage victims from testifying because of their “promiscuous” past.

Rape culture was a term coined by second wave feminists, such as Susan Brownmiller and Noreen Connell, in the United States to highlight the normalisation of male sexual violence within society. They are drawing upon the issue that our patriarchal society perceives rape and sexual violence as a natural everyday occurrence.[6] The term encompasses issues associated with the stigmatisation of victims of sexual assault and predominantly victim blaming. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime defines victim blaming as “a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.” Their article on victim blaming discusses the role of the media in exacerbating the issue, and presents minorities, women and sex trade workers as the most marginalised demographics. [7]

Origins of SlutWalk

This movement to raise awareness and protest against rape culture was instigated by comments made by Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer, who stated on January 24th of 2011 that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”[8]. In response, two women named Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett organized the first “SlutWalk” in April of 2011, headed towards the Toronto Police Headquarters. While they only expected a few hundred, over 3,000 people, some wearing “normal” clothes and some wearing only lingerie, marched with them .[9].

The movement gained recognition not only locally across Canada, but internationally, across North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and even to non-English speaking countries across Latin America and Asia.[10]The grassroots level of political action, specifically organized by young women and not an “established” organization or institution, is part of what helped the movement gain momentum.[10]Generally, there is always a march, and there are often other events such as workshops, support groups, and film screenings.

The name originated by Jarvis and Barnett choosing to reclaim the word “slut,” not as a derogatory term, but as someone who “is in control of their own sexuality." Barnett stated that her aim is “to push the idea that nobody is worthy of any kind of violence, whether you enjoy sex or not." Although the initial comment made by Sanguinetti was retracted and supposedly rectified, the organizers clarified that it wasn’t merely a comment, but an indication of a worldwide issue that needed to be addressed.[10]

Critical Response

Positives

The success of the SlutWalk can be attributed to its shock factor qualities; the unconventional formation and execution of this women's movement grabbed the attention of people, media outlets and other organizations worldwide. The movement encourages women to battle rape culture head on by embracing their sexual freedoms and showing that a woman's dress should not be the cause for her rape, for this reason many participants of the march dress as " sluts ", in provocative, revealing attire to both garner attention of bystanders and as a means for women empowerment.[11] Many people agree with the unorthodox visual of the SlutWalk due to the fact that it has been successful in resurfacing women's issues, as it relates to sexual suppression and rape cultural, worldwide.

The eccentricity of this movement grabbed the attention of news outlets all across the globe and has been credited with bringing women's rights issues to the mainstream media platform. Marches following the April 2011 rally were being covered by large scale news outlets such as Fox News, the British Press and the Guardian--regardless of whether the exposures they were receiving were positive or negative, the SlutWalk became a large topic of discussion.[12] With the help of mainstream media attention, a localized rally in Toronto, Canada soon gained momentum and its effects spread like wildfire. Rallies and marches have popped up in a multitude of different cities and countries.

By encouraging women to dress in ways that challenge normative and patriarchal ideas of 'womanhood', the SlutWalk has been successful in empowering women to embrace their sexuality and stand up against hostile perceptions of promiscuity. In addition to self empowerment, the participants of the SlutWalk have proved that a woman's dress is not indicative of their standing, nor should it have any effect their susceptibility of becoming a rape victim.

Negatives

White Privilege The Slutwalk has met criticism from women of colour because of how little representation people of colour receive at these events. The event is so heavily skewed in population towards white women that people of color feel uncomfortable or out of place attending the event. Minority groups already struggle with image labels after years of oppression, and do not have the privilege of being able to call themselves sluts without validating the entrenched ideology they have fought to overcome. Playing destructive representations of women, and minority women, is something that is already burned into everyone’s minds.

2. Undercutting the Seriousness of Rape The idea that rape is only an outlet for sexual frustration for men. Rape has been used as a tool to violate, oppress, bully and physically and emotionally traumatize victims and survivors. Raping is rooted in hatred and misogyny, not in being unable to help yourself when you see a short skirt. Although everyone has their own experiences with sexual assault and rape, to say that you can dress however you want and you are still not asking to get raped oversimplifies the countless reasons that rape has existed in society. Rape is an extension of the society that humans have lived in, and serves to oppress women physically and emotionally, not just because men cannot help themselves.

3. Increasing the Divide Between Women Participating or not participating creates a dynamic between women of being a prude, or being a slut, with no in between. Re-Appropriating the slur of slut reintroduces the struggle that women, particularly young women, face on a day-to-day basis. While owning a term that has previously been linked to hate can feel empowering, it can also feel extremely limiting to those who don’t subscribe to it. The word slut has been used to constantly degrade, abuse, and blame women and victims of sexual assault, and for many the word is impossible to reclaim. It hurts to even be associated with the word, and to hear women attempting to reclaim the word can divide women even further, because a lot of them don’t identify with it.

References

  1. Iannello, K.P (1998). "Third Wave feminism and individualism: promoting equality or reinforcing the status quo"
  2. Weissman, Deborah M. (2005), "The Political Economy of Violence: Toward an Understanding of the Gender-Based Murders of Ciudad Juarez"
  3. Daily Beast, (2008), "Highway of Vanishing Women"
  4. http://www.sexassault.ca/criminalprocess.html, Accessed 12/14/2016
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_v._Turner, Accessed 12/14/2016
  6. http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/, Accessed 12/14/2016
  7. - https://www.crcvc.ca/docs/victim_blaming.pdf, Accessed 12/14/2016
  8. Rush, Curtis (February 18, 2011). "Cop apologizes for 'sluts' remark at law school". Toronto Star. Toronto. 29 May. 2011.
  9. Mendes, Kaitlynn. “How the ‘Slutwalk’ has Transformed the Rape Culture Conversation.” Alternet. Palgrave Macmillan, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Stampler, Laura. “SlutWalks Sweep The Nation.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingonPost.com, 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2016. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "“:10"" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "“:10"" defined multiple times with different content
  11. Valentini, Jessica. "SlutWalks and the future of feminism." The Washington Post. WP Company, 12 June 2011. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/slutwalks-and-the-future-of-feminism/2011/06/01/AGjB9LIH_story.html?utm_term=.02784d5026fb>.
  12. Valentini, Jessica. "SlutWalks and the future of feminism." The Washington Post. WP Company, 12 June 2011. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/slutwalks-and-the-future-of-feminism/2011/06/01/AGjB9LIH_story.html?utm_term=.02784d5026fb>.