SlutWalk: Anger, Celebration & the Conversation We Need to Have

June 8, 2011 Michael Kaufman

SlutWalks are spreading around the globe. So too is the controversy around the name and the image it’s creating.

I was proud to be invited to address the inaugural SlutWalk in Toronto on April 3.

The idea is glorious and simple: grab onto one of the many epitaphs that get thrown at (some) women as an excuse for rape and use it to spark a public conversation.

The heart of the conversation isn’t about how women choose to dress. It is much simpler: blame for sexual assault should always and only lie with the person who commits that assault.

Well, not exactly.  For we also proclaim it is the blind eye and women-blaming of judges, police, opinion makers, lawmakers, and beyond which also shares responsibility for assault. So long as we as a society make excuses for sexual assault and fail to hold accountable those who commit sexual assault, it will continue.

And what a conversation it’s been. When else have we had an international conversation about sexual assault? True, there is an ongoing and critically important discussion about rape as a weapon of war. But beyond that, nothing has captured the public imagination as has SlutWalk.

In this it has been an amazing success. When I was in Scotland last week, it was impossible to listen to the radio for more than a few hours without hearing some mention or listening to a debate about SlutWalk and sexual assault.

The second theme of SlutWalk is the right of women to define their own sexuality including their own ways of expressing it. And the message to those who disagree with the ways that some women might choose to dress: it just ain’t your business. Sure, we should be deeply concerned about the sexualisation of girls. Sure, we should be concerned that some of the objectionable aspects of mainstream masculine culture are being replicated by some women. Sure, we should be engaging young women who are buying into mass-produced images that seem to celebrate women’s sexuality but may actually be robbing them of sexual agency, autonomy, and critical decision-making. But, again, all this is exactly the type of conversation that SlutWalk gets going.

Finally, there is one other remarkable thing about SlutWalk: the presence of men. At the walk in Toronto and others I’ve heard about, men have been welcomed. Given that sexual assault is primarily committed by men, the voices of men in solidarity with our sisters, celebrating women’s sexual autonomy, and speaking out to our brothers with a clear and united voice, is one more reason why SlutWalk is an exciting and welcome arrival onto the political scene.

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