Link Round Up: Feminist Critiques of SlutWalk

May 16, 2011

Below is a collection of articles and blog posts from feminists who are critical of the current SlutWalk phenomenon from various points of view.

If you’ve been following the feminist blog-o-sphere there has been a lot of talk about “SlutWalk”. SlutWalk has become a mini-movement that was originally conceived in Toronto in response to a police officer who claimed that women should stop dressing like “sluts” to avoid assault. The folks in Toronto were rightfully upset, as the police officer’s comment is an unfortunate example of the victim blaming that assault survivors are subjected to on a regular basis. Out of the controversy, Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett co-founded SlutWalk, a Toronto based march to end “slut-shaming” and victim blaming. This has spawned numerous follow-up marches that are happening globally in cities such as Vancouver, Boston, London, San Francisco, Melbourne and Los Angeles etc.

Because of the controversial nature of the name, SlutWalk has gotten quite a lot of press, there have been many debates, interviews, articles etc.  While the conversations have ranged from useful dialogue to outright horrible much of the framing of the conversation has been shaped by the supporters of SlutWalk (such as Heather Jarvis and Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape). It seems that Gail Dines (author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality) has been one of the only feminists repeatedly invited on TV and radio shows to serve as the counterpoint.

I have been quite vocal in my little internet space about my strong dislike for SlutWalk, for the name and for the unstrategic organizing which sadly, seems to ignores the systemic and institutional issues of rape culture, victim blaming and well, radical feminism.  It is easy to be swept up in the excitement and momentum of SlutWalk and not take a critical look at what the message really is that’s coming out of these marches.  After listening to a series of interviews and reading a handful of articles, I began feeling alienated within feminism because as Meghan Murphy points out, “… embracing the word slut sounds, to me, a lot like we’ve all drank the systematic kool-aid.”  Luckily, through Facebook and Twitter I found several feminists and allies who do not support SlutWalk for a variety of reasons.  I want to highlight some of the counterpoints and some of the voices that are not being amplified.

Articles & Blog Posts

An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk by BlackWomen’s Blueprint

As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations.

SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls by The Crunk Feminist Collective

But perhaps, we have come to a point in feminist movement-building where we need to acknowledge that differing histories necessitate differing strategies. This is why I’m somewhat ambivalent about accusing my white sistren of being racist. If your history is one of having your sexuality regulated by the use of the term “slut” for disciplinary purposes, then SlutWalk is an effective answer.

What becomes an issue is those white women and liberal feminist women of color who argue that “slut” is a universal category of female experience, irrespective of race.

We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with Slutwalk gets rocky by Meghan Murphy

I couldn’t help but cringe, once again, when Jarvis brought up the ‘personal empowerment’ argument as defense of the use and attempted reclaimation of the word, ‘slut’, saying that: “For me to call myself whatever language I want, if I find it empowering, for somebody else to say that that’s not a right choice, when this is my choice. I find that problematic.” I believe that, in this short quip, Jarvis sums up much of that what has made me uncomfortable with Slutwalk from the get-go. ‘If I feel personally empowered by my personal choice, then no one else should have anything to say on the matter. It affects only me,’ is not a strong argument for feminism.

SlutWalk is not sexual liberation by Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy at guardian.co.uk

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

In Defense of Prudes by Tracy Clark-Flory at salon.com

But I also have zero interest in participating. I’m tired of the polarizing rhetoric: Are you a prude or a slut? You know what, I’m neither. I understand the concept of re-appropriating slurs, and that many people find it freeing and empowering. Also, political discourse doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuance and subtlety, so shocking slogans can be tremendously effective. On a personal level, though, this kind of reactive language can feel awfully limiting. I’m not a political caricature, and neither is my sexuality.

SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy by Aura Blogando at To the Curb

If SlutWalk truly wanted to bring attention to the systematic ways in which women are harmed by regressive and misogynistic thinking, they could have done the heavy lifting of reaching out and supporting black, poor and transgender women in New Orleans, for whom the word “slut” carries a criminal sex offender record. Instead, they force us to keep bearing the multiple burdens that come with not only being a woman, but also being a working class woman of color.

Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying. While I will not pretend to speak for women targeted in New Orleans, I doubt that the mere idea of naming themselves “sluts” would be welcomed. SlutWalk has proven itself to be a maddening distraction from the systematic and interpersonal violence that women of color face daily.

What Offends me about SlutWalk and More Thoughts on SlutWalk by Ada Farrugia Conroy at flash heart for the broken arted

slutwalk is a post feminist event. it is an event that assumes there is no patriarchal context that slutwalk exists within. the word ‘slut’ is hateful and violent and has never belonged to us. ‘slut’ belongs to rapists and misogynists and pornographers. there is no subversion in this. this action is not a threat.

SlutWalk – Not Radical, Not Helpful? by Bobi Pasquale at bobipasquale.wordpress.com

I feel SlutWalk seems to perpetuate the thinking that rape is an outlet to channel sexual frustration (by such actions as 2 protestors on the Toronto march shout ‘keep it in your pants, fool!’). Rape is a tool to bully, violate, oppress and inflict severe physical and mental agony on their victims. It is a deeply rooted hatred, and not merely a man who can’t help himself when he sees a short skirt.

The Ultimate Slut by rmott62 at rmott62.wordpress.com

If you want to know what it to be a Slut, a Slut without freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of safety – then place yourself inside the skin of the Ultimate Slut. Women and girls inside most aspects of the sex trade are raped, battered and murdered whatever they wear, whatever environment they are placed in. What does any Slutwalk do that makes any practical difference to that?

SlutWalk London by Laura Woodhouse at The F Word Blog

However, unless I was in Toronto where the march was a direct response to a comment about “sluts”, I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable walking under the label. I have no interest whatsoever in reclaiming or reinventing a word that is used to attack and label women, let alone use it in reference to myself.

Four Brief Critiques of SlutWalk’s Whiteness, Privilege and Unexamined Power Dynamics by Ernesto Aguilar at People of Color Organize

Lastly, I have found some of the SlutWalk approach most problematic related to an ahistorical understanding of women’s organizing. Ironically, or maybe not so much, SlutWalk advocacy has come at the expense of the feminist movement, demonizing a struggle that has many hard-won victories to its credit.

Toronto activists take back the slut by Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy

It turns out that ’slut’ isn’t just an adjective. It’s a character. A fictional character, beloved of patriarchal culture, who encrapulates eons of virgin/whore-fueled misogyny, and was invented to absolve violent dudes of rape behavior. Sluts are women deemed by the angry dude-mob to have so ineptly handled the duties of femininity that they must be shamed, mocked, and of course, fucked in perpetuity.

Thoughts on race, class and Toronto’s Slutwalk by selftravels2010

When I arrived on the lawn of Queen’s Park for the march, it took about 20 seconds for a sense of discomfort to set in. I looked around and felt profoundly out of place because I saw so few people of colour. To be clear, I attend rallies, protests, marches, lectures, and conferences all the time in Toronto and I can’t think of ever having had this feeling before.

Slut walk: Off my chest by Anonymous at Musings and Moans

I am so tired of how little consideration is given to which peoples and which bodies are able to be publicly visible during protests and which are not. There was no talk about how our bodies as women of colour are hyper-sexualized and how that links to gendered, racialized sexual violence! There was no talk about why men of colour (who let’s be honest are over represented in mainstream media as perpetrators of violence) would not show up to a march of this sort, even if their politics were deeply rooted in ending violence against women!

Slutwalk: To march or not to march by Harsha Walia at Rabble.ca

In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist façade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice — the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.

Debates

This is by no means a complete list but just a few selections that I’ve found.  If you know of other articles that would be appropriate in this link round up please leave them in the comments.

Related posts:

22 Responses to “Link Round Up: Feminist Critiques of SlutWalk”

  1. There’s this one: http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2011/03/31/toronto-activists-take-back-the-slut/

    It turns out that ’slut’ isn’t just an adjective. It’s a character. A fictional character, beloved of patriarchal culture, who encrapulates eons of virgin/whore-fueled misogyny, and was invented to absolve violent dudes of rape behavior. Sluts are women deemed by the angry dude-mob to have so ineptly handled the duties of femininity that they must be shamed, mocked, and of course, fucked in perpetuity.

  2. [...] While I don’t support women being told to cover up and while I certainly don’t support women being called sluts… I also don’t really support these slut walks. I find it hard to believe that after generations of fighting to be taken seriously modern-feminists movements have turned the reclamation of a derogatory word as something worth putting their time and effort into. But that’s not all I’m befuddled and disturbed by… Keep reading for all the arguments and I actually have to give credit to Feminist Frequency for listing a lot of great resources to find these arguements. [...]

  3. A few more critiques:

    http://selftravels2010.livejournal.com/2497.html

    http://www.musingsandmoans.com/2011/04/response-to-slut-walk.html

    And thanks so much for posting these.

  4. Thank you SO MUCH for this! I’ve been trying to articulate my issue with the Slutwalk for weeks, and you really helped me out with this collection of posts. It’s hard because I definitely support the intent of the organizers, but I really dislike the name, yet trying to explain that has been tricky to do without coming across as invalidating. These different takes on it really help me a lot.

  5. I haven’t really thought of this to be honest, but you have a good point. There is a risk of oversimplifying messages when you want to reach out to the broad public (a redent example being the It Gets Better project that is ignoring structural homophobia and was twisted into a generic anti bullying campaign in my country). It’s sad though, because I think that the slut walk realld has potential in shaking up the word. We’ll see women of all colors, all shapes and sizes dressing and behaving in all sorts of ways – there is really not better illustration of how little the Slut epithet has to do with reality and how powerless women really are in affecting how they are seen.

  6. Thanks Anita! I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate my feelings against SlutWalk. Really appreciate it.

  7. Some more thoughts: http://shareorshelve.blogspot.com/2011/05/reclaim-lexis-continued-from-yesterday.html

  8. [...] here is a list of pieces (some for, some against) about SlutWalk, diligently compiled by feministfrequency (thank you!). If you’ve been following the feminist blog-o-sphere there has been a lot of talk [...]

  9. The whole SlutWalk phenomena doesn’t feel right to me. This is partly because a complex range of feminist and women’s issues are simplified to the point of losing the point. Is it about rape? Is it about clothes? Is it about reclaiming the word slut? Is it about the stigma placed on women who have sex? It seem’s to me to have (d)evolved into a gratuitous excuse to wear revealing clothing. Isn’t that just buying into patriarchy? I suffer enough derision being a woman who wears men’s clothing.
    There is value in reclaiming words, and I have surely benefited. Dyke, Fag, Homo, Queer. In the past these words have all carried the weight of ‘Slut’, but now ring differently. This isn’t the case though, when said through hatred and fear. It still stings. What’s terrible is that words like Gay, Retard, Faggot, Homo and Pussy are turned into negative adjectives used to describe not only people but inanimate objets. The rate to which they are used by kids and youth in Australia is frightening, though I can’t speak for anywhere else.
    At the end of the day, It’s great that SlutWalk has generated talk and interest and that the forum is global. Who’s to say if it’ll actually generate good or just harm the feminist cause. I didn’t rally because I don’t wan’t to own the word slut.

  10. Thank you for this post! Like Holly said above, you’ve helped me articulate my feelings about the SlutWalk with these references to articles.

  11. [...] A link round-up at Feminist Frequency (critical) [...]

  12. Thanks for this great collection! I’ve been looking for more good articles that reflect where I stand on this issue. SlutWalk rubbed me the wrong way right off the bat. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction, so it makes me happy to see so many other feminists taking the time to think it through and speak out against it. The organizers are well-intentioned, but its just the wrong action.

  13. [...] er að lokum tengill með feminískri gagnrýni á [...]

  14. Hmmm, yeah…I must’ve been living under a rock or something cos I only came across this apparently massive slutwalk phenomenon now. And why did I come across it? Oh just cos for the first time in a long time I haven’t been able to sleep, in fact the reason i got myself back outa bed at 2am was that, having been dealing with the effects of ten years of rape as a child i am now having some new and interesting (please read the tongue in cheek!) memories. Yeehah.

    On the very positive side, i was feeling a stirring of some wicked powerful anger and visioning brilliant ways to channel it.
    Interesting then to come across this phenomenon in this moment. I am disheartened to see that the fb response to an upcoming walk in my town already has more interest than our last Reclaim the Night (and it’s 6 months away!). I’m disheartened cos there’s a sick sick feeling in my gut telling me this event contributes to rather than eases the violations I’ve spent my life dealing with. As other writers have pointed out, it’s so tricky to navigate for systemic change when public discourse is so swayed by little stings rather than nuance. I can see the “attraction” of this action but the thing is, I can see it as being attractive precisely in line with a deepening backlash against feminism and a further weakening of critical insight….

    Hmmm, the idea of engaging in solidarity about the blaming (and pathologising and silencing and …) of survivors resonates very strongly with me but the violated child and the sharp-eyed womn in me just can’t get past my intuitive sense that slutwalk – even the idea of it – reinforces the notion of me as a sexual object, even if the initial concept was aiming in the other direction …

  15. Also have to say thanks for compiling this list. I hope that others get pointed into this direction of true analysis/critique.

  16. [...] It is not without controversy, however. Feminist Frequency’s great round-up of critiques is a fantastic place to start. Peopleofcolourorganize! has an excellent post on the privilege and whiteness of [...]

  17. Ah thank you for this!! I was invited via Facebook to attend a Slutwalk in a city near me. At first I thought it was a great idea, but the more I read and thought about it, the stranger it seemed to me. It just didn’t seem to make sense to me, but the people who are for Slutwalks act like someone is a prude or whatever if they don’t agree with it. They also seem to think that the people who don’t like it are stupid and don’t understand what it’s about or what the purpose is. Thank you for these sources! I’m glad that I will have better explanations for what bothers me so much about the walks since I agree with a lot of the posts.

  18. I’m from Toronto so I heard about Slutwalk right away. I’ve been regularly posting on the facebook wall for a while now and I’ve engaged in debate with many people. I can completely understand the counter-points I’ve read to the movement and I think many of them bring up valid concerns. I just wanted to add that not everybody that marches with Slutwalk uses or embraces the term ‘slut’. Though I participate and I think dialogue and examination of the term is important, I don’t refer to myself or others as ‘sluts’. For better or worse, I think the Slutwalk is more positive than negative as it’s opened a lot of dialogue and has brought issues such as victim-blaming some much needed attention. I’m excited to read your thoughts on the Slutwalk more in depth as I’m a big fan of your videos.

  19. I like the idea that ‘slutwalks’ only work in an a-historical, postfeminist context. We had a ‘slutwalk’ in the netherlands as well. To me, that felt similar as something that happened two years before: to celebrate International Women’s Day, a fashion magazine organized the ‘stiletto run’, where women could win a year’s worth of free shopping if they won a race across Amsterdam’s most expensive shopping street on really high heels. And this was the most televised event in the country about women’s rights that year – not the rampant abuse just a few miles away in the red light district, domestic violence or institutionalized rape. Only without a context do these ‘ironic’ statements make sense – but in a world where real horrific stuff still happens, they’re definitely out of place.

  20. Thanks thanks thanks <3

  21. [...] the word slut sounds, to me, a lot like we’ve all drank the systematic kool-aid.” Read More:http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/05/link-round-up-feminist-critiques-of-slutwalk/ aaaa —Harsha Walia at Rabble.ca In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist façade of choice by [...]

  22. [...] slut has not gone, nor has its cruel power diminished. (See, e.g., “The controversy”, a link round-up, some black women’s response). It’s wroth noting we have no word which bad-mouths the [...]