Bahar Mustafa reports on London SlutWalk
Picture it. A beautifully warm day in June, sunshine spilling over central London, luscious greenery surrounding the pavements en route, vibrant cheers and chants resonating from the front of the march of about 5,000 energetic, lively and colourful people; a mishmash of corsets, garters, nipples, bare bottoms, fishnets and lipstick. But more noticeable than anything was the vivacious confidence of the crowds of passionate people pissed-off at the victim-blaming culture of sexual violence and rape against women that has gone unchallenged for far too long.
SlutWalk saw its first ever march in Toronto in January 2011. Around 1,000 women and dozens of men took to the streets in protest at Constable Michael Sanguinetti’s despicable comments warning young female university students that they ought to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” The movement quickly spread to Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Mexico City, Sydney and now London.
Unfortunately, the idea that somehow a woman can be held even partially responsible for her own rape or sexual assault is very prevalent in most parts of the world today – even in our “progressive” western social climate. Not only is the conviction rate for rape in the UK lower than it has ever been (a mere 5%) but when women do find themselves in the court room reliving their horrific ordeals in front of a judge and jurors, they are also subjected to hours of abhorrent scrutiny. Not only is their character assessed, but so is their drug and alcohol intake at the time of the “alleged” rape, their sexual history, and what they were wearing. It is no wonder the popular line, “she was asking for it,” has caught on when such sexist attitudes are propagated within the very institution which supposedly protects against this crime.
So it was truly joyous to be part of something which I believe has breathed new life into the feminist movement, and reinvigorated a need to highlight the injustices women continue to face due to sexist and patriarchal values. The idea behind the march is to show that women should be able to wear whatever they choose without fear or threat of sexual violence. Not only were many women proudly showing off their bodies, but many scantily clad men also joined in sporting sexy stockings and mini skirts! Banners with the words, “It’s a dress, not a yes” and “Sexually active male = stud, promiscuous female = whore” were held high for all passers by to see. Chants of “yes means yes, and no means no” spread throughout the crowd.
The atmosphere was buzzing, effervescent and infectious. It was truly exhilarating to see so many women brimming with joy and confidence; to experience a day when they could leave the house half-naked and feel safe is certainly a real treat! If only every day was like this. Of course, SlutWalk has also sparked off some contentions amongst feminists in the movement due to the stigma surrounding choice of language being used; however, I believe the overall message of the day is far too significant and essential to our movement to let a single word sully the cause. It has bought together so many young girls, women and men – many who are new to feminism and activism – so I avidly support and look forward to being part of this growing and exciting new movement.