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Sluts on Parade – The Feminist Wire

Sluts on Parade

By Ulli K. Ryder, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Brown University

The Slutwalk is sweeping the world – women and men, march and shout chants, carrying banners that read “My Outfit is Not an Invitation” or “Stop Slut Shame.” College students are the most visible participants. The young women – in jeans and t-shirts or bras and micro-minis – shout their reclamation of the normally derogatory word. The sisterhood solidarity is palpable, as is the refusal to silently endure the shame and fear of sexual violence any longer.

The first “shot” of this new women’s revolution occurred “earlier this year when a Toronto cop reportedly told a group of York University law students that the best way to avoid getting raped was to not dress like a slut,” according to the Boston Herald. Immediately, Slutwalks began in protest. The first, in Toronto, was held in April and has since sparked a global movement and spread to cities such as London, Dallas and Boston. According to MSNBC, future walks are planned for Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Reno, Nevada and Austin, Texas.

Not surprisingly, backlash against Slutwalks also started almost immediately.  “Slut” is a term generally reserved for women who dress provocatively and invite sexual attention (perhaps even engaging in multiple sexual liaisons without commitment). Inviting others to embrace – and use – the term seems counter-productive for what is, apparently, a feminist project. Parading around in their underwear also seems problematic for women who are trying to be taken seriously. Finally, Slutwalks have inspired mean-spirited parodies and virulent articles and blog posts. A Pimp Walk has been proposed in Boston and Barstool Sports: Boston (“By the Common Man, for the Common Man”) ran an article, full of photos, decrying the fact that the female activists were “fat pigs” and “dumptrucks.” Unsurprisingly, the reader comments praised this point of view and added increasingly sexist posts.

So what should we make of the Slutwalks? Reclaiming epithets is always tricky.  Gays and lesbians have been generally successful in reclaiming the word “queer.”  African Americans have been less successful in reclaiming the “n-word.” On the other hand, the sight of thousands of women (and men) marching through the streets, demanding to be heard, respected and able to live free of fear is inspiring.  That so many of the women are young may be a sign of a new female empowerment.  Yet it also reminds us that violence against women is still very much part of our society.

We decry the violence against women in other countries, such as the stoning of women accused of adultery in Iran. We were horrified by the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords. But we also continue to watch Charlie Sheen on his rampage of misogyny. Planned Parenthood has become the center of our current budget debate and new proposals by Republicans, if successful, would cut funding to other groups that focus on women’s health. According to the National Organization of Women, at least three women are murdered daily by an intimate partner and more than 600 women are sexually assaulted every day. Many of the young women involved in Slutwalks have been assaulted and/or raped.

What remains to be seen is whether Slutwalks will usher in radical change or remain a fringe movement, empowering some women but leaving the systems of patriarchy and violence intact.

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Ulli K. Ryder, Ph.D. is an award-winning educator, consultant, writer, editor and thinker.  She facilitates discussions of gender, race, ethnicity, identity formation and media to foster diversity and create open dialogue. She has been a Visiting Scholar at Brown University since 2009.

Dr. Ryder earned her Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity from the University of Southern California.  She also holds a Master of Professional Writing (USC), a Master of Afro-American Studies (UCLA) and BA from Simmons College in English and African American Studies.

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