[Trigger warning: rape and sexual assault, victim blaming and rape apologia]
To help out with PR for the above event, I’ve written a press release about the forthcoming Solidarity Slutwalk (Fb events here and here). It’s already been posted by the “Together we can stop it” campaign blog. If you would like to spread the word about the event, please feel free to use this release on your blog/site/other publication. Just give a wee credit (see the bio at the bottom). Hope to see many of you there.
From 1.30pm on Saturday 18th June, Edinburgh’s first ever Solidarity Slutwalk will wend its way through the Scottish capital’s streets in a bid to raise awareness about commonly-held attitudes towards rape and sexual assault.
The “Slutwalk” concept is a new one. The first took place in Toronto in early 2011, following intense media scrutiny over misogynistic comments made by a local police officer. Michael Sanguinetti was supposed to be advising students on the subject of personal safety when he decided to stop “beating around the bush”, and advised the women present to “stop dressing like sluts” in order to avoid sexual assault.
The “Slutwalk” trend has been growing rapidly ever since. Slutwalks have now been held in several major cities and more are being planned by the day. However, there is nothing new or even particularly unusual about Sanguinetti’s attitude towards sexual assault. For as long as rape and sexual assault have been topics for open discussion, people – and by no means just men – have been lining up around the block to blame the victims, and to place the responsibility for policing and preventing such incidents squarely at the feet of women.
Rape apologists and victim blamers are many, and the reasoning behind their attitudes differs from each to each. I once got into a heated debate with a man my age who claimed that “if all women took self-defence classes, rapists would be completely deterred”. Other common arguments suggest that if a woman has been drinking, or has flirted with or kissed her would-be rapist, then the subsequent attack is “her own fault”, and indeed “to be expected.” But one of the most common examples of victim blaming is the argument that says if a woman wears a short skirt, tight dress, low cut top, high heels or anything else that might make her appear sexually attractive, then she’s putting herself at risk and “deserves” to be raped.
Such arguments are truly ridiculous. They wilfully ignore the fact, for a start, that not only women get raped. They seem to suggest that wearing jeans and a baggy sweater will automatically protect women from being attacked. They belittle and disregard the very real pain and anguish of rape and sexual assault survivors – many of whom were attacked in their own homes, or by someone they knew well, or while wearing sweatpants and trainers. By dictating what women should and should not wear and do in public they seek to limit women’s agency and freedom. Such victim-blaming reduces women to a state of constant fear (fear of walking alone, fear of visiting unfamiliar places, fear of appearing “slutty”), but does nothing to solve the actual problem – not that women invite rape, but that rapists rape people.
Slutwalks are a way of raising awareness about these attitudes. Some Slutwalk attendees choose to don the kind of dress that is routinely dismissed as “slutty” or “inviting”; some claim they are trying to reclaim the word “slut” and therefore remove its potency for victim blamers; others carry placards or buckets to collect money for women’s aid and survivor charities. But what all Slutwalk attendees are doing is making the issue visible, and open for debate. So many ordinary people espouse extraordinary and highly damaging opinions about rape and sexual assault – those outlined above are just a few examples. By walking through the streets proudly, by disrupting the status quo and forcing people to think about their preconceived ideas, even for just a second, Slutwalks are a step on the way to radically shifting the way we think about rape.
Join the Edinburgh Slutwalk: 1.30pm, Saturday 18th June 2011. Gather at West Parliament Square, Edinburgh. For more info, visit @slutwalkscots on Twitter.
Claire Askew is a poet, teacher and blogger from Edinburgh. Her work has featured in numerous publications including The Herald, The Guardian and The Observer. She works as a lecturer at Edinburgh’s Telford College and is currently reading for a PhD in Creative Writing and Contemporary Scottish Women’s Poetry at the University of Edinburgh. Her first chapbook of poems, The Mermaid and the Sailors, was recently published by Red Squirrel Press. She blogs at onenightstanzas.com
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