- Photo: Anton Bielousov
Slutwalking may have got itself a controversial reputation but organisers of the Cardiff march are keen to emphasise there is much more to this latest trend than fishnets and short skirts.
The slutwalking movement, which has spread over several continents in just over a month, is meant to tackle attitudes towards rape and victim blaming culture.
Women worldwide, angry at comments made by Canadian police officer Michael Sanguinetti that “women should avoid dressing as sluts in order not to be victimised”, have taken to the streets to challenge rape myths and reclaim the word slut.
More than 650 people have already signed up on Facebook to take part in the Cardiff walk, which will take place on June 4.
The Cardiff organisers, Beccy Pert, 20, Leah White, 25, Hannah Caddick, 21, and Lemon Cottrell, 21, have been overwhelmed by people’s responses.
From Left, Lemon Cottrell, Hannah Caddick, Leah White, Beccy Pert.
Hannah, an English Literature finalist at Cardiff University, said:
“We saw an article about it and I thought it was really inspirational and made me want to organise our own march. We started an interest group on Facebook and within an hour we had fifty members and so many responses. It really just snowballed.”
But not all the reaction has been good. Leah said:
“The reactions we have had proves how important it is. Victim blaming is a massive problem and so many people have reacted against it saying things like ‘what do women expect?’ It makes it obvious what a big problem it is and why we need to have the march.”
A survey of Welsh students by NUS Wales and Amnesty International in 2008 revealed more than one third [36 per cent] of people questioned believed a woman is responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted if she had acted in a flirtatious manner, while a quarter [23 per cent] thought a woman is responsible if she is wearing sexy or revealing clothing.
In another survey by the Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centre, 23 per cent of men questioned thought even a women said “no” right from the start, sex from that point was not rape.
Images of women marching in bras and fishnet stockings on marches in places such as Toronto and Boston have dominated the media but the Cardiff organisers are keen to make it clear women do not have to dress up to take place.
“The really extreme images aren’t really representative of the movement as a whole,” Leah said. “We are not encouraging people to dress up or behave like sluts, we want people to be comfortable. We do not have the right to tell people how to dress and neither does anybody else. That is what this is all about.”
The controversial name of the walks has been one of the main talking points in the media. The idea of reclaiming the word slut has caused a lot of debate, not least among feminists.
“Reclaiming the word slut is definitely a secondary to our main aim but I do think it is quite important. There is no real male equivalent of the word. Words like seducer or womaniser are used but they have this sense of admiration, while women who are sexually promiscuous are made to feel shamed and degraded by being called a slut.”
Cardiff Feminist Network [CFN] member Molly Zacharias, 27, of Alma Street, Treherbert, said:
“I think reclaiming the word is either really brave or really miscalculated but personally I think it’s really great we are trying to reclaim the word, like gay people did with the word queer. I don’t think a lot of people are going to get it though.
“I think this is a great opportunity for feminists but it might be wasted because people are spending too much time debating whether or not the word slut needs reclaiming instead of getting together a more positive campaign.”
But not all supporters of the walk are so keen to reclaim the word. Deputy director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs [IWA] and Llandaff councillor Kirsty Davies, who will be attending the walk with her daughter, said:
“I would hesitate to call any woman a slut so I don’t think the name is very helpful, though at the same time is has been useful in getting the attention of the media.
“While I am not interested in reclaiming the word I do think the message of the walk is very important. It is an issue which doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, really because it happens so often.”
The focus on attittudes towards rape was heightened recently as Ken Clarke, Minister for Justice, faced controversy over comments he made suggesting there are different types of rape, some of which are more serious than others.
The Welsh Government has already made its position on rape and blame culture clear and in December launched a Stop Blame campaign to tackle attitudes.
At the time of the launch last December former Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant said:
“Victims or rape or sexual assault are in no way responsible for what happens to them. Apparent justification such as ‘she was too drunk’ or ‘she was asking for it’ just doesn’t wash. This attitude can be extremely damaging for the victims and we must put an end to it now.
“There is absolutely no excuse for committing rape or sexual assault and the blame should never be placed on the victim.”
In stark contrast to the reaction to the slutwalks campaigns like Stop Blame and other events focussed on eliminating violence against women like Reclaim the Night have struggled to reach a wide audience.
Cardiff Feminist Hannah Austin, who also works for Welsh Women’s Aid said:
“I have worked with government campaigns and it is really, really difficult because they hardly get any media attention.
“All the feedback has suggested the Stop Blame campaign has been successful but it is difficult to know if it has changed attitudes.”