SlutWalk: Sydney 2011

28Jun11

(Warning: some rape trigger material)

THE cold and the rain did not deter a group of two hundred or so dedicated SlutWalkers from meeting at Town Hall on June 13th. The SlutWalk protests were retaliations against comments made by a Toronto police officer, who, at a crime prevention forum, suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. This comment is dangerous for a number of reasons. Firstly, not only does it blame the victim for instigating their own sexual assault, it also implies that women who dress in a “slutty manner” should expect to be assaulted. Why? Because apparently, wearing a short skirt and a low cut top means you’re “asking for it” – asking for rape that is.

Furthermore, studies have suggested that due to the perpetuation of rape culture and myths (I will go on to explain them a bit later), women who are victims of sexual assaults are less likely to report their rapes to police in fear of being blamed and “slut-shamed”. In turn, the perpetrators are excused from their behaviour and will continue to assault with a sense of impunity.

Now some readers may be rolling their eyes at this. They may think it’s an exaggeration. For you, I present a court case that led to a man accused of rape being acquitted based on the women wearing “skinny leg” jeans. I kid you not. Early last year in Australia 23-year-old Nicholas Eugenio Gonzalez was accused of both the vaginal and anal rape of a 24-year-old woman. Gonzalez claimed it was consensual despite the “compelling medical evidence” which suggested that the woman had been sexually assaulted.

The jury was not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Nicholas Gonzalez raped a woman who had been wearing skinny legs. Apparently the woman’s jeans were so “tight” that they must have been removed by her and therefore the sex was consensual. Indeed, during the trial the jury sent a note to the judge asking for “how exactly Nick took off her jeans”. The jury was sceptical whether “those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration”. Many young women who do wear skinny jeans can tell you that indeed, the jeans can be taken off without help. And it is possibly in this case, that she did help remove her jeans but half-way through she changed her mind and said “No”. No means no – even is she says yes at the start then reconsiders.

One of the chants during the SlutWalk protests epitomises what I just have said “Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go!” The media and society warn women to prevent their own rapes by “dressing appropriately”, “stop being teases!”, “not to get drunk” “not to walk home alone at night”. Now, there is nothing wrong in taking preventative measures, however, the onus and focus should be on those that commit the crimes. We should aim to annihilate the rape culture in society and teach men (and women, I guess) not to rape, not to assault, not to attack in the first place.

Rape myths keep the “rape culture” alive and kicking. Rape myths are exactly that – myths. Completely and blatantly false. These myths exist for many reason some include “inherited structural conditions, gender role expectations, and the fundamental exercise of power in a patriarchal society”. I have already mentioned a few rape myths some others are further discussed at this website such as “women secretly fantasize getting raped”, “there is no rape in marriage” and “men can’t get raped”. I urge readers to familiarise themselves with these so next time they hear these myths; they can call “bullshit” and hit them with the facts.

The SlutWalk, as well as focusing on discontinuing the rape culture that is perpetuated by society and the media, also aimed to reclaim the world “Slut”. Now, I’m sceptical if this is possible. The word itself is a pejorative and has negative connotations of a person with “loose” sexual morals and who is regarded to be sexually promiscuous. The term is usually applied to women as an insult. Professor Gail Dines and Melinda Tankard Reist have suggested that the word is “beyond redemption” due to their belief that the world is devised from the “Madonna/whore” dichotomy. My interview with SlutWalk protester, Megan McKenzie provided similar insight, however she was less cynical, stating cautiously that “it would take a long time, and many generations to reclaim a word [with such negative connotations]”.

Though the turn out was small in comparison to the protests held in Canada, Britain and the U.S, SlutWalk Sydney has made an impression. And this is why activism is crucial in instigating social justice and progressive change. Fighting for change is no easy feat and it doesn’t happen over night. However, it is worth it. Women who protested for suffrage and rights over their bodies only achieved what we now take for granted with passion, dedication and sacrifice. This is why I am so glad to have experienced SlutWalk Sydney. A collective struggle will incite progress and change, and I want to be a part of it.

A great Youtube video which compiles the best bits of the event.
Sydney SlutWalk 13 June 2011

– Sadaf Hakimi

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