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VIC

May 28, 2011

Slutwalk: feminists take to the streets to reclaim 'slut' in style

Thousands of feminist-minded individuals took to the streets on Saturday to protest against slut-shaming and victim-blaming in colourful SlutWalks in Melbourne and Brisbane.

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Thousands of feminist-minded individuals took to the streets on Saturday to protest against slut-shaming and victim-blaming in colourful SlutWalks.

Melbourne joined Brisbane as the first of the Aussie SlutWalks after a careless line from a Canadian policeman — telling university students not to “dress like sluts” if they wanted to avoid sexual assault — turned into a global phenomenon.

From 1pm supporters gathered on the grass and steps of the State Library of Victoria to hear speeches, before marching down Swanston St and finishing at the Fitzroy Gardens, where The Age had set up a lavender coloured fabric backdrop to shoot pictures of the best-dressed protesters for an online gallery.

Not that it was the short-skirt and low-cut top perve-fest that many claimed it would be. Most of the crowd was made up of young females in their 20s and 30s. Most cultural tribes appeared represented: Victoriana dresses, rockabilly 50s frocks paired with red lippy, goths in their black leather, a group of friends dressed in Lady Gaga-esque neon lycra — complete with g-string leotards over coloured tights, bright eye makeup and signs saying “If Madonna can wear it, I can too”, middle aged mums in cardigans, guys in drag and lots of lots of everyday white middle class types wearing jeans and jackets. There was even an appearance by pedobear, resplendent in a floral bikini over the big bear suit.

The rain, which looked like it was about to fall just as the crowds were gathering, held off, although a friend of mine had offered up the hilarious “wet sluts” headline in case the storm hit.

Even sluts aren’t immune to the Melbourne cold, with one guy overheard reminding his more scantily-dressed lady friend “remember, you told me I can’t give you my coat until the end of the march”.

Former Age columnist Catherine Deveny, stalwart of all major Melbourne lefty rallies, handed out large yellow “You can’t rape sluts either” stickers from her spot at the back of the State Library grass.

“I just think it’s important to get the message out there that it’s never OK to rape and slut is a very strong word that has had connotations attached to it for rapist apologists and people who support the idea that women are objects not equals,” Deveny told Crikey.

Not that it’s just about the ladies, clarified Deveny. “More than anything I support men and I don’t agree with the idea that men can not, do not, or have no desire to want to control their own impulses and that we are the gatekeepers of sexuality and we’ve got to dress in an appropriate, respectable way in a way that is not provocative because they can’t possibly control themselves. They can and they do and they want to.”

Deveny wrote an article for The Drum yesterday explaining why she was taking her three young sons to SlutWalk. When asked if they had wanted to come, Deveny explained: “The 13-year-old at the end went ‘I don’t wanna gooooo’ and I said ‘well women don’t want to get raped either, get in the car.’”

For Ilona Szirer, a 21-year-old student resplendent in a leopard print leotard and red lippie, SlutWalk was the first time she’d joined a political protest. “I’m here because I’m sick of being judged for how I look or what I wear and the assumptions that people make about that,” she told Crikey.

“Our presence will make people question what is a slut and what’s wrong with enjoying sex as a woman. This is a really great place to publicly say what I feel and wear what I want and feel comfortable.”

A variety of speakers addressed the crowd, from sex workers to survivors of sexual assault and feminist writers, although sadly the PA wasn’t strong enough for those up the back to hear any of the speeches – and the crowd was too tightly packed in too push through.

Instead, there were several calls of “turn up the PA!” and “we can’t hear you”. One feminist gent in the crowd declared “I know these ladies don’t want to be silenced, but I can’t hear them very well”.

Cody Hepburn Lagerfield Smith, who addressed the crowd about his own experiences with sexual assault in the day’s most inspiring speech, chatted with Crikey afterwards: “I mainly came here and spoke because there’s not enough masculine voices speaking out against victim-blaming and out against rape. And I think a lot of dudes need to check themselves and educate themselves and educate their friends on their privilege.”

The crowd had plenty of male support, from dads in their 30s pushing prams to young members of the gay and transgender communities parading costumes worthy of Mardi Gras.

While much of the crowd was in a happy festive mood, greeting friends, having chats and chanting and singing, the political objectives of SlutWalk were never too far away.

Audry Autonomy, a sex-worker and one of the co-organisers of Sydney’s upcoming SlutWalk on June 13 spoke to Crikey about the need for sex workers and transgender groups to become involved with the SlutWalk movement and its call to end victim-blaming.

“I’m a sex-worker, I’m a slut and a whore and I’m reclaiming that too,” said Autonomy. Autonomy spoke of the constant struggle that sex workers have in dealing with the police and authorities in regards to sexual assault and rape, since, as Autonomy explains, “we’re told that we should expect it as part of our jobs”.

“A lot of sex workers are terrified to seek assistance from the police or access to justice, because they assume, with good reason, that they’ll experience victim blaming at the hands of the police.”

According to police reports quoted on the SlutWalk Melbourne Facebook page, about 2200 people attended the rally, a significant drop from the 5000 number that media reports have been banding about this week.

Not that sluts and slut supporters seemed to care.

Karen Pickering, one of the organisers of SlutWalk Melbourne, was buzzing with excitement after the walk, telling Crikey “I’m high as a kite at the moment and it’s not chemically induced.”

But she was aware of fitting SlutWalk into the grander social picture. “It’s a long road and we’ve taken a few steps today,” said Pickering. “We’re walking in the footsteps of incredible people in the past who have pushed feminism forward for thousands of years and it’s just another moment in feminism.”

Amber Jamieson —

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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15 comments

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15 thoughts on “Slutwalk: feminists take to the streets to reclaim ‘slut’ in style

  1. freecountry

    Johnfromplanetearth – All but the most scientifically rigorous schools of thought commit the sin of putting theory before evidence. I don’t see how that makes feminism any more “similar to fas-cism” than new-age-ism, evangelical democracy, or any other popular philosophy.

    Civilization is built on trust. The overt markers of civilization–cities, commerce, art, sport, trying to build a tomorrow that’s better than today–none of it is possible if you are always looking over your shoulder. The civil covenant can be upheld not by fear of the law, but only by most people having a sincere desire to be worthy of the trust of their fellow citizens.

    It follows that the true test of a civilization is not the architecture of its opera houses; the test is a young woman walking home alone after dark without fear of being molested.

    Many places exist in Australia where a woman can do exactly that, without fear. That kind of security and trust is a gift for everyone. Women who can dress as they please, as sexy as they wish, are happier, more colourful, more confident, a lot more fun to be around–aside from being, of course, very nice to look at.

    A generation ago we had Jodie Foster in “The Accused”. The message is worth repeating every once in a while. Today we have something expressed in a way that strikes me as rather crass, like a slap in the face. Perhaps a slap in the face is the intention. If it works, if it pushes out the norms and makes women feel more safety in numbers, then more power to them.

    Just as it behoves women to take all due responsibility for their own safety–to face the fact that we do not live in a perfect world–so it behoves men to defend the victim against undeserved aggression. Even if the woman was a little naive to so misjudge her environment. Even if she is drunk, even if her dress is tasteless, even if she is a little confused about the difference between being to blame and taking responsibility. When you defend the right of a scantily clad woman to walk down the street alone after dark, it’s not her personal standards, but civilization itself that you are defending.

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