Thursday, August 11, 2011

The March of the Sluts

On April 4, 2011 women took to the streets in the city of Toronto for the first ever Slut Walk. Sounds like something a teenage boy would be all over attending, doesn't it? He wouldn't have been very welcome. All jokes aside, the Slut Walks are trying to send a message to the Toronto Police force and the world. Satellite events have taken place all over Canada in other countries, and continue to pop up every month. The whole mission statement is here, but in short Slut Walks are meant to take the word "slut" back. To remove the pejorative context. To make women feel safe being confident in their sexuality, without judgment or fear.

I live in the city where it all began after a Toronto Police officer addressing a group of University students advised that to stay safe "women should avoid dressing like sluts." It's the same old blame the victim horseshit we've been hearing forever. Most people were shocked and angry that he said it. I'm not. I like it when pigs out themselves, it makes them easier to spot in a crowd. What he said is repugnant, true. But you know what's worse?

That he thinks it.

In the city where I live, in the city where I am a mother raising a daughter, members of the force sworn "To Serve and Protect" think rape victims are asking for it by wearing a short skirt. In addition to worrying about one of many unthinkable things happening to my little girl, I have to worry that the police investigating what happened may adjust their level of dedication based on what she was wearing when it happened. In case you haven't noticed, I'm prone to verbosity. But when I think about how I would respond to hearing an investigating officer ask "And what were you wearing on the night of the attack?", I am at a complete loss for words.

I get that the purpose of protest rallies is to build awareness and that awareness is supposed to affect social change. With all due respect to my fellow sluts, I don't think marching on the streets of <insert city name here> in your underwear is going to do the trick. There are protests every day in every major city and most of the time people have no idea what they're on about. If you're in Toronto you probably know what it's in response to, but what is the goal? Yes, I know the mission statement claims to be sending a message to the Toronto Police force, but I'm not convinced the end result will be louder than a whisper. If doing something makes people feel better then by all means, go ahead. Just don't expect to go for a walk and wake up to a new dawn.

The last time a protest really affected change was the Orange Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians packed the streets of Kiev around the clock for days, living in tents in freezing conditions. That's right - days in subzero weather. The election results were questioned, the votes were recounted and to the right Viktor, who survived poisoning along the campaign trail, went the spoils. Five years later, after an election under intense international scrutiny, the old Viktor returned to power. The ringleader of the Orange Revolution, the most outspoken voice of the people, Yulia Tymoshenko, was arrested during her own trial this week. So much for the revolution. If hundreds of thousands of people occupying the streets for days can only shift the tide until the next election, what does that say about the chances of a stroll in fishnets and stilettos?

It's terrifying but not surprising that those who promise "To Serve and Protect" still blame the victim. We all do it to some extent. If not the rape victim, then the guy who parked his nice car in a dodgy neighbourhood or the kid who forgot to lock up her bike. Again. Let's stop doing that. Let's instill some empathy in our kids. Let's have frank discussions about inappropriate comments with our friends and family. Let's acknowledge that while it's going to take some time for this groundswell of compassion to spread, it's going to be worth it in the end.

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