What is a Slutwalk? Why does every city need one? Did media coverage take the Slutwalk marches seriously? Strip dancer and Slutwalk demonstrator ‘Peaches’ talks about the message behind Slutwalk and the needs for improvement and change.
To recap for readers who may be unsure, Slutwalk marches were set up worldwide in 2011 as a response to Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer who suggested at a safety forum on crime prevention at York University that, to remain safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.”
A woman should not be made a victim of violence, no matter what she is wearing. This is the message that the Slutwalk International Womens movement is promoting. ‘Peaches’* – a strip dancer from London, UK – took part in a march in Glasgow. Peaches didnt feel that the march sent the right message out to onlookers. She has given me the opportunity to interview her and understand why she wanted to take part in Slutwalk, and also to look at what could be done to spread the message to even more members of the public.
Why does every city need a Slutwalk?
I don’t think every city does need a Slutwalk, especially after the media response to the march in Glasgow – even the numbers of the public and media at the march. I dont think the march I attended sent out the right message, I think the name ‘Slutwalk’ is badly chosen, because no matter what anybody says, nobody hears the word ‘slut’ and thinks of it as a positive thing.
But the reason for using the word slut is ironic. The message is that you can dress however you please and that if someone calls you a slut they are being closed minded.
If somebody calls me a slut I know that they mean to put me down. So when me and my friend made T-shirts with SLUT WALK written on them, I thought I would be proud to wear them but I was wrong. I felt like a bit of an idiot – especially when there were parents with kids looking at you, obviously thinking ‘what are you doing? and why do you have slut written on your t-shirt?’ The word itself is a derogatory, socially constructed term. Girls know that… so why did they choose this name when they know that it is used as a negative image? I think it was badly put together and makes the cause of the march seem much less important, just because of the name. I felt embarrassed to be on the march, even though I believe very strongly in the cause, purely because of the reaction of the public at the time and also the press after the march. I don’t care what anybody says, it is impossible to wear the word slut across your chest and feel proud about it, no matter how much you explain to the person staring at you that it means a good thing.
I did find it very sad some news coverage I saw didnt seem to take the march as seriously as they perhaps should have. What inspired you personally to march?
When I heard about the march I really wanted to show my support because of the way I have been treated and labelled, just because of the way I dress or what I do. Girls know that when they wear less they will probably get a lot more attention, but this doesn’t mean that they should expect to be raped, or even be less surprised or less innocent to the crime. Men should not tell women what to wear. It is weak of men to say that women are ‘asking for it’ if they wear less clothes. The desire of the kind of man who’d say that has nothing to do with the intentions of the woman because he does not even think about what her intentions are. His are all that matters and it is his uncontrollable weakness only. To say ‘well she was showing too much skin’ is just saying ‘ I can’t control myself’.
I think that the march was centered around the word ‘slut’ when what is really important [to me] is just that [Constable Michael Sanguinetti] is saying women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes. Girls get too upset by the fact that if you don’t wear too much, you get called a slut. It is just a stereotype, which is not always far from the truth. I was there to support that women can wear whatever they want. I work in a Gentlemen’s club where the girls get called sluts a lot of the time, and to be honest it does not get any easier to hear. It is meant as a bad thing. Some men who come to have an erotic dance show no shame at all in front of the girl in what they think about them or how they act throughout the dance, and I feel that this honesty and lack of shame means that they think that you are some how worth less as a person and less than other girls just because they paid you to sexually entertain them. It does not help that girls who come into the club often think even less of the girls than the men do. This is not all men, obviously. There are men who treat the girls really well. Thank you to those guys out there.
Do you feel that people understand the real message of the Slutwalk? Or do people just see ‘women in their underwear’?
It’s not just that a lot of people don’t get the real message, it is because it is hard to see the real message past the whole ‘slut’ issue. I think any woman is crazy to believe that she can hold a massive banner with the word slut or the word slut anywhere on her and be taken seriously. I really don’t know why I thought people would see past the name or why I thought it would be inspiring to march on the Slutwalk. Or why I even wrote it on myself. I really believed that the whole march would have a lot more support I guess. It was just disappointing when people were looking at us in disapproval or just amusement.
You didnt feel that the public gave you any support?
It was just disappointing when people were looking at us in disapproval or just amusement.
At least it got some attention for the cause… there may be a small minority who looked further into the cause. Perhaps the march was a little too tongue in cheek to be taken seriously. Do you think it is important that men march in the Slutwalk too?
I really hoped that men would be on the march, because then not only would women be called sluts, men would too. The papers named all of the participants as sluts as it read on our banners and outfits. Men taking on the name slut takes away from the stigma for women. I think that any march, no matter what it is for, seems a lot stronger and supported if it has both sexes participating. If there were only women on the march it would probably be labelled by somebody as gender prejudiced towards men, (saying that we are tarring all men with the same brush) which it is not. It feels a lot stronger for me to be marching with men and women as a united front, although there were a lot less men than women.
I think there would be a lot more support from men and women if people knew the real message of the march, and if people didn’t dress the way they did on the march because it only annoys some people, who we will never convince to listen if we put the things they hate right in front of them. Even though it is the view that ‘women should not be parading around the streets in whatever they want’ that is being protested against. I really believe that girls can wear whatever they want, but maybe it is not the best idea to try and get public attention by deliberately dressing how you think a ‘slut’ would dress. I deliberately did not dress in what feel would be provocative clothing, because I know exactly the kind of ideas that people immediately make and that girls are often taken less seriously if they do. It shouldn’t be like that, but it is.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
I wouldnt label myself as a feminist. I find it a really difficult question to answer. Even though many people say that they believe that all people are equal, they hardly ever treat people equally. I find it really hard to believe in feminism with the kind of work that I do and the way that women are treated and looked at. A lot of women think that this kind of work is empowering to women but I struggle to see that at all, and I don’t find it realistic to believe in a lot of feminist values even though I wish they were true. I think that some feminism goes much too far, but I do believe that everybody is born equal and should be given equal opportunities. I don’t think that Slutwalk is a feminist march, and I know a lot of people who are not feminist but who strongly believe in the cause of the march.
How do you think that the march could be improved so that members of the public take Slutwalk seriously?
I hope that the negative media wont discourage people from taking part in the march. Hopefully (in the spirit of ‘all publicity is good publicity’) all that press about the Slutwalks will raise awareness… and then people who really believe in the cause will not be put off by the way people responded the first time, and will promote the right message.
Of course, we all have the right to be safe and protected. Do you have any words of advice to women who are sick of street harassment? What can they do to stay safe?
Street harassment is unavoidable, because any person can be a victim of this no matter what they do. I would never tell women to stop wearing whatever they want to, but I would say to some girls that it is not a good idea to entertain a man with the idea that you might want to go home with them or sleep with them if you really don’t want to. A lot of girls do this maybe just for the attention or amusement or maybe because they are unsure of what to say or maybe scared to say no. I always feel safest if I am out with a big group or people or especially if I am with guys that I know. A lot of men really protect girls and look after them and some girls never realize that. It is just hard to be sure to know what a man’s real intentions are, even when you have trusted them or known them for so long. The truth is that half the time people cant even trust themselves in an intense sexual situation, so just make sure you are with people you feel that you can really trust.
* ‘Peaches’ is a pseudonym.