Frequently Asked Questions
How did SlutWalk begin?
SlutWalk began after a Toronto constable told women students at a safety seminar at the University of Toronto “not to dress like sluts” in order to avoid being victimized. This comment reproduces a victim-blaming mentality and misogyny by placing the burden of safety entirely upon potential victims/survivors, rather than identifying and interrogating the social structures that enable, encourage and excuse sexual violence. Students and others who heard the comment used their outrage to protest victim-blaming and slut-shaming, demonstrating that rape/sexual assault is not based on or caused by a victim’s appearance. SlutWalks are now being held all over the world.
Victim or Survivor?
Language and its connotations have an enormous influence on the ways in which we view the world. Analyzing the language we use when we talk about rape is one way in which we can be allies to people who have experienced sexual violence. It is important to address people by the labels they choose for themselves. Some people prefer to be addressed as survivors, because it is respectful of their agency, power and survival. However, some prefer the term victim, because it accurately describes the impact that their experience had on them- furthermore, not everyone who is assaulted survives their assault or its aftermath- some people are killed during or post their assault, some take their own lives. As allies, it is important to understand that the effects of violence are far-reaching into a person’s life, and that only they know best how or when to talk about their own experience.
What is rape culture?
When we refer to rape culture, we are talking about the fact that sexual violence is prevalent and pervasive and is maintained through dominant attitudes and beliefs about gender, sexuality, and violence. Rape culture is very much informed by social and historical oppressive processes of patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, colonialism, classism, ableism, ageism, fatphobia, etc. In rape culture, sexual violence is both made to be invisible and inevitable; and these two practices are what normalizes rape, harassment and assault. Sexual violence is widely accepted as a “fact of life,” an unfortunate one, but still, a fact of life. There is little—if any— talk about ending the cultural practices that inform rape culture. In fact, rape isn’t even seen as something that is sanctioned by systemic forces at all. The forces that normalize rape culture are not examined; rape is not seen as a culture or “practice” and if it is ever discussed, sexual violence is seen as an isolated act that occurs between individuals.
In this way, we isolate ourselves from incidents of sexual violence and individualize the blame. Blame is cast upon the perpetrator who is seen as “sick” in some way, which further alienates our social responsibility to end sexual violence because it recreates the rapist as someone who is distinctly not like us; the rapist is a sexual deviant, whose behavior is informed by their own perverted desires. They’re sick, they’re different, there’s something wrong with them, they’re not normal. When we give this medicalized explanation of rape we create this connection between biology and violent sexual behavior, which not only creates an excuse for sexual violence, it cements it as something that can be inherent within individuals, and only further individualizes the blame for sexual violence. The rapist as an individual is held responsible for rape, because we ascribe sickness to them, and deny the impact of social constructions of gender, sexuality etc. that inform the way that we behave sexually. Sexually violent behavior is seen as individual nature that is not influenced by cultural nurture. We never have to admit that violence can be perpetrated by anyone. It is a fact that people are most often assaulted by someone they know, either in an act of domestic violence, date rape or acquaintance rape, people are most often assaulted by someone they know.
What is victim-blaming?
Victim-blaming is just that; it’s unfairly blaming someone for the violence that was done unto them. When it comes to sexual harassment, assault or rape, victim-blaming manifests in a number of ways. Post-assault, people often find that their choices and actions surrounding the assault (and sometimes their entire sexual history and other past behaviors) are put under a microscope. Was their outfit too provocative? Were they wearing too much makeup? Were they walking out too late? Were they in a “bad” neighborhood? Were they drinking? Were they dancing? Does their gender expression deviate from feminine or masculine norms in some way? Questions like these are asked by the legal system, the media and society, who look for some reason to put blame on a person who has experienced violence in order to explain WHY that violence was done to them. This gives others reasons to believe they will remain safe, if only they do not behave/dress/be the way that the person who was assaulted behaves/dresses/is. Victim-blaming is one way that we individualize rape and sexual assault—meaning that our society sees sexual violence as rare and isolated, rather than something that is very prevalent. By pinning the blame on a survivor or victim, we as a society can distance ourselves from having to engage with the larger issues that make rape systemic. One of the popular arguments put forth to explain away rape is this generalization: some people believe that if they have never felt unsafe or vicitimized, their experience demonstrates that our world is safe. But the argument of “oh I didn’t experience this so it’s not real” is dangerous logic. According to that argument, the world is generally a safe place, and people who are assaulted somehow stray away from safety into a danger zone. It’s much easier to blame the survivor as an individual, because then we don’t have to admit that violence can be perpetrated against anyone. It’s less frightening to ignore the fact that rape is part of the systemic misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia etc. in our society, because then we don’t have to recognize our own privilege and complicity within that system.
What is slut-shaming?
“Slut” is a derogatory term that is most often used against women who are perceived to be sexual. Women are called sluts for a variety of arbitrary reasons: the clothes they wear, the makeup they wear, their body language, the way they interact with other people, ideas about their sexual behavior, how many partners they may have, or just being perceived in some way as different…The judgment is consistently based on little or no knowledge about a particular woman as a person.
How is SlutWalk NYC different from Take Back the Night?
In many ways SlutWalk NYC and Take Back the Night have similar goals about ending sexual violence. One difference is that SlutWalk NYC is a daytime event, emphasizing that sexual violence can happen at any time. SlutWalk NYC centers trans, genderqueer, gender non-conforming survivors and allies in our organizing and fight for justice. We also welcome male survivors of sexual assault and male allies to participate fully in all events and our organizing.
What if I’m afraid for myself or my female friends and loved ones to wear revealing clothing?
Despite the rhetoric of those who blame women’s clothing choices for sexual assault, there is no evidence that clothing choice is linked to rape. We understand, however, that many people make choices about their clothing in order to feel safer. There is no dress code for SlutWalk NYC, and we welcome participants to come dressed in whatever feels comfortable.
Rape, sexual violence, and sexual harassment are pervasive in our culture and have gone on too long. After lifetimes of listening to rhetoric that blames victims, we are ready to fight back. When Toronto police advised women to, “not dress like sluts in order to avoid being victimized,” a spark was set off, and a movement born.
Why the name SlutWalk? Is the goal to reclaim or disavow the word “slut?”
In contemporary usage, the word “slut” means many things. It is a default insult interchangeable with many sexually humiliating epithets directed at perceived women. It is a specific means of controlling and policing female sexuality, and a condescending method of stigmatizing and discrediting women, sexuality and sexual violence. It is a generalized insult directed at women for intractability, independence, “unfeminine” behavior and any number of reasons that mark someone as imperfect and individual. Initially, the word was chosen for SlutWalk as an ironic response to the glib victim-blaming by a Toronto officer that women could actually prevent rape by not dressing like “sluts.” Some SlutWalk supporters have co-opted the term as a means of reclaiming the insult and defusing it of its sting by wearing it as a badge of pride to indicate sexual self-awareness and humanity. Others have rallied around the word in order to highlight its inherent absurdity and illegitimacy; while still others seek to remove the word from our popular lexicon, believing it to be an inherently violent term. All these views are welcome at our march and in our organizing; a multiplicity of voices is the greatest strength against prejudiced monolithic ideologies.
“Sluts are a figment of the patriarchal imagination and in that imagination they are not only sexually active women, they are also thinking, working, productive women who strive to be the best they can be.” –Nicole Ouimette, The Myth of Being a Slut, Lawsonry.com
Isn’t clothing important? This is an unsafe world; women must take precautions.
One answer to the question “What was the victim wearing?” might be “Why was the rapist raping?” What are the values of a society that mythologizes female weakness and male aggression and accepts rape as a natural extension of hierarchical gender relations?
We are interested in reunderstanding the dynamic of rapist (innocent until proven guilty) and victim (guilty until proven innocent) and shifting the responsibility away from women (to protect themselves against a society that condones rape) and onto the rapist not to rape—and by extension, onto society to teach and encourage sexual pleasure, education, exploration, mutuality and consent instead of ignorance, aggression, silence and fear. Dress is not consent. Consent is consent.
What are men’s roles in this movement?
Both men and women play vital roles in helping all people achieve freedom and equality. “Women’s issues” are human issues. Men, specifically, can be powerful allies by analyzing and challenging the rigid, defensive gender conventions (e.g., women=passive, reactive objects; men=emotionally dead performers) that keep everyone insecure, ashamed and divorced from their diverse emotions and aspirations. SlutWalk is a feminist movement. SlutWalk and the fight for gender equality benefits, educates and makes life better for all parties.
“Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.” –The Good Men Project