We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with Slutwalk gets rocky.

It would appear that, through lack of clarity, something has finally become clear: Slutwalk has lost me.

I have been following the media coverage, the blog posts, and especially, the threads on SlutwalkTO’s Facebook page, with vigour over the past month or so, since the original walk took place in Toronto on April 3rd. I think it’s safe to say that my relationship with Slutwalk has been a little bit of a feminist rollercoaster ride. One moment I feel like YEAH! WOMEN GETTING MAD. Because, hey, women should be mad. Victim blaming is one of the most insidious, abusive, and traumatic experiences a woman can go through. Not only have we been assaulted, had to come out and admit/describe the assault (terrifying in and of itself), but then we are treated as though we somehow instigated, deserved, or imagined the assault. It is sick. I have witnessed it and I have experienced it. No woman should ever be told that she must stay inside in order to ‘avoid being raped’ or that her clothing or her actions or her behaviour or her level of intoxication somehow made her deserving of sexual assault. With this in mind, I can certainly get behind Slutwalk’s message. I am glad that we have had enough, and I am glad that we’re getting pissed off.

But I think there is more to Slutwalk. I was hesitant, initially, to come out and support the event, though I wasn’t quite sure, at first, what it was that was making me feel so uncomfortable, so unwilling to jump on the Slutwalk bandwagon. While these issues seemed very feminist to me, I was hard-pressed to find anyone actually talking about feminism. I was very uncomfortable with the word ‘slut’ being used as a way to empower women, and even more uncomfortable with the assertion that organizers had taken it upon themselves to ‘reclaim’ the word. This is a word that has been used to hurt, shame, and abuse me. It is a word that has been used to hurt, shame, and abuse women everywhere. In order to silence them, control them, punish them and, of course, blame them. As a teenager (and having been less selective about my choice of social circle), I witnessed friends participate in victim-blaming, I listened as both my female and male friends and acquaintances refused to believe it when a mutual friend came out and said that she had been raped because, well ‘you know how she is’. It was traumatic then, and continues to make my blood boil even now, over 10 years later. It taught me a lesson as a young woman that has been reiterated over and over again: if you are raped, if you are abused, if you are assaulted, be prepared for no one to believe you. Be prepared for the excuses people will make for the men who have done this, be prepared to have your character come into question. Even as a teenager, I knew that when a woman says she has been raped, you believe her. You don’t blame her. I can’t say the same for my peers and clearly little has changed since those days.

I followed the progress of Slutwalk Toronto and, in particular, the threads and posts on their Facebook page, as it seemed to be the place where the most of the conversations were happening. I looked and looked for some mention of feminism, some alignment and acknowledgment that this was, indeed, a feminist issue and a feminist fight – a fight that has been being fought by women for decades. Instead what I found, over and over again was, not only a refusal to align with feminism, but often, an outright aversion to it. I saw numerous attacks on radical feminism and radical feminists and I witnessed the reinforcement of negative and untrue stereotypes about feminism (you know the ones: man-hating, misandrist, no-fun, sex-negative, etc). While I do believe the organizers had good intentions, desiring that Slutwalk be inclusive to all, it began to look a lot like the ‘funfeminist’ – NO NO WE’RE THE CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE FEMINISTS. THE FUN ONES. WE’RE OK. WE LIKE PENISES AND PORN AND LOOKING SEXY kind of feminism that, in the end doesn’t successfully challenge much of anything, and simply repackages sexist imagery in ’empowering’ wrapping paper.

I also found an almost desperate and certainly consistent erasure of gender as a primary issue in terms of sexual assault.

Having made this mistake in the past, and learned from gentle haranguing and online beration, I do not wish to erase the fact that men are indeed often victims of assault, abuse, and rape. Often they are raped and abused by other men. Sometimes they are raped and abused by other women. Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual assault is still, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. The Toronto cop who recommended that women avoid ‘dressing like sluts’ in order to avoid being raped was addressing women. He was engaging in victim-blaming in a very gendered way. He was implying that a women could ‘bring on’ or encourage assault at the hands of a man by ‘dressing like a slut’. We are all in agreement on this, correct?

Not only that, but the word, ‘slut’, is gendered. Can we also agree on this?

As such, I’d like to talk about this word, ‘slut’, and its use in an event against victim-blaming, called ‘Slutwalk’.

Certainly there are reasons organizers decided to use this word. One of these reasons is that, by using the word ‘slut’, ‘it makes people take notice’,

But is that ‘the whole point of it all’? I’m afraid I would have to disagree. Vehemently. Getting attention is easy. Being a feminist is hard. That is not to say that it must, at all times, be difficult, in order to be valid. That is to say that being feminist, often, means being unpopular. Challenging dominant ideology is unpopular. If we focus too hard on trying to make people like us, on trying to make our image palatable, ‘attractive’, easy-to-digest, we do risk, I believe, the movement.

Another F Word, in the UK, wrote a piece addressing, specifically, the term ‘slut’. The author wrote that, while they supported the original sentiment to ‘reclaim the streets’ regardless of the time of day (in reference to ‘Take Back the Night‘), they did not feel comfortable with the idea that they should ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’. The author of the post saw, as do I, a reference to that which has infiltrated much of post-feminist discourse, in that ‘I-have-the-right-to-wear-heels-if-I-want-to’ kind of way that is often used to negate critique or criticism of anything that is described as an ‘individual choice’. This post was responded to, by Slutwalk organizers, in what I viewed as, a condescending way, saying that: ‘It seems some people still don’t want to participate because they grapple with the word ‘slut’.

Well, Slutwalk, I also ‘grapple with the word slut’. This word, as I have mentioned, has been used in a myriad of ways to hurt me. I have been called a slut for having sex, for not having sex, and for being coerced into sex. I have been called a slut by partners, by friends, and by acquaintances. I wish that this word did not hold the power it does. I wish that it had not been used to hurt and abuse me. But it has. There is no erasing that. Regardless of whether or not I decide to redefine the word. It continues to be used in this way. And so I still ‘grapple’ with the word, ‘slut’. While some may have decided to reclaim it or redefine it for their own personal empowerment, I’m afraid that this does not change my experiences.

This is not to say that attempting to change language is not a purposeful endeavour. Or that  to take away the power a word has to hurt and abuse people is impossible. But rather that this is something that we must not only agree upon, as the oppressed group who has decided to reclaim the oppressive word, and that this takes time. While the argument has been made that the intent is not to force this supposed ‘reclaimation’ on others, that, rather, anyone can volunteer to be a ‘slut or an ally’,  the very uncomfortable fact that Slutwalk pressures women (and men!) into accepting this word, a violent word, as part of their empowerment discourse, it not addressed. In fact it seems to go unnoticed. I may well be, in theory and in life, the ‘ally’ of a self-described ‘slut’. But I am not about to call her one.

Is ‘slut’ a choice when we are marching under the banner of ‘Slutwalk’? This language of self-empowerment and choice seems all kinds of accommodating, but when we chastise critics of the event and language for ‘grappling’ with term, I wonder if, perhaps, Slutwalk isn’t quite as accommodating as they would like to be. Informing the public at large that ‘slut is being reappropriated’ is certainly empowering and delightful for some women, but does not necessarily encourage solidarity. Nor do insinuations that feminists who do not wish to take on this label, are simply having not quite empowered enough to have stopped ‘grappling’ with the language.

While we’re talking about language, Slutwalk TO would seem to have rejected some particularly pertinent language. They do not, as a whole, identify as feminist, nor do they seem to take the position that  gender is a primary factor in sexual assault and victim blaming. In an effort to be inclusive, I wonder if the onus has been taken off of men? Many men seem to love the event. The Facebook page is full of men who revel in the ‘no we’re not feminists we’re humanists’ slant, who use the page as a platform to promote their I’m a good guy persona. Who are cool with feministish activism so long as they aren’t made to feel uncomfortable, the kind who prefer this version of feminism:

i.e. The kind that is very pleasant and doesn’t say much. The kind that reassures the public that feminists are just attractive, heterosexual, women who love penises and shaving their legs. Women who don’t threaten the status quo.

Using porny kinds of imagery makes the event all the more appealing to men who may feel nervous around feminism, but not so much around the sexy mudflaps girl.

Check out the image used for Slutwalk DC’s ‘sexy new website’:

(***Update! Slutwalk DC has removed this image. Unfortunately, now there is this.)

I’m afraid that I can’t see how the mudflaps girl presents a challenge to sexist imagery and discourse around women and female sexuality. Why, exactly, does feminism have to be ‘sexy’ in order for it to be supported? Well, the answer, of course, is so that it is palatable to men and to people who don’t much wish to challenge dominant ideology or to look at the roots of patriarchy. So that it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable. And now a space has been created where it is not only acceptable, but progressive(!) for men to call women sluts;

where it is perfectly acceptable for men to watch porn because, hey, women do it too!

And where it is acceptable to objectify women because we’ve decided that objectification is actually empowering.

This palatability includes, what appears to me as, the consistent erasure of there being anything exploitative or gendered about everything from sexual assault to sex work:

Say anything about the gendered nature of domestic abuse or sexual assault and you will be sure to get a reminder that ‘women rape men too’ and that it is correct to view everyone as ‘human’, rather than gendered, thereby removing patriarchy as a guiding force when it comes to rape and abuse.

Just like Suicide Girls and the Neo-Burlesque movement argues, Slutwalk seems to encourage the perspective that objectification is ‘ok’ so long as we are objectifying women who deviate from the norm perpetuated by mainstream media (ie. blond, thin, white, conventionally attractive). Making feminist fights palatable to men or anti-feminist women means that it is ok and, feminist even, to objectify, for example, ‘curvy girls’ and not skinny ones:

These comments tend to be met with back pats (because being attracted to ‘curvy girls’ is progressive! You are such a forward thinking man!) and supported by arguments that ‘if you are objectifying yourself then it is ok’:

Naturally leading off of this kind of commentary, posts will inevitably draw the line between ‘good feminists’ (i.e. sluts) and ‘bad feminists’ (i.e. radicals). Ariel Levy is, in this thread, viewed as ‘shrill’ and ‘incoherant’, one would assume, because she criticizes this nonsensical and ‘post-feminist’ concept that objectifying oneself is somehow empowering.

The constant differentiating between the imaginary ‘man-hating feminist’ (radical) and the ‘sexyfun’ feminists who like to be objectified is just, well, pukey. Are we meant to turn a man into a hero because he ‘likes big butts’? What purpose does it serve in a conversation about women, sexual assault against women, and victim blaming (women) to continuously remind everyone that women are perpetrators as well? I believe that we all know that men are assaulted as well as women and it is indeed important to keep talking about this in order to disrupt the ‘men cannot be victims’ dichotomy that is so much a part of our tiny little vision of what ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ means. Conversations about male victims are important and should be had. But, as Elsie Hambrook notes in her piece: “The Facts and Politics of Intimate Partner Violence”,  ‘But, What About the Men?!’ comments are rarely made in good faith. “They are rarely made in an effort to add to a meaningful discussion…These comments are more often ‘meant to grind the conversation to a halt”. It would appear that, under the circumstances I am looking at, these comments are meant to erase gender from the conversation. Hambrook adds: “It is meant to take away from the few occasions where women’s concerns are taken seriously.”

On Friday, this debate aired on The Agenda.

I couldn’t help but cringe, once again, when Jarvis brought up the ‘personal empowerment’ argument as defense of the use and attempted reclaimation of the word, ‘slut’, saying that: “For me to call myself whatever language I want, if I find it empowering, for somebody else to say that that’s not a right choice, when this is my choice. I find that problematic.” I believe that, in this short quip, Jarvis sums up much of that what has made me uncomfortable with Slutwalk from the get-go. ‘If I feel personally empowered by my personal choice, then no one else should have anything to say on the matter. It affects only me,’ is not a strong argument for feminism.

Slutwalk does, in many ways, resemble the same kind of privileged, individualist, ‘anything goes so long as it’s my choice‘ feminism which argues that prostitution is simply a choice like any other (or ‘work’ like any other kind of work), that objectification can be empowering as long as we are choosing to objectify ourselves, and that hey, if heels and breast implants make me feel great then everyone else needs to accept this as some kind of feminist act, because I say it is.

Reclaiming ‘slut’ is not only unnecessary as, I don’t believe we need a term for ‘people who enjoy consensual sex’, but, in removing the gendered aspect of ‘slut’ from the definition (they have not decided to reclaim/redefine the term to mean ‘women who enjoy consensual sex’ though I am not sure that this would be much better as, of course, I would prefer to believe that all women* enjoy consensual sex….) it makes the ‘reclaimation’ of this word an impossibility. It is men or, at very least, a male-dominated, sexist, patriarchal culture which has used the word ‘slut’ to silence and shame women. This means that, were we all to agree that we wanted to ‘take back’ this word (which, to be clear, we have not) it would need to be a gender-specific reclaimation. Men have not been abused and shamed and attacked with this word. Women have.

I absolutely believe that we must work to end rape culture and victim blaming. As Slutwalk makes very clear, no one is asking to be raped. No one deserves to be raped. This message is important. It is, in fact, imperative. Taking gender out of the equation, focusing on individual empowerment (ie. the ‘whatever makes me feel good should go unchallenged’ argument) and, stating (not suggesting, but stating) that ‘ The term ‘Slut’ is being re appropriated: A person who enjoys consensual sex.’ doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to leave out some very important information. For example, the word ‘women’, or ‘feminism’.

Slutwalk co-founder, Sonya JF Barnett, wrote in her blog post entitled: “Being a Slut and Getting Pissed Off” that she would “label [herself] a ‘slut’ before a ‘feminist”; embracing ‘slut’ because she enjoys sex, but rejecting ‘feminist’ because of the “reputation of ‘man-hating, hairy-legged, birkenstock-wearing’ descriptions that appeared around the term”. Ok….So why not have a feminist walk? Why walk for a term that, clearly, while some want to ‘reclaim’, many others feel triggered and shamed by. ‘Slut’ is not a word that we invented, that was taken away from us. ‘Feminism’, on the other hand, means something. It is a word and movement that women created and it is a word that patriarchy works very hard to take away from us. Why not work to keep it? Why not, instead of perpetuating the stereotypes, proudly call ourselves ‘feminist’? We already have a word that describes women who support consensual sex, equality, and the end of patriarchal oppression. Why are we comfortable to call one another, and allow men to call us ‘sluts’, but then reject ‘feminism’? Could it have something to do with the fact that men and mainstream culture are much more likely to accept and support us if we label ourselves sluts and parade around in bras? Whereas if we actually, as Gail Dines points out on The Agenda, ‘put the focus on men’, name men as the primary perpetrators of sexual assault against women, name patriarchy as the foundation of rape culture and victim blaming, and then name feminism as the movement which works to combat this, well, some men probably aren’t going to like us anymore. It is possible that, were we to do this, some men,  men who do not wish for this kind of thing to be pointed out (excluding male feminists and allies, who are arm in arm with us, pointing these things out themselves), will not want to come on our walk with us. They may not want to photograph us, they may not want to come onto our Facebook pages and yell: “I love feminists!’ as much as they like to yell: ‘I love sluts!’.

But in terms of saying what we mean, addressing the roots and foundations of sexual assault and victim blaming, and challenging the system, I think that what we may be talking about is, in fact, feminism. I think that what we may, in fact, be, are feminists. Not sluts. Feminists.

Rejecting the word feminist but embracing the word slut sounds, to me, a lot like we’ve all drank the systematic kool-aid. I feel a little bit like all those patriarchal powers-that-be are snickering, witnessing the success of their hard work, having scared women away from labeling themselves feminist and instead taking on the oppressive language used to keep us down, to insult us, to objectify us, and to rape us. Hoping that they’ll stop. That maybe they’ll like us, respect us, and join us, so long as we don’t make them feel too uncomfortable. So long as we look sexy while we march.

F Word Collective member, Ellie, pointed me to this amazing spoken word piece by Julian Curry. I think we can certainly draw some parallels here.

*** For further discussion and some alternate perspectives on Slutwalk, please check out The F Word’s podcast, featuring an interview with Slutwalk Vancouver organizers, Katie Raso and Katie Nordgren.  This interview is followed by a collective discussion among hosts Nicole Deagan, Laura Wood, and Meghan Murphy about some of the more controversial issues that have come up around Slutwalk. Podcast can be found at rabble.ca http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2011/05/whats-name-slutwalks-feminism

*regarding the statement that “I would prefer to believe that all women enjoy consensual sex”, I would like to make very clear that what I meant, and what I should have conveyed more clearly, was that “I would prefer to believe that all women who enjoy/desire/have sex, enjoy consensual sex”. i.e. Let’s just work with the assumption that women do not ‘enjoy’ non-consensual sex.  This statement was, in no way, meant to imply that all women enjoy/desire/have sex and, in no way, was meant to advocate for compulsory sexuality or erase asexual women. I make very clear, in my work (even within this post) and thought, (as well as in the comments section, though this issue has continued to be brought up and so I do feel the need to address it and clarify) that I reject compulsory sexuality and the idea that all people are sexually active or have arbitrary sexual desire. This was an error in language and clarity, not an error in thought or theory.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • This is a brilliant critique – thanks so much to linking my note on facebook.

  • Yes yes yes.


    -I initially dug Slutwalk when I didn’t perceive it to be primarily about the word “slut” or relcaiming the word. I perceived the use of the word in the name of the event to be confrontational, not necessarily a reclamation. I felt that the point was to say to the Toronto police force (and larger Canadian society) “Hey, when you say slut, this is what you mean” and show a whole variety of women wearing whatever they usually where, the point being to demonstrate that “slut” (and sexual assault) is used against women no matter what they’re doing/wearing . The point was to show that moms in sweats pushing strollers down the street have endured “slut” being hurled at them, and hopefully have people finally understand that women suffer sexual abuse and aggression no matter what they’re doing/wearing, because it’s not about the victim, it’s about the aggressor. I feel like it’s stopped being about dismantling rape culture and is now solely about the word ‘slut.’

    -I’m all about playing with/reclaiming language. I think it’s ironic that a movement that has largely become about reclaiming the word “slut” is totally down with demonizing another word that primarily applies to women and is often used against us: feminist. Slutwalk isn’t just disinterested in the term, but outright perpetuating the negative stereotypes associated with the word and perpetuating the use of the word as a way to reduce and abuse those who claim that title.

    -The whole “but attention is good!” cry you mentioned reminds me of the sexy sexy breast cancer awareness we’ve been seeing. A faction of mobilization around breast cancer has become solely dedicated to awareness that the disease exists and is insistent on raising that awareness by making the issue fun and sexy, and when people call bullshit they’re told “at least it’s getting attention!”

  • Erm, I should point out that when I talk about Slutwalk, I mean the bulk of the discourse that is surrounding the event. I would point out that I have certainly seen some comments/images from the walks that tell me that there are many, many individual women taking part who are invested in dismantling rape culture and are looking to expose the way “slut” is used against women, not simply reclaim the term.

  • I’m so disappointed by this. Not by your piece, Meghan, which is eloquent and well-argued. But by the fact that no matter what Slutwalk Toronto says, Vancouver must stand in solidarity, even if we find their arguments and language problematic. Vancouver has really tried so very hard to steer away from the “positive reclaimation” of slut as our mission statement, because we don’t feel that it’s something we can just declare and make manifest. When an organizer of TO’s event eschews the label of feminism, it makes me look like I do the same.

    I don’t. I’m a radical feminist, and it has absolutely nothing to do with body hair or sexual preference. It’s because I believe, perhaps with the most vehemence that I believe in anything, that while there may be some level of formal gender equality on the Canadian books, we are so incredibly far from a legitimate social equality. I lose sleep because the Conservative government holds Planned Parenthood’s funding in purgatory because of moronic semantic bullshit. I feel nauseous every time an intelligent and accomplished woman is praised first for her appearance over a doctorate or a research breakthrough. I weep because a gang rape on a little girl in Texas is excused away because she “dressed older”.

    Slutwalk, for me, isn’t about taking “slut” back. It’s an attack on the culture that creates the “slut” concept, that commodifies female sexuality and places a high value on sexy women who do not have sex, who allow their “purity” to be held by their fathers and passed to their husbands. It’s a frank examination of the society that says we must be virgin or whore and that if we fall on the latter side of that unbalanced scale, we ought to be prepared to receive all that we deserve. “Slut” is used to immediately shut down the humanity and value of a woman who does not conform to the rigorous guidelines of feminine behaviour. By almost every definition, I am a raging slut. This is not a label I wear happily or with pride. I know that if I am assaulted and I opt to prosecute, the defense will do everything in their power to paint me as a wantonly sexual woman who got precisely what I was asking for. I do not celebrate this. I do not wish to “take this back”.

    Slutwalk Vancouver’s main manifesto is this:
    SlutWalk is not about hate, and we do not use hateful language.

    SlutWalk addresses the culture that excuses away all sexual assault, not solely rape.

    SlutWalk recognizes that sexual assault is not something solely done by men to women.

    All people, regardless of gender, have a role in challenging victim blaming and sex shaming that create a culture that justifies acts of sexual violence. This event is not just about the violence, but the excuses that allow violence to continue.

    Women are most often the targets and men are most often the perpetrators, but all genders are affected. SlutWalk recognizes all gender expressions as those that have been and can be negatively impacted. All genders can be sluts or allies.

    Some communities/people are at a higher risk of sexual assault than others based on their status, work, ability, access, race, identity, and a variety of other factors. We aim to recognize this and come together, in all our diversity, as people who are all affected and unite as sluts and allies.

    We recognize that sex workers face extensive historical and current victim blaming and slut-shaming due to their work. SWV stands in solidarity with sex workers.

    SlutWalk is an impassioned and peaceful stance that aims to engage others in dialogue.


    Those are the messages that I, as a Slutwalk Vancouver Organizing Committee member, stand with. Not quips pulled from the offhand comments of participants on satellite event facebook pages. I only know what I stand for, and my sisters (and brothers) on the local organizing committee. I’m a feminist, and I’m willing to wear that mantle without fear of the Rush Limbaughs of the world calling me a hairy-legged, feminazi, man-hating dyke. That doesn’t hurt. It hurts to have my methodology critiqued by a brilliant feminist woman that I greatly respect, simply due to my association. It’s certainly given me pause, but, ultimately, I know what I am and I know what I stand for.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks so much for your comments. It was made very clear, after speaking with both you and Katie Raso, that your aim was not to reclaim the word slut and that your reasons for supporting Slutwalk were very firmly grounded in feminism. I do hope that I made it clear that most of these critiques were centered around Slutwalk Toronto (and some of the other walks, DC, for example) and I do believe this will become all the more clear when we air the interview with the two of you on The F Word this afternoon. All that said, the umbrella of Slutwalk is heavily impacted by Heather Jarvis’ comments on The Agenda, as well as Sonya Barnett’s blog post, both of which I found extremely problematic. Never mind media coverage, and the conversations happening on SlutwalkTO’s facebook page which are, I believe, significant in terms of the message being put forth. They aren’t just random quips but are, rather, central to discourse around Slutwalk. I do support your work and the message you and Slutwalk Vancouver are trying to communicate. The conversations, the posts, the media coverage, the language, and the messages being communicated by SlutwalkTO or any of the other satellites, I believe, must be addressed and critiqued, though. And, truly, I still can’t around that ‘slut’ word. I just don’t feel comfortable not saying anything about these issues. I do have great respect for all the work you have done to communicate a particular message that does seem notably different from other Slutwalks who have, overtly stated ‘we are reclaiming ‘slut’ – now it means this’. I’ll post the podcast of your interview here after it’s aired on the F Word so that people can hear your perspective. Again, thanks for your time and thoughts. Very much appreciated.

      • I thank you for your well thought out and eloquently written critique.

        I am involved with the DC SlutWalk. For the record, every one of the organizers I have worked with on this identifies as a feminist. Strongly.

        I understand your concerns about the word slut, but some words, such as queer, have been successfully re-appropriated and are no longer hurtful. In fact, the word ‘queer’ appears in the navigation of this very website, which is the result of a successful (and often critiqued) movement. There is a movement underway to re-appropriate the word fat. That movement is controversial as well but, I think, worthwhile.

        We are not asking people to identify as sluts. We are demanding that people stop using the word slut to blame victims of rape and sexual assault.

        I don’t like a lot of the messaging either. There are internal debates that are playing out now which will shape the DC SlutWalk (and, I imagine, other SlutWalks, and perhaps the movement as a whole). The Toronto messaging has become the default and there are some people, like me, who have concerns about it. And those debates are happening; they just started. This blog post is part of that debate.

        In DC, we are trying to get more people involved in those debates. DC SlutWalk is young. All of the SlutWalks are, actually. Nobody likes the logo that is on the DC website, and your critique of it was repeated internally. A designer is working on a new one now and the current logo is essentially a (really lousy) place holder. Although it is a stupid sexist image, I would ask that you don’t decide that the DC SlutWalk isn’t a feminist march because of the image (which, again is being replaced in the coming days).

        The SlutWalk movement is a movement about ending the rape culture by destroying its foundation of victim blaming. We are making a lot of mistakes on the way, I am sure, in part because it is all happening quickly. But this movement is getting people talking about rape, rape culture, and victim blaming and I am honored to be a part of anything that gets people talking about how to dismantle rape culture.

        • Andrea Peloso

          One point that has been made is that even linguistically, “re-appropriating” the word slut is impossible. Unlike the word queer which once simply meant: odd, or curious, slut has always meant, and was invented by men to mean, a woman who is worth nothing because of something related to sex. This is a word that disturbs and denies us, and does not bring us together. Linguistic activism is weird at its best anyway, are we disturbing everyone with a word to somehow re-appropriate it which is not even technically possible… or are we trying to end male violence? If our goal is the latter, the word slut simply disturbs and divides us. If our goal is the first, well, we can’t anyway.

          • Freddie

            I don’t agree with that. Slut is used in a lot of ways, but if you try to define it it would be along the lines of “an individual who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous” (taken from Wikipedia, I would replace the word person with woman). It’s commonly used as a pejorative term, since it’s not seen as ok for women to have loose sexual morals, but the problem is societys view on female sexuality and promiscuity, not the word. Choosing to re-appopriate the word to me is saying; yeah, I sleep with whoever I feel like, so what? To me that’s more in-your-face patriarchy than agreeing on their pejorative interpretation of the word.

          • Andrea Peloso

            I disagree. There are lots of positive terms already for people who choose to sleep with whomever they choose.

            Slut has an inherently negative connotation. Patriarchy didn’t INTERPRET the word slut, they invented it. Feminists would never have invented this word and to think that we can reinvent it denies the history of this word.

            The fact is: women have been murdered over this word, lynched and gang raped over this word. Its a serious word that should bring up the reality of the oppression that women have faced. To deny this is to take history away from women while replaying a dangerous stereotype. It is as divisive to the women’s community as the “fun” use of nigger has been to the black community. Words do have a history, and this one is part of a history of oppression.

          • James England

            Agreed. The word “slut” is about as reclaimable as “nigger”.

    • Nikoel

      The bulk of your comment was about NOT “reclaiming” the word slut, but then in your list of things the Vancouver SlutWalk is about, this is in there: All genders can be sluts or allies. It’s confusing.

  • We Are NOT Sluts

    Thank you for clearing this up. Sometimes making sense of all the manipulated versions of oppression masquerading as our liberation gets confusing especially when the oppressed convince themselves that if they do it to themselves its empowering. Why on Earth would I want to claim such a weapon word as slut to describe any part of who I am. I am NOT a slut if I choose to have sex with whom I want. I am NOT a slut if I choose to wear what I want. I am NOT a slut if I wear high heels or shave. I am NOT a slut if I say NO to unwanted advances.

    I am sure this ‘slut walk’ started out as a good idea for a good reason but fell short when it stopped at attention grabbing in place of doing anything to empower women or further the hard work of many ‘real’ Feminists who are not afraid to call themselves Feminist in the first place.

    I am NOT a Slut. I AM a Feminist.

    • Katie Squires

      Here here. This is an excellent summation of the original article and I completely agree with you.

  • Ruth(less)

    As much as I agree with lot of this article has to say… you lose me when you start your bashing.
    I am a feminist, and no not the type that “loves penis and shaves my legs” and I fully support the slut walk and its mission…
    I think as feminists we can disagree, in fact I encourage it.. however I never think its cool to bash other feminists (or anyone) just because we do not agree. Our message gets lost with that…

    peace, R.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I don’t feel that I am bashing anyone. How would you prefer that I articulate this critique? To be clear, I am not criticizing women who are heterosexual or who shave their legs (I am heterosexual and sometimes I shave my legs…so….), rather I am disagreeing with the the idea that we can or should reclaim ‘slut’ and am critiquing the reinforcement of negative and untrue stereotypes around feminism. I am also critiquing the general de-radicalization of feminism, and the lean towards ‘personal empowerment’ and individual choice as a conversation-ender. I think there is a lot that is good about Slutwalk’s message. I do not agree that ‘slut’ is an empowering word, I do not understand the rejection of the label feminist and, as I make clear in this post, think this has much to do with the success of the backlash as well as efforts to make this event palatable, popular, and unthreatening.

      • Ariana

        But what is wrong with personal empowerment? I think that whatever works is best. If some women feel less oppressed by seeking their own personal strength, then maybe they become motivated enough to join a larger movement to further women in general. Or some women may disagree with certain goals of various feminist groups, or they may just tire of the arguing about which type of feminism is right, and move towards seeking personal empowerment. Really, I think that everyone should try to improve themselves with the eventual goal of becoming strong enough to help and to change certain bigoted rules in society. Whether or not these women want to reclaim the word “slut” or whether they want to love penises or shave their legs or whatever should not be an issue. The issue should be whether they are motivated to recognize their own (and others) value as a woman (and men’s value as men, honestly) and bring that understanding the the world at large. This applies to men to. And honestly, men should be allowed to find a woman sexy or beautiful (or whatever they think) as long as they are not objectifying. Men can be feminists, and so can women. In general (sorry for rambling) I think acceptance, strength, and progress towards equality is very important, much more so than discussions over the semantics of Feminism (or Humanism… or Masculism for that matter). More female rights should not = less male rights or vice versa. Humanism really seems to be worthwhile, and it doesn’t have to reject feminism (or masculism) but it has to encompass all people. Again, sorry for rambling.

    • Kate Lewis

      I agree with you Ruth.

      • Matt M

        I don’t read any bashing of people, rather critiquing of an approach. It seems to me that what’s going on here is another step in the continual effort to examine the ways in which people/ feminists approach change and to work to refine the same.
        A challenge is not the same as a disrespectful or knee-jerk bashing (which is how I understand the term). I would assume this exact idea is what enables you to make a post of this sort.

  • Laura Jo

    Thanks for your analysis on this Meghan – this is one of the best articulations I’ve read of the trouble with the concept of a slut walk. I have many thoughts on this topic, but wanted to say two of them.

    First, I think the impetus for the slut walk – the comment made by the cop – hasn’t been addressed by this march. Yes, what the cop said is victim blaming and victim blaming is shitty and we should be getting mad about that. But that’s only one layer. Focusing on victim blaming seems to suggest that there may be truth to the fact that if women dress “slutty” they are more likely to get sexually assaulted, but they shouldn’t be and it’s not fair to blame them for that. My biggest problem with the cop saying women shouldn’t dress like sluts to not get sexually assaulted is that it just ain’t true. Rape crisis centres and women’s groups and independent and government research and our own lived experiences have all told us that there is absolutely no correlation between what clothing a woman wears and the occurrence of sexual assault. Actually, the biggest predictive factors of women getting sexually assaulted are things like having a boyfriend/husband, or an ex-boyfriend/ex-husband or dating a man ever. Cause those are the guys that sexually assault us and their decision to do so has nothing to do with our clothes. Cops know that there is no correlation between clothes and attack. The comment reflects a much larger phenomenon of shitty policing of violence against women and we should be holding police accountable for doing such crappy jobs that facilitate men’s violence.

    My other point is I am concerned the slut walk is not being thoughtful about solidarity amongst women. Any kinda use of the “I’m a slut and I’m proud of it” concept reinforces the divides between women. (Yes, slut walk vancouver, I think even using the word slut in the title does). I agree with Meghan and other feminists that slut is a derogatory word used by men to harm women and that there is so much negative history behind it that it’s not worth “reclaiming”. But I’m also opposed to using any word at all to demarcate women who enjoy sex and are very sexually active because to have this there must be an “other” – women who don’t enjoy sex and aren’t sexually active. What is the point of this? It just serves to say there are some women who are good and some who are bad. We can’t win this game – sometimes you’re good because you’re a slut and that makes you sexy and fun and cool and not like those dowdy, frigid women and sometimes you’re good because you’re not and you’re different and not slutty like those other women. Patriarchy thrives by dividing women. I refuse to use patriarchy’s rules and labels and games. All women have sexuality and want sexual autonomy in whatever form that means for her.

    On this same vein, I object to some of your comments Katie Nordgren that being a feminist has “nothing to do with body hair or sexual preference” and that “I’m a feminist, and I’m willing to wear that mantle without fear of the Rush Limbaughs of the world calling me a hairy-legged, feminazi, man-hating dyke.” That’s nice you can live without that fear as an individual. But the fact is that lots of feminists have hairy legs (and pits and crotches) because they refuse to partake in a beauty practice invented by men to convince women that there’s something ugly about a naturally occurring part of their body that they should at great expense and inconvenience and jeopardy to health strip from their body. And lots of feminists choose to be dykes because we get more equality in our sexual relationships and can make up new and creative ways of being in relationships. So I want for you to wear the mantle of feminist and not resist the hairy-legged, dyke connotations, but welcome them and defend them in solidarity with other women.

    • holly

      I agree, I think you’ve articulated a troubling vein of appearance/lifestyle critique that only further serves to reinforce narrow, patriarchal ideas about women. It shouldn’t matter what other women look like–this obsession with appearance is yet another part of the tyranny to be overthrown. We should be more concerned with each others’ opinions and feelings, and not reduce these to visual caricatures (women into ’empowered objectification’ wear heels and miniskirts, feminists don’t shave). These personal appearance choices do exist naturally, and should be recognized and questioned as much as anything else that exists; but they should not be relied upon to illustrate ideological divides between women. It’s an easy fall back, but to me it smacks of the kind of restrict, arbitrary categorization that women’s magazines force upon the diverse, multifarious manifestations of women: you can be a sexy vamp, a boho chick, a rock star vixen etc etc. These commodified identities, defined purely by appearance, are the product of capitalist reductionism, which makes a profit off of the liberal obsession with ‘personal choice’ and ‘freedom’ without ever acknowledging the inextricably social nature of all constructions of appearance and self-presentation.
      I think what this whole debate needs more recognition of is the fact that no ‘personal choice’ exists in a vacuum: every I is a We, every We is full of I’s.

    • Yes, yes, yes. When women strongly resist the “hairy legged angry dyke” stereotype forcefully, we sell out those of us wo ARE hairy legged angry dykes. We should be resisting being reduced to charicatures in general, not strongly opposing one particular presentation of feminism. When feminist participate in reducing and mocking other feminists based on their physical presentation, no matter how playfully, that is patriarchy at work AND it’s a form of policing feminism, saying there’s only one way to do feminism right.

    • Meghan Murphy

      You guys are all awesome. I’m only just getting to reading through all the comments carefully now. These comments are so amazing and thoughtful and interesting and inspiring. Thank you so much for your thoughts and points. I am learning so much just from reading these comments.

      • Maria Crystal-Paige

        Hi Meaghan,

        Thank-you for the wonderful, courageous, committed, intelligent, very complex work you do for feminism, for basic human rights & respect for females. You are a treasure, precious, an inspiration, …the World, particularly females, desperately need women/people, role models,strong women like you….,

        I would kindly ask you to think about why you refer to your mainly female respondents as “guys”…sure you’ll understand where I’m coming from…once again, great work..x

    • Katie Nordgren

      Laura Jo – just to clarify, simply because I said that I live without fear of being called something does not indicate that I do not identify with those things that I do not fear being accused of. I may not identify as a lesbian, but I do identify as queer, and I have been assumed to be gay on many many occasions due to both my appearance and my involvement in queer causes.

      As for the state of my body hair, I deeply appreciate those who make the choice to subvert the hairless standard that we as women are also subject to. I may not view my own hair removal or hair retention as inherently political, nor do I feel that one state is inherently superior to the other.

      My complaint was that I felt that by virtue of being involved with a particular movement, I was being accused of not identifying as a feminist, and I simply wanted to say that I in fact do, quite ferociously. I do, in fact, defend my sisters that happen to be more hirsute (I defend and love them, most heartily) than I, and I most CERTAINLY defend their right to be dykes.

      If, however, we’re going to go to war with semantics, might I take issue with your choice of words in saying that “lots of feminist choose to be dykes”? I was under the impression that orientation was not necessarily something one chooses.

      I find this whole critique mildly infuriating if only because it assumes lots of things about lots of individuals by virtue of association that may be incredibly far from the truth. No one wants to lump all feminists in to one category unless that category is “those who believe that women are not inferior to men”, si? I think that is why I am so offended when I’m told that “slutwalk does this, it believes this” because I feel that those involved all over the world are just as varied as those that accept the label of feminist, and slutwalk is not just an event or movement, to me, it is, it was a collection of diverse individuals.

      I think that’s what we managed to convey with Slutwalk Vancouver, at least that was the general opinion that was communicated to me, post-event. I was proud of how it all shook down, and I feel that we really dealt quite effectively with the criticisms that came up pre-event. Was it perfect? Probably not. Was it an event that deserved all the criticism in the above article? I don’t necessarily think so.

      When we take the whole collection of satellite events together as a whole, for sure there are many problematic messages and images. I think that, for me, having been so deeply involved with only one such satellite, it felt like more of an aggregate of different voices and opinions that were mostly able to walk under a unified banner and I believe the good feelings I took from it were well-deserved. Is this personal for me? Of course. Am I defensive? For sure.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Hi Katie,
        There are certainly women who ‘choose to be dykes’, just as there are women who do not. For example, political lesbianism, which describes, as per Sheila Jeffreys’ definition, “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.” So, in some circumstances feminists may/do ‘choose’ lesbianism for political purposes (or, of course for other reasons, I don’t particularly think it matters either way whether we ‘choose’ or don’t ‘choose’. I think choice is too complex a thing to make that kind of distinction anyway). Many heterosexual women, it could be argued, ‘choose’ (whether it be conscious or unconscious) to be heterosexual because of social/cultural expectations/pressure).

        Regarding your comments on my critique, I believe I was very clear about which particular satellites I was discussing and have made a sincere effort to be accurate in my representation and views on what various satellites are doing. Much of the discourse I discuss in this particular article is related to what I had been reading and hearing around Slutwalk TO, as well as other satellites specified. That said, the name ‘Slutwalk’, in and of itself is problematic, for the reasons I discuss in this article, as well as for reasons discussed by other critics since I wrote this piece. I have never ever said that no one involved in Slutwalk is a feminist. I have never ‘accused’ you of not being a feminist. That is a mischaracterization. In fact I have done just the opposite when speaking of you and Katie, making sure to note that you were both strong, intelligent, feminist women. I have made no assumptions about any individual involved in Slutwalk Vancouver and was, in fact, very complimentary when speaking of those I knew who were involved.

        Surprisingly I found that some of those individuals were, rather than engaging with this critique, talking shit about me behind my back, for example, this, in response to Valenti, (who actually showed a great deal of integrity and grace, speaking with me directly and issuing a correction for what she had written based on what we discussed. We were both able to clarify our positions and agree to disagree.): “I’m extremely grateful for this. I’m still shaking my head over Murphy’s critiques, as I really don’t find them well-founded. I’m also very put off by the friendly demeanour she presented in our interview, to then subsequently rip us apart when we were not in any position to refute any of her claims.”
        a) I did not ‘rip you apart’
        b) I (and The F Word) provided you with a space to communicate your views and goals for Slutwalk Vancouver. We were very respectful and very supportive of you both and, even of the event, though we critiqued the language and some of the discourse.
        c) I would never interview someone and be rude to them. Ever. I do interviews to learn about other perspectives, to get information, to allow for a more in depth exploration of a specific topic/issue, and, often, simply to provide space for female voices and help women promote their projects on air.

        Providing space for more than one perspective (albeight, alternative perspectives, of course), on a feminist radio show, is one of our goals. Hopefully this allows listeners to be better informed to make their own decisions about issues.

        This comment, quoted above, in reference to me (but not actually directed at me), shows a lack of integrity. As does the above mischaracterization of my arguments.

        • Katie Nordgren

          I’m not certain how my comment, that you quoted, shows a lack of integrity – though I said it in a space that wasn’t directly to you, I hardly think it was a “behind the back” statement, as I said as much in my initial comment above. It’s not as if I’m running around and calling you a big ol’ doodiehead on the internet. I’m not saying anything I have not said either directly to you or in a venue where I know you will be reading it. It’s an issue I was personally invested in and still am, and I have personal,emotional reactions to criticisms of said event, imperfect though it may be – when there is a response to my comments saying that I lack integrity, I take issue. It makes a lot of assumptions about who I am personally, which I don’t believe is fair.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Alrighty. So at what point did I ‘rip you apart’? And why in the world would someone being friendly ‘put you off’? This kind of stuff does show a lack of integrity as it makes implications about me that are completely untrue and that, had you really wanted to address, you would have addressed with me, directly.

  • Excellent piece. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • Andrew O’Neill

    You eloquently sum up a lot of my feelings on this and a number of other issues. Thank you. x

    • mhab

      My observation is that men who are sycophantic to feminists ultimately get at best condescending or grudging respect, and very often they receive contempt. When I agree with feminists, I try not to mention it, unless I am also exploring the issues in a broader way. Many feminists regard “pro-feminist” men as either insincere (often true), or seeking some kind of approval from women, which is usually true, although its not clear why this warrants such contempt.

      Anecdotally, it is clear to me that many people who have no interest in gender politics have picked up a valuable message from the publicity about slutwalks – a message which will make it a little harder for them to blame the victims of rape etc. These folk who watch commercial tv news in Australia have no time for the finer points of ideology. But the slutwalk campaign has caught their attention and made a statement that has been noticed, and this is exciting.

  • David Cake

    Two points to start with.

    The effort to reclaim the word ‘slut’ didn’t start with Slutwalk, the book The Ethical Slut was published 1997, and for people who are committed to consensual ethical non-monogamy/polyamory it is well known book and a bit of a touchstone, so this is part of a long term struggle not just to reclaim the word, but stand up for the whole concept that non-monogamy and a love of sexual pleasure can be part of a truly ethical way of life. I realise that this is somewhat of a side issue compared to the core issue of shouting down victim blaming and standing up against sexual assault for all, but standing up and saying promiscuity (or avoidance thereof) is not a determinant of sexual morality is a big issue for many, especially those who identify as polyamorous. This isn’t a purely feminist point of view, but I certainly think it is not just compatible with feminism but strongly complementary – the patriarchy loves slut shaming.

    Second – Slutwalk are not, and should not, be Reclaim The Night. Inevitably, as two different marches that both oppose sexual assault and rape culture, both will be compared, and that will lead to people involved in either tending to make clear the points that differentiate them. But both should exist, both are valuable. If you want a march against sexual assault and rape culture that is very explicitly feminist and woman focussed, with less focus on attacking slut-shaming etc, there already is one, and I’d urge you to consider simply positively focussing on that event rather than criticise SlutWalk for not being more like it. And as an adult male, I’m welcome to attend only one of the two events (at least, in my city), and I’m completely fine with that, but I don’t want them to be the same.

    To combine those two points – I understand that the primary focus of the SlutWalk is to criticise rape culture and victim blaming, and I think that should be intrinsicly feminist. But I also think part of the SlutWalk point is to attack the double standard, stand up for the right of us all to appreciate sexual pleasure without being found morally lacking or culpable in our own victimisation, and I think feminism and reclaiming (or at least, defusing) the word (and more importantly, concept of) slut are compatible goals, even if they are not identical. Slutwalk can be its own thing without detracting from more broadly feminism focussed events. Lets focus on what the Slutwalk events have in common with feminism, not where they differ.

    • Betty


      I’m not sure what authority you think you possess to declare what SlutWalk (or Reclaim/Take Back the Night) should be . Both events have involvement from a diverse range of individuals, many of whom identify as feminist, and communities who determine collectively how the events evolve. There is a lot of overlap in involvement and in what is being discussed/fought for between the events. You don’t get to decide what is feminist and what is not. If feminists waited around for permission to be feminist, we would still be owned by men and not have the right to vote.

  • Meghan Murphy

    @David – I don’t feel like you’ve really addressed anything that I’ve focused on in this post. Namely, the personal empowerment / individual choice narrative that overrides much of the discourse (re: Jarvis’ comments on The Agenda), the rejection of the term ‘feminist’ because of stereotypes, and the attempt to reclaim a word that isn’t, in my opinion, ‘reclaimable’, as well as removing gender from this attempt to reclaim a highly gendered term. I know of The Ethical Slut and agree that non-monogamy does present a strong challenge to patriarchy, though I’m not quite sure how that relates to anything I’ve argued here…I have pointed out many of the ‘positive’ aspects of the event and the good intentions of the organizers. Why is it that you think we should not be critical of some very problematic issues and conversations that have come from this event? Clearly I don’t agree that ‘reclaiming’ the word slut is, necessarily, compatible with feminism and, sure, ‘Slutwalk can be its own thing’ – I am not, I don’t believe, suggesting that it should be Take Back the Night, what I am suggesting is that, perhaps, we ‘take back’ feminism, rather than rejecting it on account of stereotypes, instead taking on ‘slut’, a word invented by a sexist and male dominated culture in order to hurt and shame and silence us. I might also point out, at this point, that all of your comments lead towards a vision of feminism/female empowerment that rests solely on sex/compulsory sexuality.

    • I think that David’s point that the word ‘slut’ already has a widely-acknowledged history of being reclaimed (and by a movement with many compatibilities with feminism) is a good one. With the definition outlined in Ethical Slut, the term has already become more than just a ‘weapon word’, even if, of course, individuals’ own experience of its use against them is going to colour their acceptance of it as such. But the fact remains that it is already out there, being something other than a put-down: that’s a point worth making.

      Katie Nordgren’s explanation of the project of Slutwalk as a confrontation rather than a reclamation makes absolute sense to me: I immediately saw it as a sneer at the idiots who would use ‘slut’ against women, a ‘pfft!’ in the face of reactionary nonsense. It’s not Pride, it’s defiance.

      • Katie Nordgren

        Thanks, Lucy. 🙂

      • Reality Cheque

        “With the definition outlined in Ethical Slut, the term has already become more than just a ‘weapon word’”

        For the people who have read the book, sure, but not for the majority of the population, which I think is more the point. It also has next to nothing to do with the whole point of the walk. I think people are forgetting that this event is SUPPOSED to be to protest the idea that what you wear determines whether or not you deserve to be raped/assaulted, and the idea that such a thing could ever be ‘deserved’ or instigated in some way at all. Last I checked, this wasn’t a PolyamoryWalk or a PromiscuousnessWalk – it is a walk meant to smack some reality into people (like the moronic police officer) who think that women ‘ask for it’. That’s part of why I have an issue with the use of the word ‘slut’. I am a VERY sexual person, however I am also a hardcore monogamist. The two are not contradictory, but that excludes you from joining an event such as this. I am not a ‘slut’. I am not promiscuous. I do not dress revealingly. I am against violence against women, but that’s barely echoed in the discussions, and not at all in the name. These events are supported by a large number of men (a large majority the ‘I love sluts! group) because on the whole men love women who dress sexy and whom they see as being ‘sexual’ (their definition of ‘sluts!’ in this new ’empowered’ context). If you are eye candy for them and like to sleep around (upping their chances of them getting lucky), most men will gladly join your ‘feminist’ cause. As far as I am concerned, these walks have been set up in a way that does more harm than good. The focus is not about women’s safety or the disconnect when it comes to perceptions of women based on their appearance, and is focused – as it always seems to end up – on sex.

        The entire atmosphere of these ‘Slutwalks’ has gravitated away from declaring a woman’s right to not be raped – regardless of ANYTHING – to one where a bunch of women declare themselves promiscuous and proudly call themselves ‘sluts’ while an audience of men cheers them on. The focus has slid off the table. The fact that a large number of the women have opted to go topless/wear revealing lingerie just emphasises the skew in priority that has happened. Do these women walk around in lingerie in their day to day lives? Of course not. The emphasis should be on being able to wear what you *normally* would wear without having to fear for your safety, not playing a game of chicken. Women should never ever be blamed for rape or assault due to what they wear, but that does not mean you should go LOOKING to intentionally try your chances either. There is no common sense here. I should be able to take my garbage out to the dumpster in my apartment’s parking lot without fear of being raped, but that doesn’t mean I am going to intentionally wear a bikini and stilettos when I go out, because that would be fucking stupid. No offense folks, but you WILL NOT stop rape any more than you will stop pedophilia or serial murder. Calling it a ‘Slutwalk’ or parading in revealing clothes will draw attention, but not the kind you want. Would you organise a walk to stop pedophilia that allowed small children to wear short shorts, and call it a ‘LoliWalk’, claiming that they should be able to wear whatever they want without fear of sexual predation? Take a WILD guess what kind of audience it would attract if you did. THAT is the problem with Slutwalk.

        In order for women to start seeing proper equality, the emphasis needs to be on stopping their worth from being derived from their appearance and their cunt. Playing up the sexuality only furthers the problems in our society with women always being treated like fuck toys. Walking around saying it’s okay because you declare YOURSELF a fuck toy WILL NOT solve the problem. You have to disengage the always constant association between women and sex. Focusing on the many ways women are worthy and valuable human beings OTHER THAN SEXUAL should be key, but again – if you want male support, call it Slutwalk and wear a bra and you’re good to go.

  • Nicole

    Nothing else to say but BRILLIANT! What a well written, beautifully argued article. Thank you Meghan!

  • “[Dichotomous] thinking has always valued the first side of these oppositions more highly than the second, and it has provided them with dominant institutional expression in the society. For that reason asserting the value of community over individualism, the feminine over the masculine, the aesthetic over the instrumental, the relational over the competitive, does have some critical force with respect to the dominant ideology and social relations. The oppositions themselves, however, arise from and belong to bourgeois culture, and for that reason merely reversing their valuation does not constitute a genuine alternative to capitalist patriarchal society. ” Iris Marion Young, 1990.
    This is basically my feelings on the term slut. I think it can be an empowering term, and I’m definitely not arguing against anyone’s right to use it for themselves, however I think it does have some significant class issues that it needs to deal with
    I see it largely as a means to an end (for protest). By changing the value given to slut, it will challenge people’s assumptions about legitimate and illegitimate female sexuality. Which is, I think we can all agree, pretty damn important. It’s not the only way to do so, though, and I think the many that will outrightly criticise feminists that refuse to reclaim the term slut needs to stop.
    I do think, though, at it’s whole, any feminist protest is a good thing, because it’s getting people talking, it’s challenging people, and it’s allowing a forum for feminists to get angry in public. It’s nice to unite against rape culture, get out there and have a mass protest against it, even if the organisers are somewhat misled and many of the blokes attending will be there in the hopes of seeing “real” sluts.
    At least that’s why I’m going to the Sydney chapter. I personally criticise the reclaimation of the term slut every chance I get, but the chance to criticise the wider public for their rape-culture trumps that for me.

  • christine W

    this is a splendid piece of writing, which keeps the discussion going and our minds working, Keep stirring it Meghan!

  • Bushfire

    Really great post, Meghan. I did support the Slutwalk- but only because I wanted to support the anti-victim-blaming side of it. I helped make posters for the walk and I only wrote feminist messages on them. I was uncomfortable with the reclaiming of Slut as well- but I was just happy that something remotely feminist was going on and wanted to help. The people who joined Slutwalk were a wide variety of people who had different reasons for being there, and some of us did have feminist reasons. You really explained well how the march could have been better. Imagine if they had called it a March to End Victim Blaming instead?

  • Kim

    I understand the point that a lot of people are deviating from the real issue, but I don’t understand why gender has to come into it. That’s like saying “Well, there are starving babies everywhere, but most of them live in Africa, so let’s just focus on that.”

    I believe everyone should feel empowered, but if I had to wear a label for every cause I support, all you would see is my eyes. I am a woman who wants equal rights, but I’m not feminist, I am an individual who cares for the environment, but I’m not an environmentalist, I believe people should be able to chose what’s right if they’re pregnant, but I’m not a pro-choice activist.

    Frankly, I resent the labels. Why, when we kick and scream so often to have labels like slut, wigger, hippie, or redneck removed, do we constantly insist on replacing one label with another. People spend more time debating definitions than they do actually contributing to a cause.

    • I’m confused: you don’t think the question of feminism in SlutWalk applies because feminism is about women and this isn’t about gender? Am I understanding that? I’m just trying to understand where your question of why this is about gender comes from because, to me, none of this (SlutWalk, feminism, sexual assault) can be divorced from gender considerations.

      • John K.

        I hesitate to speak too strongly in this discussion for the simple fact that, as a man, I can’t possibly know how it feels to be a woman (that said, keep in mind that it goes the other way as well). There are almost certainly matters of feminine experience involved here that I will never understand.

        However, if I understand Kim’s comment right, I think I agree. While in one sense there are huge issues of equality and respect for the individual surrounding women and women’s issues, in another sense the very issue of equality is neither about women nor men and for it to keep its integrity it must not become an issue of women vs. men. It is dangerous to elevate feminism over masculinism for precisely the same reason it is dangerous to elevate black power over white power — because if, in our eagerness to dismantle the patriarchy in our society (which I fully agree is disgusting and reprehensible), we create a matriarchal society (or, more likely, a community of matriarchs at war with a community of patriarchs), we haven’t won at all.

        I think Iris Young’s quote a few posts up is relevant. Dichotomous thinking does not challenge the status quo; it affirms the status quo and merely states that it is arranged upside-down. I think at some point we need to start asking what sort of ideal society we really want, and if we’re serious about our commitment to individual respect and empowerment, that society won’t arrange people in terms of gender at all — it will be neither feminist nor masculinist. I am not sure I understand yet what that society might be like, but let’s all ask ourselves, “What is our ideal society?” and see if it doesn’t bring us to a clearer understanding of these issues. If you find that, in your ideal society, power and choice are arranged in some way by gender, then you might also ask yourself whether you’ve really considered what equality means.

  • Dee

    Hi Meghan, I’m Dee….I’ve noticed that you’ve used some of my posts that I put up on the SlutWalk wall(the ones with the black and white Bettie Page)….I must say….I’m flattered. I never really thought anyone took notice of what I wrote, but I’m glad someone has taken notice. I’m also glad that you have opinions and viewpoints…just like everyone else.
    Meghan, I’m not trying to make Feminism “palatable” for men…or for anyone else. My view is that a woman has the right to do whatever she wants whenever she wants (within the confines of law) and that men just need to shut up and accept it. People have been talking about sex, rape, power and control…..and maybe that’s what it will have to come down to. Maybe the last 100+ years have all been about women taking control of their lives and their bodies and their SELVES. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s all about.
    Meghan, I’m gonna level with you…..I like porn….most any kind with consenting adults…and my husband watches it as well (and I have never felt that he wanted me to look like a porn Queen). I also like wearing figure flattering clothes, maybe show a little cleavage…but that’s on a dress up day. Most days I wear jeans, a shirt and a hoodie (I’m not one to get dressed up unless I want to). I’m not overly fond of “raunch culture” to be honest BUT I won’t deny any woman the right to get wild; just like I wouldn’t deny her the same right to fuck as much as possible and have an abortion afterwards…if only to piss off the establishment. (It might not be the best use of her time…and it might not be a good decision, but it’s her choice).
    My point is Meghan, it really seems like you’re suggesting that there’s only one way to be a feminist. A feminist has to hate porn, has to hate raunch culture, has to be “shrill”…It’s very frustrating. The way I see it…feminism is about a woman doing what she wants and society accepting it and stomping on anyone who would try to hurt her in order to “punish” her for doing what she wants.
    Meghan, it pisses me off because it really seems like you’re looking down your nose at me for my views. Your post really comes off as suggesting that so many other women out there are “misguided”…like they’re not doing “feminism” the way it should be done…and that’s not okay. I have no issues with the “shrill feminist” who wants to be “buttoned down” just like I have no problem with the stripper. But I do think the “shrill feminist” should also be able to watch other people have sex without guilt…and the stripper should be doing it because she wants to and NOT because she makes more money “selling herself” than she does being a nurse. (If you want to break the sex industry, regulate and tax the hell out of it…very few people will fuck for $24,000 per year if they could make more by working some place else).
    I know it’s not simple and I know nothing will get solved overnight….but the in-fighting can’t continue. You don’t agree with porn…I think it’s fine. Maybe we agree to disagree…and for what it’s worth sister…you ever need a second body for a bar fight with some stupid frat-boy, just call me 🙂

    • Reality Cheque

      Okay, I know this is an aside, but how many of the women in porn do you think are actually there voluntarily? I find it rather odd to see women supporting the porn industry and calling themselves feminists at the same time. There was a time I would watch it. I don’t anymore, and it’s not because I don’t ‘like watching it’.


      Take a good look at the causes.

      This whole attitude of ‘I should be allowed to if I want to’ is so unbelievably ignorant of the rules of the game. The repercussions of the industry DO fall on those who support it. Demand causes supply, which results in many, many women who do not WANT to be involved, but are doing it because it pays the bills. Consensual does not mean ideal, and in the porn industry the entire definition of ‘consensual’ begs rethinking.

      It’s time for this generation of women to stop looking at female empowerment as being able to do what you want when you want, and start looking at it as being able to help ALL WOMEN everywhere get fair and just treatment and be treated as equal human beings. This is human equality, not hedonism.

      On a different note, constantly repeating someone’s name the way you did comes across as extremely condescending and rude. If you wish to stop the in-fighting, I would try to revise your tone when replying, it’s not helping.

  • Dee

    Oh….and the only reason I would ever call myself a “Slut” is because I know others will (out of malice and anger)…. and when I agree with them…it shocks them enough to keep them quiet while I speak slowly and explain that “slut” is a derogatory word used by men to control women and their sexuality. I suggest that it would be better if women could be open and honest about sex and what they want. It would make things easier for men..take away the guessing, the head games, etc. I also take the time to remind men that a vagina is not “treasure”. That sex is not a “game to be won”. It can be spiritual, it can be a purely physical release for two consenting adults BUT it should always be beneficial to both partners. No one should walk away feeling shamed or guilty. No one should walk away talking shit about the other or calling the other filthy names.
    One of the points behind slutwalk was to tell the world, “We’re your friends, co-workers, siblings, partners, spouses, kids, parents, family….and yeah, we like to fuck. What’s wrong with that?” And yes, there has been some backlash…as there will always be for any movement. And yes, there were some assholes who wanted to stir shit and make a joke…as there will always be for any movement. Slutwalk will grow and change over time. More voices will be added and the great debate will continue. All we can do is play for time and try to educate the people. Some will accept it right out, some will stop and think for a while, some will outright reject it and re-affirm their hatred of women, left-wing politics and the so-called “man hating femi-nazis” (sigh….my good old high school days when I was a supposed “man-hater”).
    Fight the good fight!

  • Meghan Murphy

    @Deena – yeah I used several posts as examples of some frustrating/problematic conversations around Slutwalk. Some of your points were, indeed, frustrating / problematic. I don’t know where I’ve suggested that a feminist has to be ‘shrill’ (that was actually a label others have applied to feminists), nor do I suggest anyone be ‘buttoned down’. It seems to me as though you are working to reinforce those untrue stereotypes that feminism is working so hard to deconstruct. It feels like you aren’t exactly getting my point. This is not all about individual choice/empowerment or compulsory sexuality. The fact that you like porn isn’t really surprising, or particularly relevant. Lots of people do. We are taught from early on what we are meant to find sexy. That doesn’t mean that we all blindly follow along without looking at the larger impacts/significance of pornography, sex work, female oppression/objectification. Regarding your point that ‘the in-fighting has to stop?’ Well. That’s a pretty nice way to shut down the conversation. Especially considering that it only seems to work one way from your perspective, i.e. ‘YOU stop talking and listen to us’. Stating that ‘slut’ has been reclaimed, I think, is a perfectly reasonable thing for feminists to question/critique. The backlash is not against Slutwalk, it is against feminism, and has been for decades. You have insulted and misunderstood feminists and the left wing here all in one fell swoop which leads me to believe you haven’t spent much time thinking about this at all, outside from the ‘this is all about my personal empowerment’ perspective that I discuss as problematic in this, and many other, posts.

    • holly

      This tyrannical ‘freedom of the individual’ argument fails to acknowledge not only the manifold obvious and invisible ways we are all connected, but the very material fact of a human as a socially constructed being. Rather than exerting so much energy defending some people’s nebulous ‘right’ to call themselves what they want, to find what they find sexy sexy, we should be questioning and deconstructing these words and our socially-defined concepts of sexiness within the lived and undeniable framework of patriarchal (capitalist) rule and cultural misogyny. The popular idea of sexiness, for women and men, is primarily defined by heterosexual white men. Does anyone really believe that high heels, make up, tight clothes, and exhibiting your body in public are the be all end all of ‘sexiness’ for women? Are these the only ways to feel sexy? Of course not, sexuality is as diverse as society. Some women feel sexy reading aloud or wearing thermal underwear. Yet, it seems as though what raunch culture, ’empowered objectification’ (i almost tellingly wrote “objectified empowerment’) and to some extent the reclamation of the word slut are defending: our ‘right’ to be defined by these narrow, male-constructed terms of sexuality, and our personal, empowered pleasure in enacting these concepts of sexiness.
      The ways that many women chose to feel sexy are still defined by heterosexual male preference, no matter how empowered these women may feel in their personal choices–‘showing’ cleavage (who are you showing it to?), wearing high heels, pole dancing, lace underwear, shaking your ass. Reclaiming or re appropriating these things does not make their patriarchal origins or history of female objectification just go away. in fact, these appropriations often end up looking a lot like the thing they were trying to subvert, especially to someone totally ignorant of the intention: feminists ‘reclaiming’ a wet t shirt contest will still attract misogynists who don’t give a shit about their politics and just wanna see some boobs.
      Rather than being anti-sex or anti-porn, radical feminists question the very definitions of ‘sex’ and ‘porn’ by asking ‘who is doing this?’ ‘who is it being done for?’ ‘who is it being done to?’ and ‘who is in control of the terms and methods?’i will not defend porn that degrades and abuses women for the pleasure of men, and that is exactly what most porn (almost be definition) does. that is the kind of porn that sells, so it’s the kind that gets made, so it’s the only kind you can buy so people buy it, and more of it gets made. This cycle of supply and demand is not driven by disinterested or supernatural forces of ‘the market’ or general ‘sexual preference’. It is driven by men’s power over and desire to control women. Those are the material facts we should be focusing on, not some lassiez-faire liberal rhetoric about ‘individual choice’.
      sorry for going off on one….

      • Meghan Murphy

        Excellent response, Holly! Thank you for your contribution/additions to this discussion. Clarifying the radical feminist position on pornography, as well as sexuality as it exists in a patriarchal, heteronormative framework seems to be be a constant battle as people seem to so much want to make it about being ‘anti-sex’ or ‘anti-porn'(or, as is often the insinuation, anti-sex=anti-porn). It can, at times, feel a bit like a smear campaign and the work to clarify / correct is exhausting and neverending. Much appreciated.

  • gkar

    This article was very well written and although i began in agreement with you at the start of this article, i was kind of disappointed by the time i got to the end. I think that the reason they are “taking back slut” is because it is the word the police officer used to describe the victims. i think that some ppl that jumped on the bandwagon didnt fully understand the movement but were just going along with it because perhaps the name slutwalk seemed like a “cool” thing to go along with. But i dont think you should have to label it as feminism either. although slut is a word used toward women, like you said, men are also victims of rape. and i think at the heart of this whole movement the real point is that blaming the victims of rape is not okay.

    • Meghan Murphy

      @gkar @kim Gender is a primary issue in sexual assault and victim blaming. The term ‘slut’ is highly gendered. There is no removing gender from this conversation. Fighting victim blaming and rape culture is feminist, why not label it as such?

  • No Sugarcoating

    This is brilliant Meghan. You have a new fan. I loved your responses to some of the less thoughtful commentators. It’s funny how they manage to prove your points. 😉

  • Heather

    Dear Meghan,
    I’m a feminist. I have been for over a decade and I’m been fighting for SlutWalk as a feminist. I’m sorry to hear what you think of us and that you read my comments as condescending. That was never my intention. I know I’m not doing everything right and that I may show gaps in my knowledge or language or efforts. It’s a constant process I’m working on and I continue to grapple with several things.
    I value criticism and you make some strong points. I’ve been trying day after day to hear people and reflect on what we’re doing in trying to do better. Maybe we didn’t make it clear enough that we’re trying to be strong, genuinely inclusive, reflective, thoughtful and engage in feminism. Maybe we need to do better. I’d really like a chance to speak to you about your thoughts and criticisms, hear more from you and tell you about my experiences as a feminist involved with SlutWalk. If you have a chance, please contact me.
    Heather Jarvis

    • Meghan Murphy

      @heather – thanks for your comments and willingness to engage in conversation around these issues. Much appreciated and looking forward to it. I’ve sent you an email from my personal account.

  • This is probably the most well-articulated critique on SlutWalk I’ve read since it began. I believe you speak for a lot of other women who have struggled when deciding whether or not to support or participate when you point out some legitimate concerns from the perspective of both community and individual feminism, as well as the roots of feminism. I’m on the organizing committee for Edmonton SlutWalk, and I run the website for it, so I’m following the conversations pretty closely.

    I didn’t get actively involved in the Edmonton satellite because I believe in reclaiming the word “slut” as a positive or even neutral term. I’m not sure if that’s even possible on a mass scale. It’s not one of my primary goals in the work I’ve been doing for Edmonton SlutWalk. But I do think that the word ‘slut’ and all the connotations, the pain, the hurt and the shame that come with it are present and important to conversations about rape and sexual assault and where women stand in terms of sexual liberation and social equality. I also support the right of every human being, but especially women, to have consensual sex on their own terms without scorn, judgment or fear of violence. And unfortunately, the word ‘slut’ is also present and important in that conversation. The language of misogyny and the language of feminism can never truly be distinct from each other when one feeds the other. I approach the word ‘slut’ in the context of SlutWalk more as an opportunity to have a public conversation about the word, how it relates to our discourse surrounding sexual assault and how it relates to our discourse surrounding the equality and freedom of women in every aspect of our lives, than an opportunity to reclaim it and turn it into a positive and empowering label. Perhaps other organizers and participants feel differently. I can only speak to my own thoughts and motives.

    SlutWalk is not perfect. It doesn’t have a feminist consensus, nor should it, nor would I expect it to. Different sects of feminism have been arguing for decades about what the “true” principles of feminism are. Feminism *is* hard. I disengaged from active feminist discourse for a long time because of how damned hard it was. Emotionally exhausting, rage inducing, frustrating, hurtful and divisive at times. SlutWalk brought me back to talking again, to writing again, to putting my voice out there again. So for me, it isn’t at all a rejection of feminism. It is a rebirth.

    Thanks for a great piece.

  • Reflecting…

    Ticked all my ‘concern’ boxes and articulated what I feel about the whole ‘slutwalk’ concept – thank you! Can’t even really bring myself to say the title of this latest campaign out loud, and whilst I want to be able to support the whole concept in all honesty I can’t because the language is a barrier I choose not to cross on this occasion. In fact, I am frustrated about how unnecessary it was to adopt this approach which feels like it just buys right into the whole mysognistic world we live in. In not feeling aligned with this approach doesn’t make me a fair-weather feminist, it makes me a feminist who decides that some things should be left behind and that surely we can be more creative and move forward together in a more positive way in future?

  • Miss A

    I’ve been following both SlutWalk and the criticism of what it has become since it started.

    It’s original core purpose is priceless: an attempt to repudiate victim blame, to expose all the ugliness and oppression men inflict on women when a prominent member of law enforcement declares women conspiratorially guilty of our own victimization by reason of existing to be victimized.

    That’s what “slut” means.

    “Slut” is hate speech. Want to discredit any (woman) witness’s testimony in any legal proceeding? Tell the judge/jury/panel she’s a slut. Why can’t you turn a ho into a housewife? Because hoes “cave to pressure” – meaning, the difference between a ho and a non-ho is whether she has had the bad luck of running into someone willing to terrorize her until self-preservation becomes a greater priority than not cooperating with being raped.

    “Slut” is hate speech: a slut is a whore who’s too stupid to charge. The word is the embodiment of patriarchal justification for violence against women, for oppressing women and disempowering women and punishing women relentlessly.

    “Slut” is hate speech. It’s one of the magic words of sexism. By saying it, men instantly transform the harm of a man from a crime to a punishment.

    “Slut” is hate speech. It is a shortcut to establishing the guilt of any non-male whenever any man needs her to deserve whatever he’s about to say or do to her. And that is exactly how men use it.

    A woman cannot use the word “slut” with the same power to harm as a man in the same position.

    Men make the word “slut” a charge of capital crime, and women are accused and found guilty of it, and then men gather together because executing those women by beating them to death with stones the size of softballs is a group activity men relish.

    This is the point where countless men and patriarchy-compliant women leap to assert that “not all men blah blah blah,” or reply with some idiotic allusion to mathematical proportions or population or geography, and all of them refuse to address reality: sluts (women) are beaten to death by men.

    And women tell ourselves that we are safe as long as we’re not sluts. So don’t do anything slutty. Because doing anything slutty means you’re a slut. As if every single one of us doesn’t know acutely that nothing we do will stop men from declaring us a slut, and that once we are declared a slut, it’s officially open season; we will then be forced to establish the wrongness of anything done to us in a way no man ever will.

    “Slut” is hate speech. No man ever lied about being raped because he was a slut.

    • Bushfire

      That is fucking brilliant.

      • Yeah, but it’s not entirely true.

    • John K.

      Miss A, I can’t help feeling that you’re suggesting that when a man refrains from treating women in the horrific ways you describe, he’s denying his own essential nature. I don’t think that’s helpful in establishing mutual respect. If I’ve misunderstood you, then I apologize, and I’d invite you to clarify.

      • Matt M

        John: I don’t at all see the suggestion that you’re attributing to Miss A. Rereading, I see her using the term “men,” as a collective noun. I don’t see in any case an argument for essentialism. Two persons are people. That does not mean that all humans are being referred to, only that the number is plural. When she uses “men,” I don’t find any instance of her stating that her comments are true of the entire gender. Indeed, I see women also included in Miss A’s generalizations.

  • Redfem

    A wonderful article, thank you Meghan. You sum up perfectly my concern about this ‘movement’. Feminism, particularly radical feminism, is strongly resisted and misunderstood. There is a great fear it seems about the implications of truly understanding and addressing the problems of gender inequality.

    Within a culture which increasingly normalises sexualisation of girls and women (I use the term ‘sexualisation’ in line with the APA definition http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx) and largely ignores the negative impact on gender justice and equality, it is far easier to embrace a term like ‘slut’ than challenge it. It is a term that, alongside all the other misogynist and racist language I have personally experienced, will never lose it’s sting for me. It may bring attention to a fundamentally valid message, but in doing so it perpetuates, rather than challenges, rigid, entrenched and male-defined ideas and categories relating to women’s sexuality (madonna / whore). And the whole thing fits very snugly into a culture where pornography, prostitution and sexualisation are increasingly tolerated and justified as ‘individual choice’, despite the evidence of harm to women and girls in particular.

    I love the Julian Curry video. Absolutely fantastic.

  • Penny

    I linked through to this from your comments over at Shakesville. *Great* in-depth analysis of the issues. I really appreciate it! Also, I had the same impression you did from Kate’s language around Gail Dines. I’m an avid reader of Shakesville, but not a commenter (because, ironically, it doesn’t feel like a ‘safe’ space to me, or, rather, a very ‘open’ space). I really didn’t appreciate Melissa’s comments back to you, but I’m glad you stuck around and linked your piece. Thanks!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Penny.

    • Gloria

      What a coincidence! I also came here using the link at Shakesville, where I also feel somehow out of place and unwilling to participate, despite my interest in some of the topics discussed there. I am glad Meghan posted this (and that link) as I often wonder whether my concerns about the contradictions and arbitrariness in such so-called feminist safe-spaces are deemed irrelevant. I share your view about the SlutWalk and the expressed intention to ‘reclaim’ the word slut, as if degrading women was just a semantic issue. Simply change the meaning of a word and the language will no longer be usable for misogynistic insult? Do they seriously believe that rape apologists will thus ‘loose the power’ they have to try to control female sexuality if a particular word is reclaimed? What a weak excuse to make women parade around proclaiming themselves so ‘happy to be sluts’.

      At first I thought the SlutWalk would somehow imitate the costume party in some form of solidarity with female prostitutes and promiscuous women who wear skimpy clothes because ‘slutty’ clothes are never an excuse to rape, not even when the women wearing them are ‘indeed’ promiscuous. But this was clearly not a statement against marginalization of women, as Ms Jarvis said at the BBC panel (and she is not alone in this). She emphasized the importance of the shock implied on using the term slut, the name SlutWalk, and the costumes to attract attention, … because getting attention justifies it, and many people -not just women- deemed it fun to participate … and the fact that we are talking about semantics shows how effective their work was? Uggh!, Really?

      Commenters at Shakesville (but not just there) wonder how can people (who claim to be feminist) object that impeccable logic, ‘they are missing the point’! ‘end of fucking discussion’! … Seriously? Hang on, aren’t they the same who regularly post criticism to edgy advertisement which often resorts to misogyny for the sake of attention? (‘assvertisement’ they call it). How can such edginess be valid in this context? ‘Ahh, you do not get it, it is irony, you know, it is about mocking the Toronto policeman’ Really? how many posts have you dedicated to humour being used as an excuse to get away with demeaning women?

      They say they do not see anything incoherent with objectifying themselves to get their ‘point’ across, so they enthusiastically dress as the stereotype to attract attention, especially male attention, while holding signs saying ‘my mini-skirt is not about you’? Come on, are you really SlutWalking to address yourself?

      This self-embracing of insult and stereotype to ‘take away their degrading power’ is so blatantly contradictory and unconvincing. This is why I find Meghan´s post so articulate.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yeah that whole experience over at Shakesville really threw me for a loop! What a strange response. Makes me feel like all that time I spent defending Melissa around those who accuse her of shutting down discussion online was a little bit silly…I mean, I felt like I was addressing the post at hand. Really caught me off guard, there.

        In any case, on your note around ‘everyone else missing the point’, it has been so interesting to read the many critiques of critics of Slutwalk coming from feminists who argue that ALL the critics JUST DON’T GET IT. I think we do get it. And still find it problematic.

        And yes, exactly! So many of these ads use ‘irony’ as an excuse for sexism, like, DON’T YOU GET THE JOKE IT’S IRONIC, not sexism, irony. GET IT??!

        Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Yes! This! I actually wept as I read your beautiful words. Thank you for saying what I think. I AM a feminist too. And proud to have been a feminist for a long time now regardless of the fashion.

  • BobDobolina

    Impressive, thorough and well-thought-out essay. The “SlutWalk” movement seems to have started out as a clever way of putting a spotlight on the hateful speech that prompted it — which could have been fine in itself — but it’s very easy for it to veer into trying to “reclaim” the word (an ambiguous enterprise at best) or confusing sexiness with “empowerment” (there’s nothing wrong with sexiness, but eroticism can never be a substitute for having actual politics). That does indeed seem to be happening.

    I like the idea of reclaiming “feminism,” but it looks to be a pretty complicated task. Many people look down on radfems because they have the sense that radfems are lesbian separatists who are looking down on and judging the sexuality of others — this really seems to be the biggest flashpoint, though there are other points of friction — in a kind of weird politicized species of pseudo-prudishness. That’s not true of all the radfems, of course, nor of all feminist lesbians. Unfortunately it is true of *some* of them, and they say so, and they say it in the same breath as demanding “solidarity as women” from people they’re tacitly deriding; and I can see it being hard to feel “solidarity” with someone who openly regards their sexuality as politically superior to yours. If there’s a “feminism” to be retrieved that a majority could rally around, it might have to be between this extreme and its equally annoying opposite in the so-called “sex-positive” “feminism” that often seems to be a mere schtick for the promotion of largely-misogynistic porn.

  • As one of the organizers of SlutWalk Chicago, I find that my personal feelings about the reclamation of “slut” fall very much in line with the comments from SlutWalk Vancouver organizers. The SWC official statement on the reclamation of the word “slut” is that we stand with those who wish to reclaim the term for themselves (NOT for anyone else) but that we recognize how problematic the term is and also stand with anyone who does NOT wish to reclaim the term. I am personally not interested in reclaiming ‘slut’ as it applies to myself and am more invested in busting wide open sexual double standards and the idea that ‘sluts’ exist at all.

    And I very much identify as a feminist, as do many of the folks attending our event and a good number, if not 100%, of our organizing team (I know at least three of five do and I can only not speak for the other two because I’ve never asked).

    I also wrote a piece on what sex-positivity means to me, and it has very little to do with the promotion of misogynistic porn: http://rebelrebelbatcat.tumblr.com/post/5223249429/why-sex-positive

    It has to do, to me, with body-positivity, inclusiveness, a thoughtful and healthy approach to human sexuality without judgment, and survivors’ rights.

    In essence, while all of the SW satellites stand in solidarity around certain issues, we have differing approaches and priorities, and those are issues that will have to be worked out as the movement itself grows.

    If you’d like to dialogue about this in greater detail, I am absolutely open to that.

    • BobDobolina

      “I also wrote a piece on what sex-positivity means to me, and it has very little to do with the promotion of misogynistic porn”

      For clarity’s sake, all the caveats on my remarks about radfems apply to sex-positive feminism too.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for your comments, Jessica. It is clear that approaches and priorities are very different among satellites. Unfortunately much of the overt feminism seems to be overshadowed by some of the comments coming from Slutwalk co-founders in Toronto, as well as, of course, the use of the word ‘slut’. I feel frustrated by comments such as this one, made by Sonya Barnett earlier today in the live chat on the Globe and Mail in regards to opposition towards the use of, or reclaimation of the word ‘slut’: “…I understand the at many communities can’t see past traditional conversations of sex. If you are ready to identify yourself as sexually confident and not be ashamed of enjoying sex, then you can use it”. This very much implies that those who are not comfortable with, or interested in ‘reclaiming’ ‘slut’ are simply ‘traditional’ or ashamed about sex. This is exactly what I am talking about in terms of reinforcing negative and untrue stereotypes about feminists. This also allows little ‘choice’, though the dialogue seems to focus primarily on ‘choice’. Either we can ‘choose’ to call ourselves ‘slut’ or we can ‘choose’ to be labelled ‘sex negative’. The term ‘sex-positive’ in and of itself implies that there is such a thing as being ‘sex-negative’ which, of course, there is not. I am not ‘pro’ or ‘against’ sex. I am a feminist. These kinds of terms and dialogues, seem to me to, reinforce compulsory sexuality, and silence radical feminist arguments (as, apparently, radical feminists hate sex and are prudish). It’s the same old story. I realize that many satellites and supporters of Slutwalk are feminist and do not wish to reclaim the term slut. I would suggest we think about losing the ‘slut’ entirely in that case. It did make sense to me, initially, as it was a response to the police officer’s comments which orginally spurred the movement. It was kind of funny and flippant and brought attention to the issue. At this point, that issue has been pushed to the wayside in favour of ‘reclaiming’ slut, and focusing conversations on sex and sexuality. Rape has nothing to so with sex. Being a ‘slut’ has nothing to do with sex. ‘Slut’ means nothing. It is an abusive word invented by misogynists to silence women. Let’s talk about victim blaming, sexual assault, rape culture, women being free to either be sexual or not. Marching under the banner of ‘slut’ seems to muddy the conversation. Where is the choice? I don’t get to ‘choose’ slut. Someone else chooses that for me. I choose not to use misogynist language. I choose to label myself a feminist.

      • I’d just like to note here that I agree with what you’re saying, Meghan, regarding the approach (and that I feel frustrated as well with the turn the entire conversation has taken). I initially felt (and still do feel to some extent) that the use of the word ‘slut’ in the title of the event was as you described it – that it was a cheeky way to start up larger conversations about the connection between victim-blaming and sexual double standards, and that it was an appropriate response to the specific situation that birthed the Toronto walk – and comments like that cop’s are, as I know you’re aware, cornerstone examples of rape culture at work.

        Also, I see what you’re saying about ‘sex-positive’ implying that there is a ‘sex-negative’ – the way I always thought of it was that culture as we experience it is where the ‘sex-negativity’ lies, not with alternative approaches to feminist topics. Compulsory sexuality is part of that negativity. I agree that there’s the potential for things to be framed in that way based on historical considerations and will consider that in my thinking and framing in the future.

        The way I feel about our event’s title is thus – it’s out there, and as it’s only weeks away we can’t really change it at this juncture. But we can do our damnedest to contextualize it (as I am doing), to bring the conversation back to victim-blaming, the pain and divisiveness of sexual double standards and how shame works as an oppressive tool in rape culture, and further efforts beyond the event might need a different name.

        • Meghan Murphy

          I hear you. Thanks for engaging. May the conversation continue!

  • We’ve been here before. I was part of the feminist movement in the 90’s that tried to reclaim “bitch” from misogynists. The results of that word reclamation project don’t support initiating similar new projects.

    Concurrent with the popularization of feminist magazines and songs about proudly owning “bitch’ the word actually backslid into more widespread, misogynistic usage. What used to mean a demanding, unkind woman when I was child stills means that, yes. But it has morphed into common varieties “beyotch” and “biznatch,” and it acquired another meaning where to be someone’s bitch is to be owned in the manner that men own women, subordinate and servile. Women lost ground with “bitch”.

    Because the liberals won’t, radicals will be the ones having a light lunch before checking if the weekly pornography charts show an increased demand for slut porn in the wake of the sexy media blitz (with lots of photos) of SlutWalks.

    Thank you for the eloquent essay, Meghan.

    • BobDobolina

      Incidentally, I don’t think the fate of the word “bitch” was the fault of the people who tried to ‘reclaim’ it. It just wasn’t able to get enough traction to avoid being drowned out by alternate vectors for the same term that were unaware of / uninterested in the reclamation (a major offender being commercialized hip-hop culture’s pursuit of revenue through the performance of exaggerated woman-hatred). I guess the lesson is that such projects are always ambiguous and uncertain because there’s always other social forces competing for the same term, and sometimes they’ll be louder.

    • Bushfire

      Is there any porn that isn’t “slut porn” ?

  • Matt Ezzell

    To echo SamBerg, thank you for an eloquent and thoughtful essay, Meghan. And, in case anyone is interested, and also following up on SamBerg’s comments about the word “bitch,” here’s an article I wrote with Sherryl Kleinman and Corey Frost about the social harms of “bitch”:


    In solidarity,

  • All I can say is SPOT ON! reMARKable piece. THANK YOU. I will pass on to others.

  • Well said, Meghan. Thank you.

  • Derek

    The problem I have with this commentary is that it often refers to a certain idea as a foundational point, and that idea is that we (women) have not chosen to take back the word slut. The grappling is taking place. It’s nearly impossible for a group to spontaneously agree to any act, particularly a group as large and diverse as the one in question. You’re obviously not a lone dissenter, but I believe that choice IS being made. Your comments and efforts will contribute to the value of the re-appropriation. What the new content of the word SLUT will be is being shaped presently. I think your questions are essential and need to be examined by the organizers and participants of the Slutwalk.

  • wow, excellent writing. I very much agree with you – I am not comfortable with the word “slut” being reclaimed. But I am comfortable with calling the marches SlutWalks simply because it DOES raise eyebrows. I guess being a sociology major in Santa Cruz has made me this way. I think of term “SlutWalk” as being satirical (for lack of a better word). You’re NOT a slut because of what you wear, how many people you have consensual sex with, etc. SlutWalk has a sense of irony/satire to it though – and I personally just think it’s a clever name. However, I don’t think that a few girls should be able to “reclaim” the word for the entire female population – if they want to reclaim it for themselves that’s fine, but I don’t want them calling me a slut and I certainly won’t use it to describe any other female.

    I think as long as there are marches and protests there will be a wide variety of differing opinions on what that protest stands for, and it is no different with SlutWalks. I will participate because I support the essential point that no matter how you dress, it is not an invitation to rape. And I also think we need to raise the issue of victim-blaming, which is also what I believe SlutWalks stand for. I won’t dress provocatively and I won’t march with a sign or t-shirt that uses the word “slut”, but I will march in solidarity with men and women of all ages who want to bring an end to slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

    I think we’ll see variations across the various SlutWalks that take place this year. I can only hope that the original message is clear: No One Is Asking To Be Raped.

    One final comment: I HATE when people don’t want to be called feminists because it brings to mind “hairy lesbians with dreadlocks and a pension for hating men.” There is no one single definition of feminism!!! Why don’t people get that! Gah.

    Great writing!

  • Cameron

    As a man who is trying to learn more about feminism and understand how existing within a patriarchy has influenced me, this was really enlightening. There is only one small thing that I disagreed with, and I hope this won’t be taken in the same way as the “men are raped too” comments rightly are. When you say: “Men have not been abused and shamed and attacked with this word. Women have.” This isn’t quite true. I was repeatedly called a slut by an ex for having been promiscuous before we got together, and there are also equivalent male gendered terms like ‘man-whore’ and ‘womaniser’.

    Before you despair at me (I AM still learning about this) I realise that because of my privilege, it is nowhere near equivalent, and because it was a case of the exception rather than rule, and there isn’t the same wider stigma attached to male promiscuity, it wasn’t as offensive to me as slut shaming is to women. It was intended to shame though (needless to say my girlfriend then wasn’t a feminist)

    I think the difference between me saying this and concern trolls pointing out men get raped when no-one has said they don’t, is that in this case it was explicitly stated that men have not been shamed and attacked with this word, and that isn’t quite accurate.

    If I have made a massive error in my logic, or have just been ignorant, please to put me straight. Personally, I would never call a girl a slut because (among other reasons) I see nothing wrong with promiscuity in either sex and have never understood why women having a sex drive and fulfilling it should be taboo. Please tell me if anyone has issues with my thinking here too.


    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m sorry that happened to you. That said, ‘slut’ is a gendered word and was invented to (and continues to be used) to shame and abuse women. That doesn’t mean someone didn’t try to hurt you by calling you ‘slut’, but I’ve got to say that the history of patriarchy and misogyny and men abusing women does factor in here, in terms of the meaning and use of the word. I mean, women are called slut regardless of whether or not they have sex – it’s just, generally used as a way to insult and degrade women. I don’t see it having the same sting when men are called ‘sluts’, it is often done so in a joking manner. That is not to say that you may not have personally been hurt by this word, but, on a large scale, in context, and in terms of the meaning of the word, I think it is HIGHLY gendered.

  • Meghan, I love your blog. And I love it that you exist. Thank you so much for writing it.

    Oh, and a million kudos for writing about this SlutWalk brouhaha.

    What makes me sad is this: any kind of feminist “walk” is, at the most, taking place once a year and in some big city. This SlutWalk deal? Within months it was spreading like wildfire, so much so that it’s coming to my city.
    Why? No other march that I can think of has been so popular.

    The reason why feminism has to be “sexy” is that, apparently, without the “sexy” we disappear. We become invisible. Even to ourselves.

    • Reflecting…

      Absolutely – to be worthy of media space, it seems Slutwalk has bought into exactly what it also marches against… too confusing for my 11.30pm brain after a long day!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Mary. And I agree with you! If we are not sexy, we become invisible. Women, of course, need to appear sexy and sexually available in order to be paid any attention by men/society. A real challenge would be to not run scared from those ‘hairy-legged/dyke/man-hater/angry’ feminist stereotypes by buying into compulsory sexuality. I mean, have sex, don’t have sex, whatever, but proclaiming that the real route to female empowerment is via sex, I think, is problematic…Never mind that much of the discourse around Slutwalk, as of late, seems to paint critics of pornography (radical feminists) as anti-sex/man-haters. Why feminists are attacking other feminists with those very stereotypical terms (used by the patriarchy to silence them) is beyond me. To hear Jaclyn Friedman calling Gail Dines a man-hater is completely depressing. Thanks again for your comments.

    • I think the reason this slutwalk business has become so popular among a certain subset of young white hipsters, is precisely because they have internalized so much internalized male supremacy; they opinions and beliefs are now indistinguishable from misogynist. They aren’t just the object of the Male Gaze anymore, they ARE the male gaze.

      And it’s past time genuine feminists eject those twits from the movement. Strangely enough, there is now a significant number of men who also see the problem with slutwalk, and are now more genuinely feminist than these numbskulls.

  • daylili

    As a firm believer of the feminist movement I would like to state that feminism has been turned into a negative label by the media to discredit all attempts of women to empower themselves. The word slut however has never been anything more then an insult used to demean women. Why would anyone want to reclaim a word that is nothing more than an insult?
    What do you call a prostitute that does not charge for her services? A slut.

    I see the use of the word “slutwalk” as irony not as a description of what women wear or their choice of partners but a word chosen to illustrate what the general public think of all women who have consensual sex outside of marriage. I hope that when we march on my hometown there will be a whole bunch of women dressed in all sorts of crazy hats and outfits because just being a women who has any kind of sex is considered a slut.

    Thank you for your fantastic article.

  • I am not a slut. I am a human being, regardless of my sexuality or the level of my libido. Word on my blog: http://goddessblue.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/its-my-vagina/

  • Tre
  • Helen

    Just one minor niggle. The image you describe as being used for Slutwalk DC’s “sexy new website” is actually the Feministing.com logo. Facebook has a tendency to choose slightly random images for its thumbnails when links are posted. The Slutwalk DC website itself, as you will see if you click on the link you posted, does not contain any such image. Unless that has changed within the last six days?

    • Meghan Murphy

      It wasn’t the same as the feministing image (the feministing mudflaps girl is giving us the finger) and they did, just recently, remove the image. I think only within the past couple of days.

  • Great article!!! The term slut is, as you said, based within a patriarchal notion concerning women and sex. Get rid of the word. Period.

    How about we reclaim the word feminist? It is certainly needed, especially with the attacks on women’s rights that are happening all over the country and on the federal level.

  • Fantastic article–I have been unable to articulate my feelings about this controversy and your thorough analysis is just so right on. Thank you for this.

  • Darlene Neal

    Thanks very much for a thought provoking critique that is very much needed.

  • Thank you! Thank you! I’ve been arguing the same points this past week and getting rebuffed by other feminists — or womanists who don’t call themselves feminists. We should have a Million Woman March not a SlutWalk! I cannot take my daughter to march with me on a SlutWalk. It’s ridiculous and offensive. Wonderful post!

  • Hi, I don’t want to derail anything here with a “what about the men” comment, but I really have to wonder I’ve heard the term slut used for men increasingly sometimes it’s “man-slut”… while men haven’t been shamed with it nearly as much it has started happening on a smaller scale. Not that that’s okay.

    I can understand the appeal to have a way of communicating that you’re promiscuous and not tied down to a single partner (wether it means you enjoy casual sex or open relationships) but maybe there doesn’t need to be a single word for that.

    But I do take issue with one statement you made, “I would prefer to believe that all women enjoy consensual sex,” to me this smacks of erasure for asexual people. Not everyone (male or female) enjoys sex. Those people are soemtimes othered, and treated as freaks… and I count quite a few as friends. So please don’t make statements that limit womenhood to the sexual.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Rachel,

      I completely agree! Thank you so much for pointing out that saying that ““I would prefer to believe that all women enjoy consensual sex,” erases for asexual people. Honestly, one of my key arguments around female empowerment/sexuality/’pro-sex’ feminism is that it encourages compulsory sexuality and erases women who are asexual or, hey, just don’t feel like having sex all the time. What I meant when I said this AND should have been more clear about was that I would prefer to believe that all women who enjoy/desire/have sex enjoy consensual sex. Again, thanks very much for this clarification, I think it is extremely important.

      All the best,

      • tms

        Meghan, this article and following conversations have been thought provoking reading for me, really appreciate the rich discussion here, thanks for all the effort.

        At the risk of pedantically clarifying your clarification, I’m fairly sure you mean ‘consensual sex’, not ‘compulsory sex’ in the second to last line. I got to the end of the discussion on this page and then that was like a big incongruent “whoaaa” for a few seconds! Very happy for you to not show my comment if you can edit the original; I imagine keeping up with all the possible replies to discussion around this can be a full time job in itself. Thanks!

        • Meghan Murphy

          Ha! Yes. I do. Thanks for catching that. Edited.

  • An extraordinary, articulate and coherent article which in my opinion demonstrates the need for feminism to reinvent itself with each generation, re-asserting its fundamental principles and objectives and not being subverted into the dominant sexist narrative. Good luck with this and go well.

    All the best,
    (male, Melbourne, Australia).

  • Meghan,

    Thank you so much for presenting the issue with such gorgeous clarity. It’s been over a decade since I engaged with any kind of philosophical feminist thinking and this one article was so inspiring, so easy, so accessable that I feel as though the light has just been switched on.

    This has been the rebirth of my own personal feminism, and I realise at the same time, I’m not interested in reclaiming ‘Slut’. It’s not a term I’ve ever used, and has always said much more about the person shouting it, than who it’s being shouted about. Essentially, it’s a word without any true positive meaning, and the world may be a better place if it was lost for all time.

  • This was by far the most informative, reasonable, and elequent article I’ve read on the subject. I read this a few days ago, and bookmarked it, and have shared. Anybody who reads this one would most likely also be interested in reading another:


  • Mantelli

    I’m a word-lover and a bit of a cross-grained rebel. I tend to battle back by fighting to reclaim the ORIGINAL meaning of the word “slut”. I AM a bad housekeeper, damn it, and I’m proud of it.

  • Joanna

    I too am torn about the SlutWalk, for a variety of reasons, but I am troubled by the idea that some women cannot be “real feminists” because of their appearance or lifestyle. In my opinion, whether or not a woman shaves her legs has nothing to do with whether or not she is a feminist. To me, feminism means being intellectually empowered to make one’s own decisions regarding career, dress, lifestyle, sexuality, relationships, etc, and not feeling trapped into any gender specific roles that one might not want to play. In the same way, I am also bothered by the shaming of “radical feminists”. Every woman is different, and every woman should be able to choose a different walk in life (which to me is the point of feminism). I understand your concern with feminism being packaged in a “sexy” way, but I do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with a woman being sexy, or even WANTING to be sexy, so long as that is not where a woman finds her value.

  • My feelings on this?

    The word “slut” like the word “queer” has been used to malign, subordinate and shame women for a long time. The word Slut is not going to go away, the power it holds is too great and therefore too easy employ. It will continue to be used until the charge is released from it and that is simply what SlutWalk’s organizers are attempting to do – strip it of its taboo. as the Very much like the word queer has been reclaimed – which was indeed used as a shaming word, not one that just meant strange and odd like one commenter said.

    There is nothing wrong with this endeavor.

    Meghan, I hear that you agree with their mission but dislike the way they are going about it. You say that “this is something that we must… agree upon, as the oppressed group who has decided to reclaim the oppressive word, and that this takes time” and I ask you — Why? Why must we agree upon how to do? And more importantly, on whose terms is that decision made? And since it does take time for such a shift of consciousness to occur, then what are we waiting for? There doesn’t have to be one way to go about stopping slut-shaming and victim-blaming. This walk, which is garnering a huge amount of recognition and lots of people are talking about it, could simply be a stepping stone for what might soon become a larger cultural awareness.

    And this is nothing but a good thing.

    Honestly? The problem that a lot of people have with feminism is exactly what this argument illustrates – that feminism means fighting about shit. Why are we arguing about this? Let’s all do our thing, allow others who want to be the type of feminist they want to be (which invariably changes and strengthens with age as convictions become more rooted), and give each other high fives for having the passion and energy to incite change – whether that means walking down the street and owning the word slut or burning our bras. Let’s live and let live. And support each other as feminists of ALL kinds.


    • It doesn’t mean ‘fighting about shit’ (though it certainly means fighting for equality which I have no problem with), it means criticizing the world around us, how it affects, the history behind it and not looking at it simplistically. Just because a woman does something does not make it feminist, just because you choose to do something does not make it feminist. If it means everything it means nothing. You can criticize someone and still be constructive about it, being completely positive without any hint of debate is thoughtless.

  • Norm

    I like this article Megan Murphy, well said. Although distressing. Will there ever be a voluntary mass movement against patriarchy and its gender/ed abuses? I’m starting to worry that the perpetual roading has gone too far.

  • |

    this is such a beautiful piece of lituerature, thank you soo much for making this points of view heard, i absoloutly stand with you 100% , its so shameful so know how many ignorant woman out there are parading around thinkin thier being feminists walking under a banner that diverats all the attention away from that actul cuase at hand. i mean, sure maybe call it old world but i think people no matter what gender you are, if you run around acting like a flousey, all people are guna see is the skin with SLUT written across it, litteraly like whats happening todai in vancouver. if you dont think a whole buncha perverts arent out there watchin all you ladies parading around saying your sluts… i mean… what happend to the fundamentals of feminism? where did all the empowerment and hard work these for-mothers help build go, buy calling ourselfs a bunch a sluts?? we are devalidating all thier hard work by directing the fundamentals of the word feminism to a slanderous, hurtful term such as slut? whats next the hussie march? or i have the rite to be masogantic to men? isnt that what the word slut kinda entails? i mean… masogeny perpatrated by men is as equal as being a slut, a slut is some one who uses her sexualty as a weapon, like masoganists. soo really.. feminism or slutism? what sounds more apropriate?

  • Great critique, although I still disagree with a lot of what you are saying.

    I don’t think anyone has the right to tell people not to reclaim the word “slut”. Much of my queer community identifies with the term “slut.” With that said, the use of a word depends on context. I reclaim words like “tranny” and “faggot” and “dyke” in my community, but if a straight, cisgender person uses these words in a derogatory way, that’s not acceptable. I identify very strongly with the word “queer.” I had somebody tell me that they find that offensive, and I basically told them to fuck off, that’s how I identify. I don’t identify with the “LGBT” community– a bunch of white-bread, assimilationist, imperialist fucks. Nobody else has the right to tell someone whether or not they are allowed to reclaim a word.

    With that said, I’m not supporting Slutwalk. I think this shit seems really straight, really white, really mainstream.

    There is also another critique that is not being made because this is something that is endemic to feminism– even radical feminism. That’s the critique of police brutality, the criminialization of trans folks and people of color, and the rape culture that is a part of the prison-industrial complex. White liberal feminists are always saying that the police need to be “doing a better job.” But, implicit in their “job” is the maintenance of a white supremacist prison industrial complex. Plese check out this critique here about the racism in the slutwalk movement: http://tothecurb.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/slutwalk-a-stroll-through-white-supremacy/

    The “freedom of the individual” argument becomes extremely important when we look at first world feminist discourse on the Hijab– or Muslim headscarves. France just too the drastic step of BANNING Hijab’s, period. Many first world feminists see this as somehow a victory. The argument is something like this: Muslim women are oppressed, it’s our job to “liberate” them from an oppressive culture that forces them to wear Hijabs. The counter-argument goes like this: fuck you. You have no place to decide for somebody else whether or not wearing a Hijab is oppressive or liberatory or whatever. Muslim women have the agency to decide for themselves whether or not they want to wear a Hijab. Whether she want’s to wear a Hijab or a bikini, it is nobody else’s decision. Deciding for somebody else what they should wear is paternalism, pure and simple.

    In other words, you should call out the ways that the Slutwalk movement panders to patriarchy— as you should also call out how it panders to white supremacy, transphobia, and the prison-industrial complex. But, let’s find a critique that doesn’t denegrate peoples’ ability to make their own choices about their own body and how they’re going to dress.



    I worked for a while for a rape crisis center, and, within the mainstream assimilated transphobic second wave feminist movement people are constantly reciting figures like “only 6% of rapists spend a day in prison for what they’ve done.” As if people going to prison is what we want? That is a shit-ton of privilege-denying within the white cisgender feminist movement, especially considering how trans people and people of color are targeted by the PIC, and the prevalence of rape of trans inmates. But mainstream feminists don’t give a fuck about trans folks or people of color.

    Yes, rape is a gendered issue. It is extremely gendered. But I am tired of women with cisgender privilege using the word “gender” as if it just refers to them, that being a “gender” issue is the same thing as being a “women’s” (implicitly white and cisgender) issue. Or ignoring the fact that there are more than two genders, and that those of us who fall outside of the gender roles we were forcefully and coercively assigned at birth are targeted and attacked in our own ways. For me, things like slutwalk and even radical feminism strike me as white cisgender women basking in their white cisgender privilege.

    I consider myself a feminist. But I am a feminist who hates most of what gets called “feminism.” I’m also a feminist that is deeply critical of the colonial dynamics of first world feminism. And I think it is essential for people to take that consideration in the work they do.

    • Also, on the “what about men” comments thing… a close friend of mine who is also trans and was born male-bodied told me about when they were a kid, and they were repeatedly sexually abused by their aunt, and nobody believed them because their aunt was female-bodied and they were male-bodied. I’m not for de-gendering the conversation about rape. But I am for examining critically ways in which gender oppresses all people. The “what about men” comments are most likely not in good faith 90% of the time. But we need to challenge the privileged position that white, cisgender, binary-identified feminists have in conversations about “gender.”

      To mean, talking about gender means talking about ALL of gender. Nothing makes me want to puke more than when cisgender feminists use the word “gender” to be synonymous with “women,” because nothing could be further from the truth. People who do that barely know the first thing about gender, and the violence that my trans community experiences.

    • Louise

      Saffo, your constant assumptions about second wave and mainstream feminists and what we do/don’t give a shit about are really annoying.

  • weird, okay, all the paragraphs in the post i submitted came out all out of order…

  • Hi, I want to ask your permission to quote you on my blog today. I agree tottaly with your point of view. Slutwalk is coming to Brazil, and a lot of brazilian-feminists are confused about it. I wanted to give them a light with your thoughts. If there’s any problem with it, let me know and I’ll delete it.

    Thank you a lot.

    • Meghan Murphy

      No, feel free to quote! Thanks for checking in! If you don’t mind linking to blog/out website next to or within the quote that would be great.


  • For those who are saying “man-slut” and “man-whore” have been used against men, it might be worth considering that “man-” had to be added to the word to make it about men.

    Tellingly, the only times I’ve seen/heard “slut”/”whore”/&c used against men without that “man-” prefix (or similar) is when it’s against gay men. It’s like there’s this gender-thing about the words… gimme a sec…

  • Aria

    I am a feminist that identifies with many of the core values of the SlutWalk and really want to raise awareness for these issues in my very conservative, very backwards city. I’m working on organizing one here, but I’m grappling very hard with the “slut” aspect and poring over these criticisms such that I can make this as inclusive and productive as possible. Do you think it is possible to make something like the SlutWalk an event such the one that Vancouver was aiming for, or do you think they are all doomed to be as patriarchy-pandering and anti-feminist as Toronto?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Aria,

      Unfortunately I am not sure I have an answer for you. Many of the American versions of Slutwalk have been, in my opinion, disastrous. The message is unclear, the statements from the organizers confusing, condescending, and lacking in any solid foundation, theory, thought or research. I think Vancouver organizers worked really hard to keep the conversation on track (i.e. focused on ending rape culture, victim blaming, etc), rather than getting into this whole ‘reclaiming slut’ issue which, to me, seems to have derailed the conversation and makes it impossible for me to support the events. Personally, so long as these events are called ‘Slutwalk’ and so long as the discourse is so immersed in ‘choice feminism’, I don’t think they will ever work for me. That said, I highly recommend you speak with the Vancouver organizers. It sounds like your goals for the event might be most closely aligned with theirs. They are very nice and intelligent women and I imagine they would be happy to speak with you about your concerns.

    • Amy

      Hey Aria,

      Please don’t halt your plans over a bunch of hand-wringing. It’s necessary and often productive to debate this stuff but one can too easily get mired in scrutinizing every message and thought and use this as a handy excuse to never get out there and do a damn thing. Lord almighty. A million “thoughtful” essays that get read mostly by people who already identify with feminism don’t come close to the power of a group of pissed off women marching through your streets making you Think about the concepts behind the term “slut”.

      The Slutwalks make people uncomfortable because they touch on some taboo stuff and the phraseology they employ is not apologetic or overly-esoteric or timid. And guess what? Lots of people are noticing and getting together, and lots of people are discussing and questioning “why slut?” “what does it mean?” and so on. Some here have called the Slutwalks “disastrous.” Oh my. Seriously? We seem to be forgetting, this is the first feminist-associated movement to make significant waves in years- are we really going to discourage people from bringing women’s sexual oppression and victim-blaming to the forefront because a word puts some people off? Maybe we’d be better off sitting around complaining about victim-blaming and the sexual double standard. I think not.

      The people involved have every reason to try to defang the word “slut.” The idea is to try to challenge outdated perceptions. And, to be clear, lots of those involved don’t necessarily want to “reclaim” the word. As many have pointed out, it’s never been used as a positive or neutral term by women, so “reclaiming” is out. Instead, I use the word this way to demonstrate how ridiculous the concept is as a pejorative and to reclaim the power of it’s meaning. The message is meant to be: “So “sluts” are women who like sex? Well, hey, then I suppose the vast majority of us women are sluts. And guess what else? We’re all just people- your teacher, your bank teller, your boss, you aunt, your daughter- All people who like us some consensual sex, and who some would put down with silly labels like “slut.” Wow, women- just like men- like sex! That’s the real truth about woman and sex So Get Used to it!”

      I get why this makes people feel weird. We’re not all supposed to be comfortable when trying to challenge long-held perceptions. Please don’t let discomfort stop you. Instead, I urge you to organize in the spirit of stopping victim-blaming and of challenging the idea that women and sex are somehow a negative combination.


  • Tabitha

    Interesting and considered analysis, Meghan. I am not too sure about the whole concept either, but couldn’t put my finger on why. So I started writing about it and what started as a couple of paragraphs turned into an essay. Some of our points are similar, some are not. Have a little look if you have time? Best wishes, Tabitha.


    • Brody

      Women complain about how unfair it is that men are called studs when they sleep around, yet women get called sluts for the exact same behavior. It’s actually not a double standard though, because both scenarios are pretty different in terms of circumstances and consequences. I can think of at least four crucial differences:

      First, sleeping around is easier for women. Regardless of how you feel about promiscuity, we can all agree that a guy who manages to rack up a lot of sexual partners has to have some skills. It’s challenging for men to rack up partners, even for men with low standards. A man needs social intelligence, interpersonal skills, persistence, thick skin, and plain old dumb luck. For women, though, a vagina and a pulse is often enough. Whenever an accomplishment requires absolutely no challenge, no one respects it. It’s just viewed as a lack of self-discipline. People respect those who accomplish challenging feats, while they consider those who overindulge in easily obtained feats as weak, untrustworthy or flawed.

      Second, women have potential to do more harm by sleeping around than men do. Say a man sleeps around with a bunch of different women. He’s definitely doing harm to these women if he pretends to be monogamous while sleeping around. He may cause them emotional pain by his promiscuity. He may cause unwanted pregnancy. He may spread VD. When women sleep around, however, they can cause not only all these same ill effects but one additional crucial ill effect: the risk of unknown parentage.

      If one guy sleeps around with five women, each of whom is monogamous to him, and they all get pregnant, it’s a safe bet as to who the father is. If you reverse genders and have one woman who sleeps around with five men who are monogamous to her, and she gets pregnant, the father could be any of the five men. And if one of those men is tricked into raising a baby that isn’t his, he’s investing time, money, estate and property to provide for a child that isn’t carrying his DNA into the next generations, a costly mistake from an evolutionary standpoint.

      Our two basic primal drives are to survive and to reproduce, and promiscuous women traditionally make it hard for a man to know for sure whether he is truly reproducing or is secretly raising another man’s child. Men stand a lot more to lose from promiscuous women than the other way around. And it’s no picnic for the child to not know who his real father is either. And it’s a mess for the women carrying on the deception as well. Or just look at any random episode of the Maury show if you don’t believe me.

      Since the DNA test and the birth control pill didn’t exist until recently, there were no reliable ways to prevent pregnancy or prove parentage for most of human history. For this reason society developed a vested interest in preventing promiscuity among women, and society accomplished this by creating the slut stigma. And even though the creation of birth control and DNA tests have made this less of a risk than the past, longstanding traditions and customs are not easy for society to break so the slut stigma remains.

      Third, men have evolutionary reasons to be programmed to sleep around more. A lot of women roll their eyes when they hear that men are “hard-wired” to sleep around. But from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes total sense. If the two primal drives of humans are to survive and to reproduce, nothing leads to maximum reproduction like one man sleeping with multiple women. If one women sleeps with many men in a nine month period, she can only get pregnant just once. Nine months of rampant promiscuity would give the same result as nine months of highly sexed monogamy: one pregnancy. Now if one man sleeps with many women during a nine month period, you can get many pregnancies during that period. The more women he sleeps with, the more possible pregnancies.

      So from an evolutionary standpoint, there are concrete advantages to men being promiscuous compared to women being promiscuous. This doesn’t mean that women have evolved to be strictly monogamous. Women have evolved to be somewhat promiscuous too, something men badly underestimate. However they haven’t evolved to be as rampantly promiscuous as men.
      Fourth, promiscuity poses more risk to women than to men. A woman has more to lose from choosing bad sex partners than a man does. She’s the one who gets stuck with going through a pregnancy and taking care of a baby alone if she chooses a deadbeat. For this reason, promiscuous women throughout history have historically been viewed as being a vastly more irresponsible risk takers than promiscuous men, who rightly or wrongly could always run away from the consequences of unwanted pregnancies easier than women could.

      These four reasons explain why the longstanding tradition came about of men being rewarded for multiple partners while women get socially punished for similar promiscuity. Of course all this is gradually changing, but we’re up against millenia of evolutionary and cultural conditioning here, so don’t expect any dramatic overnight reversals.

      Understand that I’m just explaining why the double standard came into existence and not condoning or condemning it. This is not an attempt to pass judgment or be self-righteous in any way. It’s just an explanation of why the two conditions are treated differently.

  • Yasmeen

    There is room for Slutwalk critiques but this is the most intellectually dishonest critique of Slutwalk I have read thus far. You cherry picked Facebook comments and deliberately mischaracterized a quote by one of the SlutWalk founders to make it seem as if the organizers don’t identify as feminists.

    What Sonya ACTUALLY said:

    “I learned and realized a lot about myself in those weeks leading up to the big event. I hadn’t used the term ‘feminist’ to describe myself since University, and even then I only did it, albeit occasionally, because of the few feminist teachings I garnered there {I was so concentrated on my design program, I didn’t notice much else}. I retreated from the word over the years, due to its reputation of ‘man-hating, hairy-legged, birkenstock-wearing’ descriptions that appeared around the term. I certainly didn’t fit that bill.

    Over the years, I had pretty much all but forgotten the term. Maybe it was just that I decided to become interested in concerns that never used it. But despite me being a strong-willed woman, who loves all things related to sexual confidence and sexuality in general, it was rare that I came across the word ‘feminist’.”

    Many women don’t identify as feminists for a long time. This begs the question – so what? She’s quite clearly not disparaging the word feminist, but writing about why she avoided the feminist label in the past. If you’re going to criticize something, be HONEST.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Yasmeen,

      I know, as do all the readers of this piece, exactly what Sonya wrote.
      I have not, in any way, mischaracterized what she wrote. My argument, in terms of her blog post, is that Sonya, as many women do, have felt the pressure to reject the term ‘feminist’ because of negative and untrue stereotypes and pressure from the backlash. I suggest that because of this, we should work to ‘reclaim’ or claim our own, the term feminism, rather than retreating from it.

      Please clarify what it is I have been dishonest about? The quotes were both directly from the post, I think I am clear and honest about what the author is saying, as well as what I am arguing. Sonya does not say that she identifies as feminist…Am I wrong about this? Please show me where she does. I may well have missed something. I

      I don’t argue that none of the Slutwalk organizers are feminist. I have said over and over again that many of those involved in the Vancouver event are, indeed, feminist. My argument is focused around much of the discourse that was surrounding Slutwalk when I wrote the piece, much of which was either anti-feminist or simply lacking in a solid feminist foundation.

      Also, this note is copied, in part, from Jessica Valenti’s Tumblr….So in terms of intellectual dishonesty I might argue that this is plagiarism? Seeing as you have not credited her?

      • No Sugarcoating

        By “intellectually dishonest”, I think she means “thorough and well-researched”. They’re getting mad because your criticism is so reasonable, to the point, and unarguably feminist.

  • “Intellectually dishonest” what does that even mean Yasmeen? Are you just copying Valentis post in here, can’t you express yourself in your own words? Where is Meghans article dishonest anyways? She is writing a critique on Sonyas statement. She doesn’t make anything up, she doesn’t lie, as you are clearly able to see when you read the two pieces together. I think the issue isn’t that Meghan made up things, coz it’s ridiculous, the issue is that she is disagreeing with it and is very verbal about it.

  • We are appalled by the SlutWalk! marches and are convinced they are a misguided, knee-jerk reaction which effectively belittles women and rape victims (both female and male), and trivialises the word slut for shock value in a misguided attempt at empowerment, rather than addressing the real meaning of the word – of which has been used to oppress and harm women (by both men and women) for centuries. Lastly, SlutWalk! tends to revel in the sexualisation of women and society, avoiding the real issue that women are not simply objects of visual and physical gratification – but human beings to be respected, physically, socially and emotionally.

    Whilst not everyone shares our exact views, I will link to those (that for various reasons) oppose the SlutWalk! movement for objectivity and to show that really, this isn’t the way forward for a future that has no rape.

  • Grace

    I definitely see your point about the use of the word “slut” as a derogatory gendered term, and it definitely does only apply to women – we can see that by the use of the new term “man-slut” which I have only ever heard being used as a joke rather than a serious insult. I’ve scoured my brain for any examples of teenage idiolect that suppress men in terms of having sex with lots of women, for example, and I can’t think of any though there’s a whole range of derogatory terms for “women who enjoy consensual sex”.

    However, I can also see how using the term “Slutwalk” would reinforce the message, because it represents individual, assertive women (rather than the typical gender stereotype of passiveness/conformity), by drawing attention. I think that was the gist of your article.

    To conclude, I’m still not sure of my own views on the subject, but it’s definitely given me a lot to reflect on. That man’s poem at the end was brilliant as well.

    Thanks very much, very thought-provoking.

  • Grace

    I just noticed XtinaS’s comment, and as you can see, Tina, I agree entirely. Also, in my earlier comment I meant “teenage sociolect” rather than “teenage idiolect”. Sorry!

  • David Johnston

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece discussing the issues involved around “slutwalk” . As a man, I’m stunned by the attempt to lower feminism into a squabble over a dumb idea. Yes, a Toronto cop is an idiot for implying that women asked to be assaulted if dressed like “sluts”. Yes, it’s never right to blame the victim.
    But the role of saying no while dressing maybe it’s yes has not been addressed in the coverage by feminist media. It’s easy to blame men as the instigators. But some women don’t want to dress like nuns, some women want to celebrate their beauty, sexuality and happiness. This doesn’t mean these women are asking for sex all the time, but it does support multi-billion dollar industries. Fashion, cosmetics, magazines, films, books, jewellery and more, this is serious money folks.
    If women just want issues to be yes or no, there would be no courting, no interest, no mystery, no politics, no feminism.
    We’d all just sign a contract to agree to reproduce only if our respective lawyers have written it with the ultimate ten thousand page disclaimer against all disappointments, embarrassments, mistakes, misunderstood performance, amateur efforts or lack of perfection.
    If you think I’m sexist, so what?
    Disclaimer- Women never make any mistakes and are perfect in every word, thought and deed.KMA

    • “But the role of saying no while dressing maybe it’s yes has not been addressed in the coverage by feminist media.”

      This is not something that is supposed to be addressed by feminist media. A woman’s manner of dressing does not mean “maybe yes”. It says nothing about her sexual availability.

      “It’s easy to blame men as the instigators.”
      Yes, it is, because they are. Rapists are the only ones responsible for rape. If you sexually harass or assault a woman, it is because you choose to instigate that action. Women do not hypnotize you into these things.

      The rest of your comment doesn’t even make sense.

  • Sarah

    I identify as a feminist, I guess somewhere between radical and liberal. I am definitely against the porn industry, although not against porn as a concept (writing gay erotica was a hobby of mine for a while), against sex work, etc. But I think it’s problematic to dismiss everyone who refuses to identify as a feminist as being afraid to scare off men or something. I mean, if that’s what they actually say, sure — I was rolling my eyes pretty hard at the “hairy-legged dyke” comments.

    But the sad truth is that feminism as a movement has such a checkered history that for a lot of women — queer women, poor women, trans women, and especially women of color — “feminist” is just as hateful and triggering to hear as “slut” is. It’s asking women to embrace a term that has been used to exclude them and deny their womanhood. All women are at risk of sexual assault, and of being blamed for their own assaults, but the risk is even greater for women who also belong to other oppressed groups. So I think if you’re having an event about sexual assault and victim-blaming, it’s not a bad thing to say that those who don’t identify with the term “feminist” are welcome to participate.

    I do think it would be awesome if “feminist” could be fully reclaimed — not that it should be nonthreatening to those who don’t want women to be fully equal, of course, but if it were made clear that in 2011, feminism supports women regardless of race, class, sexuality, and cis/trans status, and does its best to understand the intersections between those issues and not try to force all of them into one narrative. But in the meantime, I think the best we can do is acknowledge that it’s okay to be uncomfortable with the way things stand, and not try to bully people into accepting a movement that hasn’t in all cases fully accepted them.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I agree! And thank you for pointing all this out. That said, I tend to think that it wasn’t for any of those reasons that Barnett shied away from ‘feminist’ and was more comfortable leaning towards ‘slut’…The thing about the Slutwalk is that the anti-feminist sentiments I reference here seemed to be coming largely from white women of privilege. The fact that these women would feel more comfortable calling themselves ‘slut’ is not suprising. They have a lot less to lose.
      A bit more on the ‘slut’ word and WOC / privilege here: http://icylattelady.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/slutwalk-is-not-my-movement/

      White women in the West have definitely benefited from feminism more than any other group and there are many ways in which feminism has failed to be inclusive to, or even address the issues and realities of women of colour and other marginalized groups. And why would you want to align yourself with a group who you feel abandoned by? I just don’t think this is what many of those Slutwalk supporters are getting at. These are white women, with privilege, who are rejecting ‘feminism’ in favour of ‘slut’. To me this reeks of privilege. But am open to alternate opinions on this.

      Thanks for your comments, Sarah. True and true.

  • Josh D

    I want to draw your attention about how poorly this can be misconstrued, and by misconstrued I mean an excuse for masochinists to demean women. Look at the comments section.

  • I’m late to read this post (first time on the site, somehow!), but add me to the list of people who find that it says virtually everything I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘reclaiming’ that tired word. This will be the first post I’ll share if anyone bothers me about Slutwalk. Many of the comments have further echoed my thoughts, particularly Laura Jo’s and holly’s. It seems difficult to get a critical word in even on some feminist sites. The “It’s Raising Awareness, so quit your criticism” and capitalisempowered “I choose my choice” remarks are certainly popular conversation-stoppers.

    As others have written, I understand why the original organizers would want to attempt to backfire the officer’s words. ‘Slutwalk’ is clearly marketable, memorable, and headline-grabbing. But as the walks spread, the majority of the localized significance is lost behind the word itself–and there’s no way to guarantee that all participants and spectators are aware of the original context. This is further complicated by the fact that individuals attending are going to superimpose their own ideas regardless of organizers’ attempts to make Slutwalk a protest against victim-blaming and violence against women, not a movement to embrace whatever flavor of sexuality. There is a fundamental problem with ‘Slutwalk’ as named, represented, and popularly talked about, despite whatever good intentions are behind it. They aren’t exactly the same things, but I’ll be sticking with Stop Street Harassment, Reclaim the Night, etc.

    I’d also like to recommend another post by a WOC (in addition to seconding SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls, which was mentioned in a comment): Tamura A. Lomax’s “Slutwalk: a Black Feminist Comment on Media, Messages and Meaning”. These critiques raise some issues that those of us with white privilege may be oblivious to, but that we of course need to grapple with in order to be useful allies.

    Again, thanks for such a detailed post and that great spoken word piece.

  • This post completely blew me away. This is the absolute best-articulated post I have ever read on this subject. Thank you for the thorough take-down.

  • Bárbara

    “‘Feminism’, on the other hand, means something. It is a word and movement that women created and it is a word that patriarchy works very hard to take away from us.”

    I just wanted to comment that the part about us women having created the word is wrong. Some excerpts from the introduction of Margaret Walters’ Feminism – A Very Short Introduction:
    “‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is’, the writer Rebecca West remarked, sardonically, in 1913. ‘I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.’ […] Interestingly, the earliest examples of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary carried negative meanings.”
    “While women in other countries have had different experiences and definitions, in England, right up until the 1960s at least, the word ‘feminist’ was usually pejorative. Very few women, however deeply engaged in fighting for women’s rights, would have described themselves as ‘feminists’. When women began to organize again in the 1960s and 1970s, the movement called itself Women’s Liberation (borrowing the term from black, Third World, and student movements).”

    So, if the idea is we shouldn’t call ourselves ‘sluts’ because that’s a word created by men to hurt us, well, we shouldn’t use ‘feminists’ either.

  • XH

    I completely agree with this and I’m glad you wrote it! I got into a debate with one of my friends a few weeks ago about this walk and the use of the term “slut.” Now, I don’t use the term ‘slut’ as gendered. In my mind most of the sluts I know are men. But, I know most people don’t use it that way and I know that’s not how the word originated. I find it so sad that feminism has become a bad word. I really feel like the male-dominated culture won that round, somehow managed to convince women that objectifying themselves for men was somehow empowering. I think women should be able to wear whatever they want and never be threatened because of it, but I also think women should really sit back and think about why they do the things they do to begin with. And there needs to be more focus on changing the minds of the culture at large. I don’t see this walk doing that. So many men are enjoying the walk and commenting on it because of the objectification. Many of these guys don’t care about equality, just seeing more boob! This is not the answer.

  • Sonya

    I’d like to thank you all for an interesting discussion. I bumped into this forum to search for enlightening , educated discourse and not the usual mysogynistic folksy “common sense” “blame those broads” talk about “sluts” that the other “mainstream” forums talk about. It’s “common sense” because it’s so engrained in the culture so it’s difficult to knock it off but not impossible.

    As for “being slaves” to the “male gaze,” men will do the same thing by competing with other men in sports or “showing their abs” to “become slaves” to the “female gaze.” It’s called as one poster pointed out, “courting.” I think this is one big reason feminism has taken a back seat in many eyes – that along with the Reagan/Bush “Rush Limbaugh”-influenced conservative years, discussion of sexuality and relationships with men in the feminism movement was ver boten. Not all women want to hide their sexuality or how they dress when they want to dress. Why should I have to wear a turtleneck in 100 degree weather? That’s not an issue of wanting to express just my sexuality but also that I should have the freedom to do so considering men can go around in the same weather topless.

    I think there’s room for “all” types of feminists. Just like there are liberal or progressive or conservative Democrats, there can be a rainbow of feminists. Isn’t that what the feminists in the 60’s fought for – equal privileges and freedom for women?

    Anyway, thanks for an interesting discussion.

    • No Sugarcoating

      Did a feminist tell you to wear a turtleneck in 100 degree weather?

  • David Carroll

    Hello from the father of a three-year old girl. I have just recently begun walking the path toward understanding radical feminism (guided primarily by the blog “I Blame the Patriarchy”), and I found this article to be timely and well-written.

    I’ve shared it with friends of mine and will continue to do so.

  • a feminist

    I am a feminist who has been shamed with the word “slut” since early childhood. This is my story, and this is the first time I’ve told more than the bare bones publicly. It’s going to be somewhat long, but I’m going to tell it with some detail so you understand where I am coming from, why I feel the way I do about the word “slut”, and why I support the SlutWalk 100%. It’s so damn important to me.

    I vividly remember the first time I was called a slut. It was on the schoolbus, in a strange town, when I was in the 4th grade. The boy knew nothing about me, only that I was the “new girl” in school. I had, along with my little brother, been sent to live in another state with an aunt and uncle after I told on my stepfather for molesting me. We were sent away while the church, rather than turning him in, gave him “pastoral counseling”. (Needless to say, this did not work.)

    When I got off the school bus and asked my aunt, “What does slut mean?”, she slapped me across the face.

    Since then, I have heard the word “slut” used to describe me many, many, many times.

    When we returned home, my stepfather immediately tried to molest me again. He cried and begged me not to tell. He blamed it on my mother, said she wouldn’t have sex with him. I told. I was again slapped in the face, allegedly because I was “hysterical”. Damn right I was hysterical, but he’s the one that needed to be slapped. Thankfully, at this point she finally left him. Though nothing was said, I knew she blamed me; she thought I had seduced her husband. Years later I read in her diary that she hated him for making her hate me. I received no counseling, acknowledgement or compassion – it was never spoken of again.

    I thought of myself as a slut, and thought that word meant I was bad, dirty, damaged and worthless. Searching for positive attention and love, I became quite promiscuous and was “taken advantage of” (raped) by a string of men in their 20s.

    At age 14 I was talked into “running away”, along with my 15 year old stepsister, by two men, both aged 28. We were held captive and raped almost daily for three months. It took me decades to realize that this was kidnapping and rape, not something I brought upon myself for running away. One of the men was “gentle” with me (did not physically force or verbally abuse me, though it was still rape.) The other was my stepsister’s “boyfriend”. I witnessed him beat her many times, once with a broken broomstick. When he decided he wanted to rape me, I decided it was better to be raped than to be beaten and raped, so I did not physically fight him.

    This man was a horrible monster. He raped me many times, violently, and often whispered the word “slut” to me as he did it. He told me I deserved what was happening, and literally said the words, “I could kill you right now. No one will care, no one wants you, and no one loves you, because you are a slut.” I remember these words vividly.

    Eventually he tired of me and I was set free (physically, though not spiritually), but not before he prostituted me on one occasion – and laughed while he watched. Before he let me go, he threatened me with a knife, telling me he would find me and kill me if I told anyone where he was going. He took my stepsister with him and dropped me off in a neighborhood where I used to live. While there I stayed for a week in an abandoned shed, relying on old friends (also in their early teens) to feed me. After that first week, they found *another* man in his mid-20s who was willing to “let” me stay with him. Of *course* he would let me sleep in the bed while he slept on the floor. Of *course* he wouldn’t touch me.

    Right. He ended up in the bed with me and I let him. I was a slut, right? What right did I have to say no? The next day we were standing in the street, talking with some of his friends, and he put his arms around me. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe he was publicly showing me what I thought was affection. Do you see how beaten down I was by the abuse, and by that word? Do you see how I came to believe it, how I was taught to devalue myself? As I write this, the tears are rolling down my face in sympathy for the child I was, and in sympathy and solidarity for every child that has been abused and then let down and abandoned by the people that should love and protect her.

    There is so much more to tell. How, after I returned home, I spent two weeks in a mental hospital. How the doctor asked me why I didn’t try to escape from the kidnappers. (seriously?? I’d told him we were locked inside, no escape was possible.) How I was pulled from the hospital because my mother and (new) stepfather did not want to participate in family counseling. My emotionally abusive marriage. So much more. So many details of my childhood that I’ve skipped over. They would break your heart. They still break mine. I could write a novel but this will already be long enough.

    I left my marriage at age 29 and finally got therapy. Over the years the nightmares and flashbacks lessened, I became happier, I developed strong, loving, friendships with men and women. I was free. I blossomed. Sometimes I had sex. I had it when I wanted to have it; no force or pressure involved. If someone tried to apply any pressure at all, they were out the door, immediately. Sometimes I had it with someone I was dating, sometimes it was casual, with a friend; two people doing something together rather than one doing something *to* the other. Respecting each other and reaching for physical joy. I liked it. I enjoyed it. I loved my orgasmic body and I loved their bodies. I loved the playful, sweet touching and skin on skin. Sex and love that I voluntarily and enthusiastically give was and is wonderful. But still, in the eyes of some, doing something that brings me joy, doing the very same thing they are doing, makes me a slut, and means that I should be ashamed. Because of this, I am *still* not a survivor. I am still a victim.

    My body is MINE. I will not allow society to degrade me for taking it back from them. I am not public property. I will not allow society to call me worthless and dirty for having been abused in the past, or for having natural desires and enjoying sex now. I will NOT allow them to hurt me with that word any longer. I’m not going to let them use that word as an excuse to terrorize and harm me, and I’m not going to let them do it to anyone else, either. For me, that word symbolizes the whole dirty, filthy, heart-and-soul breaking mess, and I am stealing it away from them. They cannot have me, and they cannot have that word. They gave it to me, and now it is mine. I will use it against them, i will eviscerate and deflate it.

    I’m not going to lay back and think of England; I’m going to march in that Slut Walk and I’m going to throw that word right back in their fucking faces. By marching I’m telling them that, call me what you will, my spirit is impervious to it now; I will not accept your judgment, and I will not give you the right to control me, my sexuality, or my sisters. I will not allow you to threaten us with rape in order to keep our thinking, lives, and sexual activity in line with what you think is proper. What’s the definition of a slut? Anything they choose, but you can bet damn well that its a woman. And then we’re fair game. Call one of us a slut, you call all of us sluts, and I will not stand for it any longer. I will take that word from them and I will rob it of its power.

    Am I angry? Damn right, I’m angry. I *should* be angry, we should all be furious! I am not a slut, because no woman is a slut. I’ve realized that, and I will march in this walk as a great big “fuck you” to anyone who dares think that of any one of us.

  • I agree with your point regarding reclamation and how a lot of the focus is involved in pandering to the majority (which appears to be anti-feminist)
    Makes me wonder if perhaps the event started out as a way to show the police officer that regardless of what we choose to wear, we are still women and it does not give you a right to gawk, hoot, or rape us … well, at least, i thought that was it …
    but it appears that it has become more about attempting to remove the stigma of the word without actually doing anything other then materializing a number ‘sluts’ … what is the strategy anyway?

  • laura krueger

    the meaning of the word IS changing. young girls prefer to be called a slut rather than a bitch. is this better? I don’t know. when I was at highschool, if they started calling you a slut, you could forget it. not one boy would ask you to go out. this has changed, I think. I even found a brand of t-shirts using the word slut, and not in the negative way: http://slutshirt.spreadshirt.com/ is it better? I don’t know. but it IS changing.

  • > Just like Suicide Girls and the Neo-Burlesque movement argues, Slutwalk seems to encourage the perspective that objectification is ‘ok’ so long as we are objectifying women who deviate from the norm perpetuated by mainstream media (ie. blond, thin, white, conventionally attractive). Making feminist fights palatable to men or anti-feminist women means that it is ok and, feminist even, to objectify, for example, ‘curvy girls’ and not skinny ones:”

    I don’t think these types of events and things are saying “it’s okay to objectify women as long as they’re not supermodels”. I’ve been getting involved with the neo-burlesque scene, and I feel like a big part of the appeal of it is to be able to say “Hey, look what I got. Check it out, aren’t I awesome. Now don’t think you can touch this. Because you can’t. ‘Cause it’s all mine. Aren’t I so awesome for letting you see this? You’re welcome!”

    It doesn’t matter what your body’s shaped like, what matters is owning what you got and showing it off, without the expectation that it means anyone who wants it can come take it.

  • kate

    you put up a video featuring feminists supporting abortion rights, feminists talking about making change, queer feminists, and male feminists—of a variety of ages and shapes—and describe their feminism as “The kind that reassures the public that feminists are just attractive, heterosexual, women who love penises and shaving their legs. Women who don’t threaten the status quo.”
    Oi. Because they have flippy hair? Because they joke about liking makeup? Because they happen not to be wearing flannel? I think you need to check your facts and cut your femmephobia.


    a flannel-wearing-dyke who appreciates her short-skirted femme feminist and her old-dude feminist comrades alike.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Dear Kate,
      Uh, no…I put it up as something that represents a very individualistic version of feminism which doesn’t aim to change the status quo. Something that takes the gender factor out and replaces it with the term ‘humanist’ (‘I don’t think it has anything to do with female or male’???). The stereotypes you put forth here around what a feminist should look like are completely ridiculous. Flannel? Give me a break. I wear makeup, I wear dresses (sometimes), I have lovely lady hair. Femmephobic? There ain’t no such thing. Let’s stick to language that has actual meaning, just for the sake of clarity.
      I think you’re completely missing the point here. This isn’t about flannel shirts or makeup.

  • My brain

    Thank you for saying what has been in my brain in a way I couldn’t get out. See, that sentence isn’t even clear, so I hope you can understand what I’m trying to say.
    I was reading about Slutwalk the first time and was gung-ho all for it until I got to the part where the organizers wanted people to chant “We’re here, we’re sluts.” But I’m not a slut. I would never chant that. If I want to wear a short skirt because I like them, I have to call myself a slut? I do not sleep around. And then reading more about it, it didn’t seem like it was really about what they said it was about.
    The self-objectification thing bugs the hell out of me. I am not anti-men and I am not anti-sex and I am not anti-hair removal. I am anti-objectification.. I might be anti-Birkenstocks. I am not a slut. I am a feminist.
    Another thing i hate: the term “slut-shaming”. Slut is never going to be a positive word and it shouldn’t ever be one. It’s an ugly word. And the only times it’s used for a man, it’s used as “man-slut”. That should be telling that it’s always implied to be a female. I will never call myself slut.
    But then, I loved Female Chauvinist Pigs. :]

    PS – Out of respect, I can’t not point out a typo: “Sluwalk does, in many ways,”

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for the typo point out m.b!

  • Katie

    Dear Meghan,
    Your article is spot-on. I had the exact difficulty when first hearing about slutwalk, so I talked to my sister about it but we just could not come to terms with particularly the name. A really important aspect however is, as you rightly asserted, the whole choice argument. This particular instant also illustrates that today one (rather critical, radical feminist) feels obligated to cheer such in many ways problematic developments within ‘feminism’ like the slutwalks in order not to be dismissed as prudish and misandrist &ct.
    Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading.

  • Apfel

    Lippstick feminism is the kind of feminism a drunken fratboy would invent.

  • Apfel

    Also, really great article. Would’ve liked to see you get more deeply into the individualistic “I do what I want” sort of feminism, which to me seems more like a cop-out from an argument than an actual argument.

    I’d also like to mention “Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism” by Natasha Walter and Nina Power’s “The Onedimensional Woman”. I loved “Female Chauvinist Pigs”, and recommend these for anyone who agrees. If you can’t find them, or the time to read ’em, Judith Orr makes a great summary here: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=656&issue=127.

  • Dear Meghan,

    This is one of the most articulate and intelligent critiques of the Slut Walk that I have read so far. I have been a feminist since I was 12 (I am 22 now) and feminism gave me the validation every teenage girl hopes for but never quite gets. I can never dream of disassociating myself from that tag. I am also one of the main organizers of Slut Walk in my city, Calcutta, in India. In Indian cities the Slut Walk movement has been renamed in Indian languages but mostly they imply the same things, stuff like “loose” woman or “shameless” woman or “immoral” woman.

    The word “slut” has gained so much power in the past that women are now afraid to speak out, speak up, fight, raise a riot, identify feminists, dress up, wear make up, have alcohol, go to parties, have male friends, dress down, have multiple partners, have sex for fun, smoke, appear career oriented, have multiple sexual or gender identities,report crimes, have an opinion, masturbate, breathe, etc etc etc for the fear of being labelled “slut”. This is why I feel the name is important. I think, it’s about time, we stopped letting that word affect us so much.

    When people (feminist or otherwise) disassociate themselves from this word, I fail to understand what it is they are disassociating themselves from? What it is, in this patriarchal construction, that they find demeaning, shameful and unworthy of redemption. I have had no sex in the longest time but I have been called a slut more times than I can care to remember. But I cannot imagine myself saying “I am NOT a slut” because I really don’t know what it is about being essentially called a sexual person that I must find so offensive.

    I am a hairy legged, angry, loud, foul mouthed feminist and I would proudly wear both labels side by side. In the course of whatever little engagement I have had with feminism, I have learnt that no one holds the right to reclaim a word and take back its power more than the people who it has been used against. So while I will sit back and cheer when the Queer take up “Queer”, the Blacks take up “Black” and the Dalits take up “Dalit”, I don’t see why I cannot reclaim “slut”. And “bitch”. And “fat”, “ugly”, “feminazi”, “freak”, “sassy” and “lezzie”.

    You see, even in the group of 5 people who organized this Walk in my city, I was the only one who identifies feminist. This makes me angry. But when feminists themselves reject this movement, why should the movement not reject them? Please know that I am writing to you in a state of confusion and anger (which is not at all directed to you). I mean everything that I say in the most respectful way and I do hope you will read this and be able to clear my mind a little!

    Love and solidarity

    • Candy

      Here’s the problem with that: It’s a word that still attempts to group sexual into a single term: slut.

      I’ve read feminists try to argue that the proliferation of porn in which the women are called whores, sluts, or other worse variants is “empowerment.” But empowering to whom? They’re utilizing a word used to shame in oftentimes the exact same context. You’ll hear feminists try to pass off being called a slut in bed as some sort of “subversion” but it doesn’t negate the binary. It’s not even challenging it, it’s playing along acquiescently.

      A sexual man is still a sexual man. A sexual woman is a “reclaimed slut.” How can a woman complain about women being called sluts and whores on the street yet frolic about in favor “SLUT PRIDE”?

      It’s patriarchy, repackaged. What’s the male equivalent? Where’s the word for a sexual man that manages to cut like a knife through a teenage boy shamed, a man scorned? There is no equivalent. Fat, ugly, freak, and queer are unigender terms. Feminazi is a ridiculous term that is almost comedic in its ridiculousness. Sassy is not commonly construed as derogative. Slut is used in primarily offensive outlets, unlike the other words, from degrading porn to woman-hating on the interwebs to “dishonoring” teenage girls. I understand that in reclaiming a word you’re trying to make the sting from years of shaming subside, but it’s far too one-sided.

      I’m not a slut. I’m just a woman who likes sex.

      • Candy

        *not unigender terms.

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  • Dana

    Slut has *never* meant anything good, even before it was used to mean “woman who has sex without a male owner’s permission.” It has always been an insult meant to make the target feel low and worthless.

    At least with, say, the word “bitch”, that also means “female dog.”

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  • Le Batteur

    I have to wonder, why can’t we try reclaiming words like “Lady”? Lady is a title of respect, the word used for nobility, and also the title of a female knight.
    When people think of the word “Lady”, they think of restrictive regimens for young women, oppressive Victorian days and being chided in the manner of “act like a lady”, or “sit like a lady”, or “come here right now young lady”.

    I think it’s time that “Lady” was brought to the forefront in a respectful and feminist-supportive manner. Not sluts, Ladies. Badass motherfucking Ladies who deserve to be respected and treated as equals.

  • if anyone’s interested, I’ve posted my “What’s Wrong with Being a Slut” – written WAY pre-SlutWalk (mid to late 80s, I think) – just for continuity, just to see a late second wave opinion, just to see the word’s been around and around (no, we all know that, scratch that) (so sorry, too many comments here to read through in order to articulate the specific relevance of my piece…it’s just that when it mattered I could find NO analysis of ‘slut’ and then I slammed into SlutWalk and thought yay, then investigated and thought wtf?…)


  • La Batteur, I think going back to ‘lady’ would be a bad move. It’s so pedestal-associative. And polite in a smile, don’t get angry, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all way… as you reference.