I wrote about the first Slutwalk back in 2011. I was the first to do so, and was attacked viciously for it. Like all third wave trends, one is to blindly follow along, questioning nothing. I’d tried to give it a chance, following and engaging with the conversations the organizers and supporters were having online, it became clear early on that Slutwalk had little to do with the feminist movement. Rather, many of the young women and men involved rejected feminism outright. They wanted to identify as “sluts” not “feminists” for pretty obvious reasons, albeit ones they weren’t ready to cop to… A “slut” is always going to be more popular than a feminist because, well, feminists aren’t popular. They’re activists. They’re pushing back against the very foundations of the word and idea of “sluts.” They’re pushing back against the men who use that word against us. They’re saying, “No, we don’t want popularity — we want justice.” But Slutwalk wanted popularity above all else. So we parted ways.
The kids of Slutwalk readily embraced anti-feminist stereotypes of second wavers and chose to distance themselves from the movement, selling out for media coverage and male support. And where did it get us? Well, you see young, privileged women today advocating for prostitution and pornography as liberated choices for women using the same language the Slutwalkers did: “My body my choice!” “I do what I want, fuck yeah!” You see efforts to encourage men to vote against Stephen Harper by offering blow jobs or exchanging nude photos for votes. “Sluts Against Harper” [NSFW — feel free to report this Instagram account for pornography] is direct evidence of Slutwalk’s impact on young people’s understanding of politics today. All women can offer, in terms of advocating for change, are their objectified bodies. While leftist men have long encouraged women’s subordinate status, only considering men’s liberation and equality something worth fighting for, it’s new for self-described “feminists” to glom on to this blatant sexism.
The neoliberal, self-centered, enormously deluded notion that if women simply “choose” objectification or commodification, it becomes empowering, now underpins mainstream feminism. We seem to have fully embraced the idea that “reclaiming” misogyny and making it our own is the best we can do. While it’s clear to those of us in the movement that this is anything but feminism, those engaged don’t see it that way, nor does the media.
As feminists, our job is to work towards the liberation of the most marginalized women, globally. Not do to whatever the fuck we want because that’s what makes us feel sexy or liked. Claims that prostitution and pornification are a liberated choice, progressive so long as you say so, doesn’t actually help women and girls who are in prostitution because they have no other choice. Asserting that you enjoy objectification and that, therefore, it’s ok doesn’t help the marginalized women on the DTES who are raped and murdered because men don’t believe they are truly or fully human. In truth, it doesn’t help any woman, anywhere. It is wholly damaging to all of us and contributes to our subordination. While a few middle class girls might think it’s fun to call one another “sluts” or to enjoy the attention they receive from posting pornographic imagery on Instagram, it’s not really all that fun to be called a “slut” while filming a gang-bang porn or being choked with a penis. Take your privilege and do something useful with it.
While I can’t blame Slutwalk entirely for the farce presented to us as “feminism” today, it played a prominent role. You’ll find a glaring continuum between those who advocated for Slutwalk four years ago and those no-platforming radical feminists, blacklisting abolitionists, lying through their teeth on national television about violence against prostituted women, calling feminists who actually name male violence “bigots,” and pretending that our challenges to male exploiters and abusers are, in fact, more dangerous than the literal violence faced by women, globally. The young, privileged, American liberals who rail on about “white feminism” as they paint a romanticized image of the abuse their impoverished sisters face for their own personal, financial, and professional gain are the same women who rejected Take Back the Night on account of it being “too second wave” and “not inclusive enough,” (read: we don’t want men to feel left out) choosing the more media (and man) friendly Slutwalk.
At the time, I laughed at the notion that this silly individualism was being called a “movement.” There was no solidarity, no class analysis, no understanding of systems of oppression, no understanding of oppression at all… This was just a hodgepodge of mantras advertisers and the American capitalist state have been pushing on us for decades: Your destiny is what you make of it. Your ability to “choose” breast implants or to profit from an exploitative system in any way at all is, in fact, empowering. If I call myself a slut and enjoy it, I’ve successfully freed myself from patriarchy. Of course, imagining our own liberation while under the thumb of a system that is destroying us is exactly what those in power wanted.
Last weekend, “hip hop model,” Amber Rose, held her own Slutwalk in LA. Rose has been thoroughly trashed online, thanks, in part, to her ex-boyfriend Kanye West’s “30 showers” comments about her, essentially calling her “dirty.” She was further hurt when the father of her child, Wiz Khalifa, dismissed her in a song as being “nothing but a stripper.” I feel her righteous anger at being painted as a “slut,” big time. I’ve been there, albeit on a much smaller scale. It is wrong and it is painful. But Slutwalk isn’t going to resolve any of that.
To be clear, I don’t dislike Rose. I respect that she is trying to heal from all this and I respect that her intentions were good, in terms of organizing this event. Her tearful speech, talking about the pain of being humiliated and insulted by men who used her, who she loved, who she got pregnant by, was moving. But “forgiveness” and “positive energy” will never shake the patriarchy. And truly, Slutwalk doesn’t want to shake the patriarchy. They want a feel good, fun event. Which is fine. But it isn’t feminism. You can’t just “let that negative shit go” because you choose to. It won’t just go away because you throw a party.
Heather Jarvis, one of the founders of Slutwalk, was naturally “thrilled” by the celebrity-laden event. This kind of publicity is exactly what she wanted. In fact, Amber Rose’s Slutwalk seems to epitomize her “movement.” It featured a twerk contest, a burlesque performance, and a fashion show. This is Slutwalk’s destiny.
This event may well have succeeded in making some of the young women in attendance temporarily shed some of the shame imposed on them by a culture that says, “Be sluts, but we’ll punish you for it,” but it missed a bunch of stuff in the middle.
Embracing the male gaze, performing as though we’re in a porn movie or on stage at a strip club, reinforces the message that women really only exist in as much as they are perceived as “sexy” by men. The women at Slutwalk go out of their way to reassure men that, yes, they love porn, they love to look sexy, and oh yes, they love cock. So the message that women are only acceptable so long as men accept them remains. Women are called “sluts” and “whores” and “prudes” and “bitches” and “man-haters” and “teases” exactly because they are being defined in relation to men and what men want. All of those words are about controlling women and reminding us that what men think of us and what men decide we are matters more than who we really are. It’s a reminder of male power — it says, “I can cut you down whenever I feel like it. Whether you do as I say or not.” If we abide by their wishes and act like “sluts” we are punished and if we refuse we are punished.
The only way to escape these definitions is to reject them entirely. To reject the idea that what men think about us matters at all. To reject the idea that the male gaze legitimizes our worth and our existence. And that, I’m afraid, has never been Rose’s message. Certainly it’s never been Slutwalk’s.
The message is: Sure, you can feel empowered, but only so long as you do it in stilettos and reassure men that you’ll suck their dicks later.