Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Of Sluts and Slutwalks

Edmonton Slut Walk by raise my voice
Edmonton Slut Walk, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

The Edmonton Slut Walk took place on June 4. The protest raised a lot of controvery before it happened, for two reasons.

First of all, and most obviously, there was the name. Slut Walk. For those who don't know, the original Slut Walk took place in Toronto when a police officer made the unfortunate statement that if women did not dress like sluts, they would not get raped. The Slut Walk was created as a statement that women should be able to dress as they wish, go where they want, and be who they are, and that instead of blaming the victims, men should be taught not to rape.

A grassroots group of women in Edmonton decided to organize a Slut Walk here, and even though the background of its name was well publicized, it still raised eyebrows. There are those who do not want anything to do with an event with the word "slut" in the title, even if it upholding values they believe in like women's rights and no meaning no. The word "slut" carries with it all of the baggage of being a derogatory word for women, even if it is being used in a positive way. "Slut" has never had a positive meaning, and standing in the street holding a sign exclaiming slut pride is not going to change that.

But that really was not the point of the Slut Walk. It was to send a message that rape is wrong, and on that level, it was successful. As well, time was given to the fact that men are also raped and that not all men are rapists.

The other issue with the Edmonton Slut Walk had to do with the overwhelming response on the Facebook event page. More than 3000 people said they would be attending, which had the City of Edmonton somewhat worried about logistics. Originally, the protest was to start at the Legislature and participants would walk on the sidewalk to City Hall. However, thousands of people on the sidewalk is a bit much, and the City demanded $2000 from the organizers to close off the street. Not being in a position to cough up the cash, and not wanting to risk getting ticketed by ignoring the demand and just marching anyways, the Slut Walk's official line became that it would stay at the Legislature.

In the end, only about a tenth of the Facebook numbers actually showed up (which was a decent showing considering how unseasonably cold it was that morning). After about an hour of speeches, the Slut Walk moved to City Hall, mostly on the sidewalks. Mission accomplished.

Although I was a little aprehensive about the name at first, I enjoyed the Slut Walk and give kudos to the organizers for pulling the event together in the face of all of the challenges. The message that no means no and that victims are never to blame for rape came through clearly. Nothing is going to make me embrace the word "slut," but this was a case where the ends justified the means.

Here is my photo set from the event, a video showing the crowd and segments of some of the speeches, and another video of Kasia, the main organizer, reading a poem she wrote (language warning).

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