Kelly Crawford and Lindsay Hutton provide some insight into what is driving the Slutwalk movement and respond to some of the criticisms thrown at it.
By Michael Borrelli
Published May 30, 2011
Earlier this year, a Toronto cop visiting York University to address a spate of sexual assaults on campus said, "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized".
This remark catalyzed a movement that has quickly grown into a global phenomenon: the first 'SlutWalk', held in Toronto in April, has inspired more than 70 satellite events across the world, from Boston to London to Melbourne.
Like many modern social movements, SlutWalks are decentralized and are organized locally by committed activists and volunteers. As such, when I tried to learn more about the SlutWalk groups popping up around the world, I found no consistent, coherent message that could help me resolve some of the movement's inherent contradictions.
But help was also close at hand. Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with two of SlutWalk Hamilton's steering committee members as they help prepare for Hamilton's rally and march on Sunday, June 5th at City Hall.
Kelly Crawford is a local activist and student at the University of Toronto, and Lindsay Hutton is a local feminist activist, writer and editor. They were kind enough to provide some insight into what is driving the movement, and respond to some of the criticisms thrown at it.
The following has been edited with Kelly and Lindsay's consent to reduce its length. An unedited transcript with additional questions and answers is available at www.myboytheriotgirl.com/other-riots.
Michael Borrelli (MB): Why do you think SlutWalks are so compelling?
Kelly Crawford and Lindsay Hutton (KCLH): During our first meeting as a collective, many said the same things about why we wanted to organize a SlutWalk: Many of us identify as survivors, and none of us felt like we had access to a process that could adequately offer us justice or respect. We were tired of being forced to police our sexualities, or how we present, with the fear of being tagged as a slut, or similar words. Every single one of us at the table had either experienced slut-shaming or victim-blaming first-hand, or had seen it happen to someone we love.
MB: At its core, is the SlutWalk a feminist movement?
KCLH: Card-carrying, and without apology. You can't have conversations about sexualized assault, slut-shaming and victim-blaming and deny these hit on larger questions of misogyny and gender-based violence. Sexualized assault isn't about sex, it's a violent articulation of power used against those perceived as weak or lesser beings: usually those that identify as women; children; and people who are marginalized and criminalized because of their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality or ability.
So feminist, yes, but we are also confronting larger, systemic issues as to why many communities don't have access to the same amount of respect, protection and justice.
MB: What specific changes can police forces make to be more effective in their public safety communication while steering clear of "slut-shaming"?
KCLH: Our protective services need to take more direction from community agencies and organizations that work with and for marginalized communities.
Survivors are afraid to go to the police for many of the same reasons they rarely tell anyone of their assault: for fear of public scrutiny, that they won't be believed, or for fear of repercussions from their attackers. The majority of sexualized assaults don't happen in a dark alleyway or are committed by a stranger. Most occur in private residences by someone the survivor knows.
With that in mind, public safety and risk-reduction strategies need to start with focusing on consent, and creating better spaces for people to seek justice.
This work, mainly led by sexual assault centres and other anti-rape activists, continues. But more resources are needed to first evaluate, and then address, these problems. Job one for the police is to allocate funds for an outside task force to look at where and why they are falling short.
MB: Have SlutWalk Hamilton's organizers met with representatives of Hamilton Police Services? What was their response?
KCLH: At the demonstration on June 5, the police will be presented with a list of demands, some testimonials from attendees, and a petition.
The police work for and are funded by us. So they need to contact us after they are presented with our concerns to talk about them. If they don't, a community forum will be organized where they will be invited to address our demands publicly.
MB: The mainstream media's coverage of SlutWalks is almost always accompanied by colourful images of young women in various states of undress. Do you worry that the publicity for SlutWalks may be earned at the expense of a larger message about respecting women, and can this contradiction be reconciled?
KCLH: Bodies, especially women's bodies, are always going to be sexualized; we didn't start the trend with SlutWalk. Sexuality isn't the problem, no matter how we present. We're not going to apologize for that anymore. People who commit sexualized assault and harassment are the problem. The institutions that deny us justice and respect are the problem.
The media is going to choose to show photos of young, white women "in various states of undress" because those images help sell papers, and encourages people to navigate to their websites. Those fit that bill, even though they're entirely unrepresentative of SlutWalk. We've spoken with more than half-dozen organizers of in various cities; less than 10% of people attending SlutWalks dress in anything more interesting than jeans and a t-shirt. We invite people to dress how they feel most comfortable.
MB: The use of the insult 'slut' as a central part of the branding of this movement has raised the hackles of some members of the public, and even some feminists. On rabble.ca, Meghan Murphy wrote that "Slutwalk pressures women (and men!) into accepting this word, a violent word, as part of their empowerment discourse..." Why is it important that the word slut be reclaimed?
KCLH: Nowhere, in any SlutWalk materials, in any city, does it say that we are pressuring people to accept the word and use it in their day-to-day lives. Some of us want to claim it, to reinvent it, some of us don't. We're not prescribing the buzzwords to anyone's liberation.
Ultimately, taking up the mantle of "slut" regardless of how you dress or act is an act of solidarity to unite everyone across lines of gender/sex/sexuality/etc. and to say that consensual, safe sex is something is to celebrate, not something to be actively shamed for.
MB: So far, how have Hamiltonians reacted to the SlutWalk concept?
KCLH: We're getting support from a lot of different people; we've been attending a lot of local community events to start conversations about our work. One of best conversations we had was with a group of men in their fifties attending the James North Art Crawl. They knew as fathers, grandparents and husbands that it wasn't fair that survivors should be to blame for "someone else's bad behaviour."
One of them said this: "I'll tell you what I told my boys: I don't care what she's wearing. When she asks for it, she'll ASK FOR IT. Until then, keep your goddamned hands to yourself."
SlutWalk Hamilton will be held on Sunday, June 5 at 2:00 PM, beginning at City Hall and ending at Hamilton Police Services' Central Police Station.