SlutWalk reinvents sexist perceptions of rape

by Leonardo Castaneda

If you happened to be downtown on June 11, you would have come across a peculiar sight — an army of self-proclaimed sluts proudly parading along the Gaslamp. The SlutWalk San Diego was a protest unlike any seen in the last decade, demanding that women have the right to act and dress any way they choose without having to fear sexual assault and rape.

This innovative walk wasn’t an isolated event, but rather the latest manifestation of a rapidly growing international movement. It traces its origins to Toronto, where Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti told students at York University that, to prevent being raped, women should “avoid dressing like sluts.” Enraged, a few friends organized the first SlutWalk to take back the word “slut” and end the blaming of victims for sexual assault. Since then the event has spread like wildfire, with SlutWalks being held throughout Canada, the United States, Australia, Europe and Latin America.

For obvious reasons, these protests seem to have tapped into a deep vein of resentment across generational, gender and social divides. In a society that most often teaches women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching the public to avoid sexual violence altogether, Sanguinetti’s insensitive comments voiced a popular belief that victims are somehow guilty for their own attacks. A common belief seems to be that rapists don’t really want to be rapists, but when a “slutty” woman passes by, her attire encourages and entices the rapist to take advantage of her. Therefore, women are somehow guilty of instigating the worst imaginable violation on their own person by the way they choose to dress or act. This idea is not just incredibly naïve, it scapegoats some of the worst violent acts imaginable.

Curiously enough, this same logic doesn’t seem to hold for other victims: We don’t tell children it’s their fault when they’re bullied because they look like nerds. And we wouldn’t blame a robbery victim for instigating his own robbery by having nice things.

SlutWalk is a modern twist on the feminist movement from years past, though it defends an age-old idea: Individuals should have the freedom to act and dress any way they want without having to live in fear. By reclaiming the word “slut,” women hope to negate the derogatory language that is used to dehumanize and victimize them.

The international SlutWalk movement hopes to change the sexist attitudes toward so-called “sluts.” But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to empower victims and show that victims cannot and should not be blamed for their attacks. We need widespread campaigns to teach that rape and sexual assault are never justified, regardless of who the victim is, how they act, how they dress or who they are with. Movements such as SlutWalk have shown how our society reacts to rape, how it blames the victim and scapegoats the perpetrator. Now it’s time for us to stand up and change those attitudes.

—Leonardo Castaneda is an economics and journalism sophomore.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.