SlutWalk 2012


Sex Worker and Activist Jane Green speaking brilliantly at the rally


I didn’t make it to the inaugural rally last time and this year I was awfully glad that I made the effort. There was a reasonable turnout of maybe, 200 people – Melbourne can be a terribly ambivalent city, so anyone showing up is a good sign!
SlutWalk has never been more relevant, with the year between marches filled with attempt after attempt by western politicians to misappropriate women’s rights and bodies for their own advancement. The rally was, if nothing else, a reminder that no matter how cleverly* certain fuckwits may try to slice and dice rape to suit themselves, the quotidian reality of rape and sexual harassment remains that same for women. It happens. It happens a lot, and it happens to all of us.
The name may be controversial – I know many women and feminists are dubious regarding the reclamation of “slut” –  but the core message of the rally is clear and extremely powerful: survivors of rape and sexual assault should never be made to feel responsible for the crime done to them.
I still believe that slut-shaming and victim-blaming are intrinsically linked. Both rely on the precept that a woman exerts some kind of inexorable sexy-force that causes mens’ pants to fall off, that they are asking for it, that they should have done more to not get raped.
Calling someone a slut, or a “tease” is in my opinion, informed by the same attitudes that give voice to victim-blame. It is a suggestion that the woman in question is exhibiting unladylike behaviour and as such deserves any unwanted attention she receives.

I hope that SlutWalk will continue for many years, so that we “sluts” might stand together and refuse to let blame be placed upon us. So that we might continue to insist that the relevant ‘choices’ in an incidence of rape do not include what a woman wears, how much she drinks, who she speaks to or where she goes, but ONLY that of the rapist to rape.

*by cleverly, I mean idiotically.



From a linguistic perspective I sometimes long for the brief period in the 90s where phat was A Thing. Or should I say, a thang.
For the uninitiated, it meant ‘cool’ or ‘Pretty Hot And Tempting’, but you wouldn’t use it nowadays unless deliberately uttering a slang faux pas.
Because fat people are GROSS. Didn’t you know?

These days, I struggle to think of an instance in which a bigger is better – at least when we’re talking about ladies.
Fat phobia freely abounds in the media. Chic mags occasionally do this thing where they pretend to celebrate ‘curves’, usually by juxtaposing pictures of hospitalisation-worthy underweight celebrities with Kardashians, but it’s pretty hard to swallow when the next page contains ‘5 ways to lose those last five pounds’. Pun intended.

I am not overweight by medical standards. I also not thin. My belly and thighs wobble when I move about and you can grasp a handful of flesh at my middle if I fold my body in any way. I have muscle tone, and proportionately very slim ankles. I don’t think I’m fat, and I don’t believe any of my friends do either.

And yet:
There are stores in my city where  clothes ‘don’t come in my size’.
Other women speak to me about weight as if they assume that I wish to lose it.
I frequently hear people criticise the appearance of other women who are a similar weight to myself.
I constantly (constantly!) criticise my own appearance. Obsessively even. I can’t even watch television any more without wishing (a touch desperately sometimes) that I could rip out their spines and move into their bodies.*

But enough about me.

I have  mature lady in my life who is overweight by medical standards. She is  obese actually. And she faces so many obstacles because of this, in every single aspect of her life. For an introduction to just one way in which she is discriminated against because of her weight, here is an article on how fat-bias affects the level of medical care given to overweight individuals. Here is another one.

The thing is, people assume that overweight people have made a choice to be overweight.
As raised in stories of the above articles, no-one ever asks them what kind of journey they have had with their health and weight loss efforts. They see fat people as actively lazy and deliberately neglectful and don’t ever consider that there might factors in play other than desire or self-control.

They don’t consider how being overweight affects that person’s ability to lose weight. They don’t realise that overweight people are often ashamed to exercise in public. They don’t realise that many overweight people are not educated about nutrition. They don’t realise that overweight people may be suffering from eating disorders and mental health problems which compromise their ability to lose weight. They don’t realise that overweight people often have ingrained habits of years, or decades that are Really Rather Difficult to break.
They don’t realise that most overweight people are constantly and desperately trying to lose weight. If it were easy, we would all be our ideal weight.

Most importantly, they don’t seem to have any grasp of the scale of social discrimination which overweight people face. This overweight, mature lady that I know has confided to me that she repulses herself, and that she feels judged and shamed by literally every set of eyes upon her. And because of the relentlessness with which the media equates women’s value with women’s physical beauty, she does not see herself as a worthwhile or valuable person.
Even without being ‘overweight’, I can testify to the immense power of accumulative judgement, whether real or imagined, and it’s ability to induce a demotivating despair. It is difficult to foster and embrace a healthy respect for your body and to learn to care for it, when immersed in a culture of such hatred and repulsion.

Much of this judgement is not imagined. As mentioned in the articles above, complete strangers often feel entitled to comment on overweight women’s appearance. You know what guys? They FUCKING KNOW. They are aware, because they live their life in their own bodies, surrounded by your constant judgement. They Do Not Need To Be Told.
When someone critiques an overweight person’s appearance, they are Not Helping. “Tough Love” and/or negative motivation are not effective tools for weight loss. All they do is reaffirm that person’s view of themself as ugly, worthless and incapable of success.

It would be instead helpful, if we could work towards creating a positive environment in which women are taught to love and respect their bodies. In which women are taught from a young age to value their health and well-being above ridiculous fashion standards.
In which health professionals want to hold conversations with their patients about their history, their mental health and practical advice for achieving not just a healthy weight, but a healthy body image.

You can contribute to this by not shaming overweight people – whether or not you think they can hear you. Do not make comments about how amusing you find their attempts to work out. Do not laughingly express your revulsion at the possibility that fat people might have sex. But most of all, do not disregard their capacity to feel hurt or despair and assume that the only reason they are not thinner is because they are stubborn, lazy or unconcerned.

*Please do not be alarmed, it’s a Dylan Moran reference.

+ My friend canbebitter wrote a post this week about Hairspray and ‘fat’ as a feminist issue, which in addition to the other three linked articles above provided the inspiration for this post.

++ Please don’t assume that because I did not directly address the fact that women can and should be perceived as beautiful at any weight, or that fat people can be healthy, that I do not believe it. I just didn’t choose to focus on that aspect this time.

SlutWalk, ooh er.

“women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”

As many of you are likely already aware, this charming tidbit was uttered by a member of the Toronto Police Force in January 2011 whilst addressing students at Osgoode Hall Law School.
As a result, many cities have followed Toronto’s example in setting up SlutWalk protest marches to address the widespread culture of victim-blame and broader issues surrounding the persecution of sexualised women.

There is a SlutWalk being held in my own city (Melbourne, Australia) and the topic has gone slightly viral within my personal facebook community.
Friends of mine have engaged in a (mostly) intelligent debate about the merits of SlutWalking and some of the key themes that emerged were:

– Encouraging women to dress in a revealing manner is contrary to common sense when wishing to avoid assault.

– Assualt is an unfortunate reality, and the cop wasn’t that far off in suggesting that people should do what they can to protect themselves. Essentially: It shouldn’t be like that, but it is, so don’t be an idiot about it.

– Does dressing immodestly increase your risk of being assaulted?

– How come women get all the attention when male victimisation in the context of street violence by far outweighs that of women?

Many people responded to these themes with arguments I would agree with, namely: women get assaulted no matter what they wear and if you want something done about male street violence, then maybe do it yourself instead of complaining about how much attention women get.  But people still seemed to be largely missing the point, so I broke with my resolution to not get involved in facebook ideological skirmishes and wrote this:

It appears that a number of people have misunderstood the purpose of SlutWalk. The protest is a direct attack on the propensity in this culture to blame the victim in situations of male-on-female assault. It’s message is not ‘dress however you feel like it and compeletely disregard your own safety.’ The name, far from being misuided is entirely appropriate, given that the concept of ‘sluttiness’ is integral to this culture of victim blame. The point of ‘slut’ is that women who deviate from a code of virtue and modesty are behaving innapropriately, and boith deserve and encourage punishment for that behaviour. It is a centuries old concept and one of the most persistent and pervasive aspects of patriatrchy.

SlutWalk, therefore aims not to challenge the reality of women’s safety on the streets, but the philosophy behind it. It is even more important, it would seem, that it takes place now in a culture where the plurality of language used to discuss women’s sexuality masks the deeply ingrained tradition of that philosophy.

With regard to men’s safety on the streets, I have two brief points to make. Firstly, the difference between sexual assault and harassment of women on the streets and men who experience violence on the streets, is that the men are being (largely) attacked for one of the many reasons listed above: they are drunk, big, small, badly dressed, well dressed, in the wrong pub, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply there. Women, on the other hand, are attacked because they are women. In the end nothing, not being sober, staying home, traveling in a group, averting your eyes or dressing modestly can change that. You are still a woman, and therefore still a target for sexual assualt. If you need further proof of the complete inefficacy of modest dress in deterring sexual assault, look up some stories of women who dress in full abayas and niqab/burqa – they are still women, and they are still assaulted.

Secondly, there are most definitely things being done to address male violence and victimisation. As usual, no one can see the trees for the forest. What needs to be understood here is, when we talk about an issue, when we deal with an issue, we are dealing with men’s role in and view on that issue. Honestly I am stunned that none of you have realised whilst writing this that several key discussions in state and federal government are currently addressing the issue you feel is so invisible. The trial lock-out, the proposed regulations on shots and energy drink mixers in WA, the enourmous tv ad and poster campaign targeting male violence in liscensed venues otherwise known as the ‘Championship Moves’ campaign. So not exactly under-represented..

I often (read: amost always) refrain from engaging in forum-style discussions (read: flame-wars) that pertain to feminism, human rights or really anything vaguely political, especially on facebook. The primary reason for this is that I find them incredibly unproductive. People rarely read through responses carefully, do any kind of research beyond googling for statistics that back up their argument or give a hot damn about the issue after they’ve removed their fingers from the keyboard.
Another reason however, is that amongst my friends and larger circle of acquaintances, I am frequently attributed an unspoken label akin to ‘token feminist’. This can be something I enjoy, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of causing people to overlay a tone of aggression on my writing, and/or to dismiss my opinions and arguments as ‘radicalism’.
As a result, on the rare occasions that I do partake of a little facey banter, I attempt to be calm, austere and at the most mildly disapproving. On the inside, I want to gouge me some eyeballs.

It is one of the greatest successes of anti-feminist backlash, the ‘hairy-legged nazi-dyke phenomenon’ as I like to call it. Somewhere along the line, they found a way to use our own weapons against us. The trademark feminist writing style of the 70s  – emotional, raw, honest- is now used as a reason for the dismissal of their daughters. ‘Don’t worry about her, she’s a feminist, she’s a radical, she’s a progressive.’
Basically, you are only allowed to have opinons about feminism if you deliver them in a sedate, palatable manner and most importantly: you must be able to admit that you are wrong.  Because you will be. About lots of things. Most of it even.

I have to admit, that when I first read about SlutWalk, I was a little concerned that a march full of women in their undies with ‘Slut’ painted on their boobies could potentially give the wrong impression. But after seeing the reaction of my friends and acquaintances, after being told that SlutWalk was borderline offensive because it only considers women’s experience of street violence, and after knowing that I would have to write a reasonable, clear and moderate response to these arguments instead of all-capsing the shit out of that forum if I had even a chance of being taken seriously, I realised that there is no way in hell I am not SlutWalking. Because ‘feminist’ is not that far from ‘slut’ – both of them mean I am not behaving as a proper little lady should.

So if a group of women want to get together in fishnets and yell and scream and protest their right to be any kind of women they goddamn feel like being, then that’s where I’ll be.