On September 17th, hundreds of women are expected to show up in West Shore Park (a stretch of grass in between the Maryland Science Center and the Visitor Center at the Inner Harbor) wearing revealing shirts, stilettos and hot pants. They will be proudly proclaiming themselves as “sluts” in protest against the prevailing notion that dressing provocatively is an invitation to be raped. Slutwalk Baltimore is just one event in a growing international movement to increase dialogue and raise awareness about prevalent attitudes in our society that blame the survivor in sexual assault cases. The first Slutwalk was hosted this past spring in Toronto as a response to a police officer’s public statement in which he claimed that women should stop dressing like “sluts” if they want to avoid sexual harassment, rape and/or assault. Many audience members were furious. They believed that “slut-shaming” further encourages both the legal system and the public to blame survivors rather than to place legal and moral responsibility onto the perpetrators of violence. No survivor ever wants to be raped or sexually assaulted, even if she happens to be “slutty.” Protesters pointed to statistics estimating that 15 out of 16 rapists walk free and only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail, largely because courts rarely convict accused rapists, and survivors of sexual assault are discouraged from reporting their crimes.
Slutwalk has spread to cities across the world. Slutwalk organizers and participants believe in reclaiming the word “slut” as an empowering expression of uninhibited sexuality in a world where violence against women, sex workers, and lgbt individuals is normalized. This has raised a number of questions and concerns. Many are critical of the Slutwalk movement for pressuring survivors to willingly accept the term “slut” as a part of their empowerment. Many survivors do not feel comfortable or safe reclaiming this slur which has been violently used against them. Some critics feel that promoting “slutty” behavior among participants of Slutwalk encourages unhealthy and disempowering behavior, in addition to further perpetuating the hypersexualization of women’s bodies. They are additionally concerned that Slutwalk projects shame onto those who choose to be abstinent and/or modest.
Is reframing the word “slut,” a word that has been used to attack and label “loose” women, more empowering than rejecting the word completely? What messages do you believe Slutwalk sends to the general public? Sound off below!