By Stephanie Gilmore, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine
In Cuernavaca, Mexico and Tegucigalpa, Honduras, it was called Marcha de las Putas. In New Delhi, it was Besharmi Morcha. Morocco was host to a Marche les salopes under the name Woman-Shoufouch. In London, it was Slut Means Speak Up. In Helsinki, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Melbourne and the place of origin — Toronto — it was SlutWalk.
No matter the name, in cities across the globe, women and men of all gender, class, religious, racial and ethnic identities took over the streets to fight back against cultural norms of blaming victims for sexual violence. They’re not doing so without internal conflict, which is certainly significant. But the rapid spread of the SlutWalk movement offers a window into the promise and potential pathways for contemporary activism, locally and globally.
The origins of SlutWalk have been well publicized: On January 24, 2011, a Toronto constable invoked a well-worn observation that if women didn’t want to be raped, they needed to “avoid dressing like sluts.” Of course, this tired cliché makes men (men are statistically perpetrators of sexual assault, although all men are not rapists, which should be readily understood but bears repeating) appear to be too stupid or animalistic to prevent themselves from raping someone. Even more to the point, it puts the blame on women. Women in Toronto said “we’ve had enough,” came up with “SlutWalk,” and harnessed an opportunity to reject victim blaming altogether.
Around the world, women and men have followed suit, and SlutWalks offer an avenue to fight back against the normalization of victim blaming and the realities of sexual violence.
Every culture or community has nuances and distinctions when it comes to gender norms, as well as how they are policed. Cultural and social expectations of one’s gender or perceived gender do not apply to everyone evenly or equally. But even as I write that, I know that victim blaming – putting fault onto a person for being sexually harassed, assaulted, raped or killed — is pervasive around the world. So many factors shape sexual power and victimization.
To be clear, men can be and are victims of sexual violence. The brutalization of Black men’s bodies in the U.S. history of lynching was a form of sexual terrorism predicated on the insistence that Black men were sexually lascivious and uncontrollable. The attack on queer bodies that do not conform to rigid gender norms is also a form of sexual violence that is understudied and underreported, yet no less real. In many places around the world, from the streets to the military, women are systematically violated, terrorized, even killed, simply for being women.
While there is a global dimension to the SlutWalk movement, the local dimensions speak to a groundswell of feminist activism. I had the good fortune to be in Cuernavaca when local feminists organized the Marcha de las Putas. The women talked about the culture of victim blaming and slut shaming, but they used the forum to speak against femicide in Morelos and across Mexico, where female homicides never seemed to be investigated with an appreciation of gender hatred. In Tegucigalpa, activists decried local realities of femicide: according to the organizers, a woman is murdered every 24 hours in Honduras, yet 90 percent of these murders are not investigated by law enforcement authorities.
In Philadelphia, Broad Street Review editor Dan Rottenberg offered an impetus for local activists when he opined, “Earth to liberated women: When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid.” This un-classy comment was in response to journalist Lara Logan, who bravely came forward to describe the vicious sexual assault she experienced from a mob in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in February 2011. Rottenberg made his crack when, months later, Logan was photographed at an awards show in a cleavage-revealing dress.
In Helsinki, people mobilized around SlutWalk to decry lenient new prison sentences for crimes of sexual violence, while in Buenos Aires, people organized against the backdrop of a study suggesting that a rape is reported every six hours. These examples highlight the local realities of the perpetuation of sexual violence, reminding us that SlutWalks are not just something fun (which they are) but also necessary for exposing sexual violence and resistance to it publicly, here, there, and everywhere.