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'Slutwalks aren’t the lunatic fringe of feminism. They're a reminder that dressing “like a slut” is never an invitation to rape'

Are you tired of that same old message being rehashed every time a woman is brutally attacked or killed? I am, writes Lorraine Courtney.

Lorraine Courtney Freelance journalist

SLUTWALKING ENTERED an Irish university’s campus this week – UCD Students’ Union held its first ever slutwalk as part of its #NotAskingForIt campaign. Around one hundred students took part and author Louise O’Neill turned up in support of them.

Her recently published book, Asking for It, is a brave and important book about rape culture and victim-blaming in our society. It’s started a cacophonous national conversation.

“Slut. Bitch. Skank. Whore. You were asking for it,” people post on her protagonist’s Facebook page after her ghastly assault.

Those who want to dismiss the usefulness of Slutwalking argue that it’s over-sensationalised and over sexualised but the Slutwalk is the latest necessary chapter in the story of modern feminism.

Remember the Toronto police officer who told an audience that if women wanted to avoid rape, they should not dress like “sluts”? That’s how Slutwalking started.

ucd Source: UCD SU

Back in January 2011, a policeman called Michael Sanguinetti walked into the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada to instruct female students about how to avoid sexual violence. His now infamous speech went something like this:  “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this,” Sanguinetti said. “However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

Three months later the women organised the world’s first Slutwalk. Thousands of women walked through Toronto’s streets, most with the word “slut” painted on their almost naked bodies. Their manifesto said:

“We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”

The protest that followed has infected the imagination of women in cities around the world, from Dallas to Delhi, who are sick of being bullied into sexual conformity.

Why is it always women who are told they have to modify their behaviour to stay safe?

Why are we are held up to such a more severe standard of moral behaviour than men are, that it is us that are somehow to blame when our bodies are violated? One in three people believes that women who behave flirtatiously are somewhat responsible if they are raped, according to a very depressing Amnesty International report.

A similar number of people believe that women are partially or wholly responsible for being raped if they are drunk; while more than a quarter believe women are responsible if they wear revealing clothing. Men are marginally more likely to blame the victim than women, although in the case of drunkenness, 5% of women thought a woman would be totally responsible if she were raped, compared with 3% of men.

Whichever way you slice it, the argument amounts to the same thing: women and the things they do are responsible for anything bad that is done to them.

Are you tired of that same old message being rehashed every time a woman is brutally attacked or killed? I am. We like to think that we live in a liberal, permissive society – that, if anything, the problem is that there is too much sex about. But this is a cruel delusion.

We live in a culture that is deeply confused about its erotic impulses; it bombards us with images of airbrushed models and celebrities writhing in a sterile haze of euphoria while abstinence is still subtly preached at the heart of government.

The word “slut” is a grubby little insult. “Slut” is used to pass judgment on our desires, our social lives, the tightness of fabric around our bum. Slutwalks aren’t in any way the lunatic fringe of feminism.

They’re a very necessary moment to remind anyone who needs it — and tragically way too many do — that people get sexually assaulted regardless of what they wear, that most sexual assault occurs between people who know each other, and that dressing “like a slut” is never an invitation to rape.

Women’s rights are human rights and sex is not the problem. Sexism is. Arbitrary moral binaries have been renewed between “innocent” women and “sluts.”

Women are expected to look hot and up for it at all times, but if we dare to express desires of our own, we are mocked, shamed and threatened with sexual violence, which, apparently, has nothing to do with the men who inflict it and everything to do with the length of skirt we have on. We have had enough.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.

Read: Women in politics are judged on their favourite designers, not political beliefs>

Read: ‘Photos of Jennifer Aniston and Cindy Crawford highlights ‘fat shaming’ of women, when will it stop?’>

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About the author:

Lorraine Courtney  / Freelance journalist

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