Plenty of pictures of scantily clad women bounce around the Internet. But an increasing number of these pictures feature women holding posters bearing the words “My clothes are not my consent,” or “Make love, not rape.” Others are pictures of women with “Slut” painted on their bra-covered breasts.
What is going on?
On Jan. 24, 2011, a Toronto police officer told a class of law students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to avoid being victimized.” Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, two Torontonians, thought there was something wrong with this philosophy, so they decided to rally a march in response. “We are tired of … being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result,” they wrote. “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.”
Thousands of people – women and men of all ages, sexual orientations, races and histories – marched on April 3, 2011 in solidarity with Barnett and Jarvis. All wanted to reclaim the word “slut.” All were unified behind the cause of sexual freedom without shame. The dress code was “anything goes.” Some wore lingerie and rollerblades. Others dressed in business suits. Many dressed in the outfits they were assaulted in – from mini dresses to sweatpants.
Cities that have joined the movement include Orlando, Dallas, St. Louis, Boston, Tucson, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City. Soon, a town will join – Williamstown. The Women’s Center, the Women of Color Coalition, the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, the Queer Student Union and the Women’s Resource Center are organizing a SlutWalk to take place this Wednesday, Oct. 5.
We at the College need to start holding each other accountable for our assumptions about rape and sexual assault. There is no one event that has necessitated this; it is the unreported, ignored and all too common stories of the sexually assaulted that call for a SlutWalk. We need a movement where survivors and their allies can speak out against the unrecognized injustice that happens on a sadly frequent basis. One assault per year is too many.
We need to stop slut-shaming and debasing men and women who express their sexuality. The campus as a whole needs to protest against the attitudes that lead us to dismiss allegations of assault because of factual ambiguity or the presence of alcohol. And it is time that people recognize the need to stop before they assume consent because of how a person is dressed or how they dance.
Unfortunately, the most common reaction to the SlutWalk movement is, “So basically there are going to be a bunch of women walking around dressed like sluts? Dude … AWESOME. Where?” This leads to a dilemma: Isn’t parading women in skimpy clothes, labeled as “sluts,” just objectifying them even more? How can this be a feminist movement?
In actuality, SlutWalk is feminism at its best.
The feminist movement is too often seen as an exclusive club that only the most radical people can be part of. SlutWalk’s mission is to get all people to rally around a universal ideal: No one should be raped and no one should feel unsafe being sexual. For the first time in history, feminism is something everyone can support. Regardless of political leaning, religion or social status, everyone can agree upon the goal of SlutWalk. No one deserves to be assaulted. No one deserves to be judged for his or her desires.
The risk of holding a SlutWalk at the College is that it will be misinterpreted. Let’s say you see someone marching in a short skirt, declaring her sexual liberation, and then you see that same person in the same outfit dancing drunkenly at Goodrich during October’s First Fridays. It doesn’t really seem like sexual liberation if they’re still acting like a slut.
The point is that one cannot look or act like a slut. Slut-hood is a state of being.
A slut is a person who enjoys sex, who loves his or her body, who is respectful to other people, who asks for consent every time and who only gives consent if he or she actually wants to have sex. A slut doesn’t apologize for his or her desires, doesn’t mock people for theirs, believes safe sex is sexy sex and always advocates for his or her own wants.
That person is the only one who can tell you if she is a slut.
As a top liberal arts college, it seems natural for the College to be at the forefront of this movement. As an institution where drinking and hooking up seems to be synonymous with the weekend, it is imperative for the College to participate. If students don’t believe whole-heartedly in a person’s right to say “yes” as much as his or her right to say “no,” what exactly are we doing?
SlutWalk is an opportunity for students and administrators to continue the conversation about rape and sexual assault on campus. Immediately after the march, the participants are going to meet with the administration to talk about how sexual assault can be better dealt with: supplying better survivor resources, making investigations more effective and improving the disciplinary process. These are concrete changes that can be made now, not a few years or a semester down the line.
This past Saturday, thousands of people in Minneapolis and New York stood up to define their sexuality on their terms. Today, a small but significant portion of Williams students will be doing the same. And whether you appreciate it or not, they will be marching for you, too.
Emily Nuckols ’15 is from Minnetonka, Minn. She lives in Armstrong 2.