While I’m sure you’re all used to hearing all the latest news on the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s not the only organized protest taking place right now. SlutWalks are happening across the country, too.
SlutWalks are marches, triggered by an incident at New York University, often of college students that demand an end to both sexual violence and the belief that victimized women bear some of the blame for sexual assaults. The name “SlutWalk” is a way for the movement to try and fight against that last part of their creed — or to show people that it’s not acceptable to think that “sluts” deserve or share any of the blame in sexual assaults. SlutWalks attempt to reclaim the term “slut” and rob it of its negative connotation and replace it with a positive one.
I use the word “attempt” because I think the movement fails in that aspect. Don’t get me wrong: Protesting sexual violence is a worthy and necessary act, but I don’t think SlutWalk advocates are going about it the right way. So much attention is placed on the semantics of the movement — there is contention even among supporters about the name itself — that the power of the message is lessened. In the fight against sexual violence, I’m reminded of another movement taking place today in Senegal that relies on substance rather than word politics to achieve change: the movement to end female genital cutting.
Though The New York Times reports that an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone the procedure, more than 5,000 Senegalese villages have joined a growing movement to end the practice. The movement is spreading from village to village via word of mouth through leaders and families. Its success is owed to education programs that teach the practitioners the harms of this tradition. Once the “opposition” realizes the detriments of genital cutting, a collective pledge is taken to end it.
And therein lies the key to their success: an understanding and direct involvement with the opposition and a collective pledge as a result to act. SlutWalks lack both of these key elements. The name itself does not encourage dialogue with the other side but seems to be more of an angry yell of “Don’t call me a ‘slut’; only I can do that!”
We absolutely need to end sexual violence and the resulting blame and shame, but it’s impossible to achieve change without conferring with the other side. SlutWalks need to figure out why these beliefs about “sluts” exist and how these acts are allowed to happen. Perhaps it is chauvinism and is a learned tradition. If so, fight it with education. Perhaps sexual violence propagates among certain socioeconomic classes and portions of the city. If so, fight it with more resources in those areas. Perhaps people are unaware of the pain and shame that victims of sexual violence suffer. If so, explain it to people.
Change will never happen if the opposition is not persuaded to work with you. SlutWalks will not be effective until they stop berating people who disagree with them and figure out why people disagree in the first place. Once the other side is better understood, SlutWalk will know how to best achieve change through collective cooperation.
SlutWalks need to stop quibbling about semantics and stomping around indignantly. If they really want to end sexual violence and the practice of blaming victims, they should make people understand the problems women face. Perhaps they can do that tonight at the showing of the new documentary, “Miss Representation,” which shows the harmful ways women are portrayed in the media. The event, hosted by the Center for Women in Law and the Women’s Law Caucus, will start at 6 p.m. at the Student Activity Center Auditorium, Room 1.402, and is open to the public.
Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.