As we stormed the London streets on Saturday, a defining moment for me was when we walked past a group of builders. They downed tools and just stared at us, open mouthed. No cat calls, no wolf whistles, no smarmy comments – they read the signs, they shut up. I’m sure for many women there it was the first time we’ve managed to walk past a building site and not had our anatomy dissected by men who are often older than us, probably with daughters our age.
This is what I think gets misunderstood. There’s a difference between someone paying you a compliment and someone wolf whistling or saying ‘nice tits’. I have had men say to me in the street ‘you look nice today’ and been bowled over by the fact they seem to have manners. It’s such a rarity. The majority of the time, I get hissed at, whistled at (you know, like you would an animal), told I have nice tits, nice legs, told I should wear my skirt a little shorter, told how nice my ass looks. When your first comment to me is sexual, how am I to know you’ll just leave it at a comment? What may be an innocent comment to you, I have no choice but to take a a possible threat.
I’m tired of being told to be safe, be careful, watch my back, don’t come home too late, cover up, as I’m sure so many other women are too. I’ve had it my whole life. Alternatively, I don’t often hear young boys being lectured on how to treat women. So, until that day comes, I’ll still take my iPod off if I’m walking home alone at night so I can hear if someone’s behind me. I’ll still cross the street. I’ll still box, partly because yes, I want to keep fit, but also because I want to know, should the worst ever happen, that I might be able to handle myself. I’ll still call someone when I’m in a cab, just in case the driver gets any funny ideas. I’ll still send the ‘I’m home safe’ text, because someone will always worry.
Every woman has these things she must do, these ideas she feels keep her safe, because we know, deep down, that if we are ever assaulted, it’s our behaviour that’s put under the microscope, our sexual history that’s dissected, our attire that’s seen as consent. And with a 6.5% conviction rate on rape cases in this country and more than 95% of rapes going unreported, can we really afford to think any other way?
Bangs and a bun (repost)
Initially I was really excited by the Slutwalk movement. Here were real people, not politicalised, agenda driven groups, but everyday, ordinary people, suddenly interested in the concept of rape, and the issues surrounding it.
Judging by the very ordinary people I spoke with at Hyde Park Corner, many of whom were on their first march (like me), that excitement was shared. For them, as I, this wasn’t about gender, or skin colour, or political beliefs – it certainly wasn’t about clothes, or ownership of words like ‘slut’. This was about the fact that putting a uninvited penis into an orifice is all too common, and actually, we would rather it didn’t happen.
That excitement was short lived.
Twenty years ago, when I was doing my ‘A’ levels, I came across groups like Women Against Rape. I inwardly groaned when I saw their banner on Saturday, along with the English Collective of Prostitutes, the Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), the Socialist Worker Party (SWP) and other groups.
Because they are noisy and they are disingenuous. They don’t actually achieve anything, other than yelling about their own agenda and perpetuating the myth of what they want us to believe rape is about. When you add noise to noise and myth to myth, nothing gets heard, and progress isn’t made.
I’m sure I will get a lot of comments telling me exactly what these groups have achieved (with little evidence to corroborate it).
However, Slutwalk is necessary because the very groups which claim their agenda is rape are the very groups that fail victims of rape.
Rape is not a feminist issue, or a female issue. Rape is not a male issue. Rape is not a black issue, a religious issue, a sex issue or a power issue. Rape is not about reclaiming the night; it is not about what survivors wear; it is not about being a slut, a whore, a granny, or a chav. Rape is not a class issue. Rape is not a disabled issue, or a mental health issue.
Rape is all of these things, and none of them. Rape is about penetrating a vagina, anus and/or mouth with a penis, knowing that the person being penetrated does not consent.
On average, every hour in England and Wales approximately 11 people are raped. Some of them are women. Some of them are men. Some are black, some are white. Some are young, some are old. Some are fat, some are thin. Most of them will know the person raping them. Some will be in their own homes, in their own beds, and being raped by a person who professes to love them.
Very few of them will have been grabbed by a stranger; fewer still grabbed by a stranger because of their attire, or their gender, or their class, or indeed because they happened to be out in the dark. But the rape groups won’t tell you that.
Women Against Rape was founded in 1976. One of the chants yesterday was:
‘However we dress, wherever we go. Yes means yes, and no means no’
which was one of WAR’s first slogans. Thirty five years, and we are still saying the same thing. Why? Because in marginalising the issue – in their case, making this a ‘woman’s issue’ they damaged their voice – so much so that it isn’t heard. It isn’t heard because groups like this are so focused on promoting themselves and their little corner of the rape issue, that the bigger issue becomes, in and of itself, marginalised.
These groups also help to keep the problems inherent in rape prosecutions alive. They actively tell victims that they are unlikely to be believed by the police, by the CPS, by the courts. They feed rape myths in their literature. The net result is that victims don’t report rape, and because they don’t report it, the perpetrator is receiving a nod that actually, his behaviour was acceptable.
The truth is, 58% of those rape cases which go to court result in a conviction. Yes, it is lower than the conviction rate generally for the Crown Court, but it is a heck of a lot higher than the 6% those groups will have you believe it is.
Those groups feed the myth of the ‘stranger’ rape, which leads those who are raped by someone known to them to believe that their rape wasn’t a ‘real’ rape.
They, particularly WAR, are also now suggesting that if you do report your rape, you run the risk of going to prison if you are disbelieved. They fail to point out that firstly, a ‘not guilty’ verdict does not mean ‘innocent’, nor does it mean the victim is disbelieved. Secondly, they fail to mention there there are cases of false accusations which rightly result in convictions for perjury.
These groups don’t widely publicise that since the early 90′s the criminal justice system has made leaps and bounds when it comes to rape. It is now rare for sexual history to be allowed to be adduced into evidence – a judge has to be persuaded that it is relevant to the case before the court. There are special measures for how the victim gives evidence, such as screening from the defendant and video links. The definition of rape has changed, so that it is now an offence to rape a man, and for a man to rape his wife. The judge is now allowed to explain the behaviour of rape victims to juries, so that many of the myths surrounding rape, such as that victims always fight back, are disputed before they retire. We have specially trained police officers, rape suites, and specially trained prosecutors and judges.
The law and the justice system have gone as far as they possibly can. I can think of no further provision that could possibly assist a victim in the prosecution of the crime. Now we need to bust the myths surrounding prosecution so that victims are more willing to come forward and report.
I had hoped that the Slutwalk movement was going to be a group that refused to hide from the truths of rape, who told it like it is, but urged victims to report, and in doing so increased convictions.
The truths that need to be spoken are:
That anyone, regardless of gender, skin colour, class and religion can be a victim;
That the investigation is emotionally painful, and involves invasive medical examinations and difficult questioning;
That an anonymous lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will make a decision as to whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial;
That it does not mean the victim is disbelieved if the CPS decide they can’t proceed, it is simply a legal issue;
That if the CPS does proceed, the trial will be very hard and probably painful;
That the prosector acts for the Crown, not the victim; whose role is that of witness;
That a not guilty verdict does not equate to innocence, but simply that they jury could not be sure on the evidence provided to them;
That if he is found guilty, the judge can only sentence within the guidelines, which may not be as long as the victim hopes for;
That all of the above is exactly the same for any crime.
I had hoped that Slutwalk London would be all that. But given that their site now (since 10.6.11) says:
Over 90% of rapes are never reported to police. Of those reported, only 6.7% result in convictions. While most rapists get away with it and are free to rape again, women who report rape are often disbelieved, accused of lying and sometimes imprisoned.
We demand that police and Crown Prosecution Service protect all rape survivors (women, children and men), not rapists.
I guess not; clearly the temptation of perpetuating those myths was too high. Sigh.
‘When sluts walk free from rape, all women can walk free’
It was a beautiful day for a protest; a fact that must have pleased those wearing relatively little. As I emerged from the Underground at Hyde Park Corner I came across number of slutwalkers enjoying the sun ahead of the march. They were mostly dressed in everyday clothing, but home-made placards and the odd corset made their purpose explicit.
The very term “Slutwalk” has attracted a great deal of controversy. The movement gets its name from a talk given by a Canadian policeman at a Toronto university earlier this year; the copper in question told students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. Organisers of the original Slutwalk decided to appropriate the slur as a provocative retort, but some feminist detractors have argued that the word “slut” remains inherently sexist. They say that a word that is used to control and condemn women cannot be usefully reclaimed, and are likely to oppose Slutwalk events on these grounds.
I approached two of the early arrivals to ask them how they felt about this issue. Lilly insisted that she was keen to “reclaim” slut. “I believe in taking negative words and putting positive meanings on them,” she explained. “I defend the idea that anyone could and should be called a slut”.
“I asked six different people to define ’slut’ and got ten different answers,” said Katie. She agreed with Lilly that the word was worth reclaiming because it is so often used to put down women who are “sexually at ease”. However, she was also keen to emphasise the importance of opposing rape. “It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks you’re a slut or not,” she insisted, “no-one deserves to be raped.”
This emphasis on placing the blame for rape and sexual assault on the perpetrator rather than the victim regardless of circumstance was definitely the central message of Slutwalk London. Placards and banners insisted that women should be able to wear whatever they want without fearing the consequences. One woman dressed in very little indeed had the word “no” painted onto each cheek of her bottom. As the good-natured march finally began after a long hour’s wait, an old but deeply appropriate feminist chant went up: “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”.
The expected lacy underwear, corsets, thongs and miniskirts were certainly in evidence, worn by people of all genders. However, Slutwalk was also impressive for the remarkable diversity of clothing on display. Various participants also wore jeans, t-shirts, long skirts, dresses, headscarves, leather coats, colourful tights and top hats as part of outfits both ordinary and extraordinary. The message of free expression was clearly taken to heart by all.
An estimated three thousand people meandered cheerfully through the London streets from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square before gathering for an open rally. Curious onlookers swelled the crowd’s numbers as 17-year-old organiser Anastasia Richardson addressed the crowd. She summarised the agenda for the many short but effective speeches that followed: against rape, against victim-blaming, for sexual expression and for the recognition of particular challenges faced by marginalised groups including women of colour, disabled women, sex workers and trans women.
The rally confirmed Slutwalk’s place within the so-called “third wave” of feminism: a movement that emphasises the importance of sexual freedom and differing experiences of marginalisation alongside traditional feminist concerns such as rape, sexist violence and inequality. It’s a movement that welcomes lesbians, bisexual women, Muslims, trans women, sex workers and others who were often sidelined or even actively rejected by feminists of the “second wave” that emerged in the 1960s and 70s.
A number of commentators have argued in recent years that feminism is seeing a comeback, heralded by an increase in second-wave style activism from groups such as Object and in events such as Reclaim The Night marches. Slutwalk shares an emphasis on rape and sexual violence with Reclaim The Night, but a number of attendees claimed that the new movement is more inclusive because of its third-wave roots.
“It’s brilliant: for one thing it’s in the daytime so the message of women should be allowed to wear as much as they want or as little as they want is a lot more comfortable when the sun is out,” said Queer Resistance member Jo, fresh from a speech to the crowd about the alleged sexual assault of two trans people during last month’s Royal Wedding.
“Also it’s a bigger crowd - we’ve had a conservative estimate of three thousand people here,” she added. “It’s diverse: there’s men here who are opposed to rape, there’s people of all colours, backgrounds, genders. We’ve had black women talking about racism, we’ve had sex workers talking about issues with the legal system, attacks on themselves. We’ve had transgender and genderqueer speakers talking about transphobia and sexual assault and it’s the kind of diversity that staunch second-wave events such as Reclaim The Night [London] just won’t permit.”
Strong words, but Jo was backed up by Amx, another member of Queer Resistance. “Rape crisis and the leading women’s organisations generally sideline queer people,” they claimed. Amx says that they were “heavily involved in the feminist movement in London” until they realised that they were spending longer campaigning on queer issues within the feminist movement than on feminist movements within wider society.
However, Amx hasn’t lost faith in feminism. “I’m dedicated to having a queer voice within feminist spaces because of bodily autonomy, access to healthcare and rape crisis services,” they explained. Slutwalk was definitely a positive experience. “We had a lot of people not just marching with the Queer Resistance banner, but a lot of other queer people marching with us: a lot of support, a lot of allies marching with us. It just goes to show the feminist movement contains many queer allies.”
The mass appeal of Slutwalk is undeniable, with future events already planned throughout the UK and across the world in countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil and India. The movement combines a distinctly second-wave feminist concern with rape and sexual assault with third-wave values such as radical inclusivity and riot grrl atttitude. However, once the marches are over, a question arises: what next?
The organisers of the London march listed three demands as a focal point for future Slutwalk campaigning: better support for rape survivors, an end to the prosecution of sex workers, and an end to the prosecution of survivors. They encouraged rally attendees to organise and participate in future protests. If these are to be successful, it would perhaps be wise to follow Slutwalk in deliberately generating controversy whilst remaining fun, accessible and inclusive.
Photography by Alan Denney, Mrs Mornington and Cemre Mor.
eye witness (repost)
We arrived at the meeting point near the Hard Rock Cafe just before 1pm, about an hour before the march started to move. For me, one of the best bits about any demonstration is when everyone starts to arrive. There’s a feeling of excitement and solidarity, reading each other’s signs, taking photos and meeting new people. I had a very exciting moment when Laurie Penny walked past me, she’s someone I really admire and I wish I’d spoken to her! I was putting on my red lipstick when a photographer came over and asked if I would move into the light so he could get some shots. I put my sign down and applied my lipstick while he asked me to move my chin around, tilt my head etc, it was like being in a photoshoot! I didn’t ask which paper he was with, hopefully the picture won’t appear in the Mail with the caption ‘Look at these dirty sluts!’
The signs and T shirt slogans around me ranged from funny to deeply poignant. One girl who was with her friends and looked fairly young, was wearing a T shirt that said ‘I didn’t ask for it.’ On the sleeve she had written that she had been raped by her boyfriend when she was 15. The back said ‘Don’t tell me knee length skirts make me safer.’ The bravery of that girl moved me almost to tears, especially when I heard her say to her friend ‘I couldn’t have done this a year ago.’ I would have liked a photo of her top but I decided it would be inappropriate to ask her and even worse to take one without her permission. Throughout the day I saw a lot of women who were rape survivors. The fact that they were prepared to share such a horrific experience with strangers in public shows how strongly people feel about the Slutwalk’s message.
At around 2pm we started moving. There was loads of energy and a really fun atmosphere; plenty of shouting and whooping, waving at tour buses, chanting and drumming (a particular highlight was walking past some bewildered looking builders and watching scantily dressed women wolf-whistle and catcall them). There was definite and tangible anger, but it never felt remotely threatening or violent. I felt like I was part of a supportive community, coming together from diverse backgrounds to stand up for ourselves and each other. Where else would you find sex workers marching alongside children and pensioners?
We marched to Trafalgar Square for the speeches. Me and my friends managed to get to the side of the stage, right behind the barrier. After a rousing chorus of ‘These sluts were made for walking’ things got underway, starting with a speech from the 17 year old girl responsible for the event, Anastasia Richardson. I am in awe of this young woman. When I was doing my A Levels I could barely focus on anything else, but she managed to bring 5000 people to London for what was a brilliantly organised demonstration. Her speech was just incredible. She was clear, articulate and composed, but also extremely angry and passionate. I can’t imagine ever being able to stand up in front of thousands of people and make a speech like that, I wish I had her confidence and presence. All the speakers were brilliant, but a couple of others who really stood out were Caitlin Hayward-Tapp – who co-organised the Slutwalk and read two great poems about street harassment and rape – and Laurie Penny, whose formidable speech I partly recorded. Sheila Farmer spoke from the English Collective of Prostitutes, sharing her harrowing story. Sheila found herself working as a prostitute in order to support her children after diabetes-induced sight problems caused her to lose her job in IT. She was tied up and raped by a man who was later deported. As a result of going to the police, Ms Farmer now faces a trial and seven years in prison on the charge of keeping a brothel – after being attacked she has always worked with friends, but has never co-erced anyone to work. She is seriously ill with a malignant brain tumour, and the English Collective of Prostitutes is campaigning for the case to be dropped.
During the speeches I saw numerous women break down in tears, supported by their friends and partners. There were times when I very nearly cried myself, and a woman standing next to me with her boyfriend was silently sobbing all the way through. The strength of feeling was clear, as was a mounting sense of frustration with the police and CPS, who fail to protect rape victims every day. We should be deeply ashamed that we live in a country in which a woman who has been raped goes to the police, faces humiliating and irrelevant questions about her sexual history and dress, goes through a traumatic trial process and is then told that she is an unreliable witness. Or even worse, she drops the charges because of threats from her attacker, and then she is imprisoned. We marched because we have had ENOUGH of this.
One of the most overwhelming things that I noticed at the Slutwalk was how gorgeous everyone looked. Women of all shapes and sizes were wearing exactly what they wanted to wear, and it showed. Tall, petite, slender and voluptous women and girls were wearing corsets, bras and hotpants, and they all looked fabulous. I think it was because we were in a space where we knew no one would harass us, assault us, view us as objects or judge us. I didn’t see anyone looking at another woman and thinking ‘God she really can’t pull that off’, and I certainly never thought that about anyone. When we feel confident and safe, walking with our heads held high and not self-consciously tugging our skirts down, we all look gorgeous. And the women in jeans, jumpers and veils looked just as beautiful as the ones with more flesh on show.
As I was walking back to the tube, still carrying my sign and wearing my short shorts, a group of men in their 30s started shouting things at me from across the road. Among the laddish hollering I managed to pick out ‘you WANT IT love!’ normally I would have felt really intimidated by this, but after the speeches I was feeling angry and empowered, and managed to shout across the street ‘ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS!’ It felt like a small victory.
It saddens me that the Slutwalk was necessary, but everyone there should be proud of a really positive day that hopefully made an impact. If we change the minds and behaviour of just a few people then it has been worth it.
Ruth's Corner (repost)
Protesters carried signs saying “consent is sexy”, “my dress is not a yes” and “we are all chambermaids” – a reference to the arrest of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the sexist, racist media coverage of his case – and the crowd chanted their support for “the radical notion that no-one deserves to be raped.”
The SlutWalk marches began in Toronto in February after Canadian police told a group of law students that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’, perpetuating the notion that the imperative to prevent rape is still placed on women, who are told to modify their behaviour in order to prevent assault. Since the first protests in North America, protesters have taken to the streets in dozens of cities worldwide, with SlutWalks held and being planned in Australia, France, Argentina, Brazil and India.
In London, protesters expressed their anger at Minister of Justice Ken Clarke’s recent comments which implied some rapes are less “serious” than others, chanting “no means no, Clarke must go.” Several speakers in Trafalgar Square highlighted the statistic that the conviction rate for rape in this country shockingly still stands at only 6.5%.
Anastasia Richardson, the seventeen-year-old who co-organised SlutWalk London, was inspiringly passionate in her Trafalgar Square speech, speaking of how female asylum seekers in the UK still can’t report rape without fear of deportation, the pervasive attitude that sex workers “can’t be raped”, and how rape is the only crime in which the victim will be asked questions like “did you flirt with him?”
Cristel Amiss from the Black Women’s Rape Action Project spoke of how endemic and institutional racism presents a double obstacle for black women speaking out against sexual violence, reminding the audience of the compulsory virginity tests forced upon immigrant women wishing to come to Britain in the late 1970s. Activist Sanum Ghafoor linked the comments of the Toronto officer and Ken Clarke to Sarkozy’s statements and policies on banning the burqa, arguing that men in positions of power still feel entitled to tell women how to dress (either too little or too much flesh on show and we’re in the wrong). Chitra Nagarajan, in turn, spoke about the need to include women at the peace table in order to end violence in general.
Much media coverage of the London SlutWalk focused on the apparently “provocative clothing” of many of the participants – a Metro headline gushed about women “protesting in lingerie”. But although the protest had some of the carnival feel of Gay Pride marches – where the celebration of sexuality as an act of defiance against bigotry and marginalisation created a paradigm shift in protest culture – the London SlutWalk had its own particular feel: the ‘hoodies and hijabs’ bloc marched alongside those in fishnet stockings and feather boas, and women carried placards like “I didn’t deserve it” and “rape survivors have suffered enough”. Others cried and comforted one another during the speeches.
The multiplicity of voices at the SlutWalk felt like a response to the critique from within feminist circles that the SlutWalk protests reinforce elitist, white, straight, ‘Sex and the City’ consumer-feminism, or imply that only women who dress a certain kind of way are emancipated. The assertion of sexuality felt to me to be part of the beauty of the protest, since genuine human desire outside of the ‘male gaze’ of advertising and the celebration of un-airbrushed bodies are almost invisible in public life and media. But less of an assertion of sexuality in particular, the protest felt more like an assertion of solidarity, of humanness, and a demand that all be recognised as fully human, with the right to say yes and the right to say no: that we refuse to be shamed and humiliated on the basis of our gender or sex, that we refuse, as writer Jane Fae said in her speech, “to be divided into good girls and bad girls”, and we refuse to stay silent as long as sexual violence continues to go unpunished – that an attack on any one of us is an attack on us all.
Heather McRobie (repost)