While some heralded SlutWalk as the future of feminism, the lack of hype around Calgary's second attempt at SlutWalk reveals that it was little more than a trend that has already begun to fizzle out.
So, I'll keep my remarks brief and leave you with a radio interview that I did in June around the time of the demise of SlutWalk Calgary 1.0.
I can say that I understand victim-blaming. I've been there. We're silenced by the implication that we were somehow complicit in the violence. And, we're pressured to not talk about the violence and move on with our lives. If we don't, we might be accused of "playing the victim." It's not surprising that one of the books out there to help survivors of trauma is titled I Can't Get Over It.
It was surprising and ironic then that women who expressed discomfort about marching under the banner of SlutWalk were told to get over it or that they didn't get the joke...or that it was simply their choice not to attend the event.
The most obvious critique of SlutWalk is that "slut" is a trigger for many survivors of violence. It is a word that produces a strong visceral reaction in many people as it is a gendered word that has been used to justify the unequal power distribution under capitalist patriarchy. While it is a hurtful and aversive word for many people, it is actually a disabling and traumatizing word for many survivors. For instance, how is someone supposed to march among banners blazoned with a word that actually sets off their PTSD? Apparently, this has been a non-important issue to SlutWalk organizers...
But, let's leave empathy and humanity aside for a moment and consider what I believe are reasonable academic and political challenges to SlutWalk.
At a more strategic level, for a "movement" which aimed to reclaim the word "slut" there was very little discussion about theories and controversies around re-appropriation. Some argued that "queer" has been reclaimed. That simply isn't true - there is great debate within academia, as well as the broader community as to whether this is a desired and achievable goal.
From a Marxist perspective, the roots of women’s oppression is based on an understanding that it is the material world that shapes the ideas in our heads, not the other way round. For instance, the slave trade did not develop because white people were racist: racism developed as justification for slavery, to depict black people as less than human. A more recent example is the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been seen out of Arizona this past year – it is not a coincidence that this is occurring during a recession when people are competing even more fiercely for jobs and when a group of workers is actually subject to criminalizing legislation.
One would assume that a "movement" committed to ending victim-blaming would also aspire to end violence against women. And, yet there was an alarming lack of discussion about the contributing factors to violence. Perhaps, this is why there were also no demands made by the so-called movement.
For some of us, it felt as though the feminist mantra that the "personal is the political" had suddenly morphed into the idea that the political need only be personal.
For me, the silver lining of the SlutWalk phenomenon was a chance for some of us to use the issue as a springboard to engage with some of the broader debates and challenges of contemporary feminisms.
I hope you will give it a listen.