For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (or simply aren’t aware of what’s going on within the women’s movement…) Amber Rose’s SlutWalk – a long awaited march on the practices of body/woman shaming and rape culture – took place this week, on October 3rd in LA.
A brief history (once again, for those of you under your rock…): SlutWalk first took place in Toronto in 2011 after Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti advised women:
avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized (Mendes 2015)
While he did later apologise for the istatement, Sanguinetti’s “advice” came as the straw which broke the camel’s back for two Toronto-based women – Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett – who decided it was time to fight back against the systematically inherent messages of slut shaming and victim blaming which implicates responsibility on the victim of rape culture and rallied the very first SlutWalk later that year.Thousands of women flocked the streets in everything from pantyhose and bras to dress suits and sensible heels. Some embedded the namesake in through their attire in dressing as the cultural stereotypical “slut,” others highlighted the fact that what a woman wears will not protect her from its threat and that women’s sexual nature or sexy clothing is not responsible for rape; simply put, rapists are responsible for rape.
Of course, the SlutWalk movement has hit some bumps. Certain feminist circles felt the movement played to the patriarchal eye by dressing up (or down) for the male gaze while notably, many Women of Colour feel excluded from it’s message – particularly due to the historically based inability for said women to reclaim the word “slut” and to place their bodies of display in such a manner. In an open letter to the SlutWalk movment, the Black Women’s Blueprint stated:
We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.
The movement, certainly, raises questions about the nature of postfeminist activism. The Postfeminism movement largely encourages women to adopt individualistic and consumerist ideals in order to achieve and perform their liberation and autonomy, a fact which many cultural critics and academics loudly critique and bemoan. Of particular concern for these critics is the lack of communal activism and protest within the postfeminist era – but does SlutWalk not prove this moot? In no way can I state SlutWalk to be a perfect embodiment of feminist activism – as stated, it has it’s issues – and while the tenets of consumerism and the proliferation of “raunch culture” (Levy) prevalent in Postfeminist discourse are problematic, I cannot wholly accept this argument that postfeminist fails to promote or encourage activism. Notably, despite the serious issues which the SlutWalks attempt to embody, one cannot deny the celebratory manner in which these women come together in support of one another and in support of the victims.
Yes, there are issues relating to the SlutWalk movement which prove it’s problematic nature, specifically – I believe – related to it’s grounding in postfeminist culture.
This, however, did not stop Amber Rose from orchestrating, attending and delivering the grounding speech at her own SlutWalk event this weekend. The ex-stripper, model, actress, fashion designer and artist became of note in recent years particularly due to negative, hurtful and slutshaming comments supplied by her exes (specifically relating to her previous career giving striptease). Rose stood against these criticisms with her sisters brandishing a sign “Strippers have feelings too”
In an emotional speech, Rose stated that she had been slut-shamed from the tender age of fourteen and spoke out against the double standards which narrowly define women as either prude or slut while heterosexual men can perform and vocalize their sexuality relatively freely.
If the highlight of the SlutWalk is on the issues of rape culture and not the attire of the (potential) rape victim – as the argument against rape itself states – then perhaps the movement need not be portrayed so negatively after all?