From Iceland — Unpopular Opinion: Why SlutWalk Will Not Save Feminism

Unpopular Opinion: Why SlutWalk Will Not Save Feminism

Published August 18, 2015

Unpopular Opinion: Why SlutWalk Will Not Save Feminism
Ragna Rök Jóns by Ragna Rök Jóns
Photo by
Art Bicnick

I remember my first SlutWalk.

It was in September of 2011. The original 2011 SlutWalk in Toronto had quickly picked up steam as it spread globally, throughout Canada and the United States, then to Europe and multiple cities worldwide. I remember when the fiercely outspoken feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman shared her speech from the 2011 Boston SlutWalk, speaking so quickly that her rage was palpable, to the point that she was almost screaming. Of the word slut, she bawled, “For a word with so little meaning, it sure is a vicious weapon.”

To be called a slut, with its myriad meanings, its interpellative possibilities, and its situation within dynamics of power and privilege, can have lethal consequences for the body’s inviolability.

Later, Jaclyn refused to succumb to the supposed potency of the word “slut”: “You can call us that name, but we will not shut up.”

Faggots, sissies, and whores

SlutWalks serve a purpose. SlutWalks as a “glocalized” framework for advocacy are important because they address how the language of “slut” and “whore” fuel whorephobic rhetoric in order to legitimate and downplay the realities of sexual violence. They are important because they raise awareness without relying on the “bystander intervention” model, which shifts responsibility from perpetrators and places it on uninvolved parties. Given the prevalence of heterosexual men in positions of power in political, legal, police and military domains, it’s not surprising that sexual violence remains so rampant and heavily underreported that our criminal justice systems consistently fail to bring about justice for survivors of sexual violence. It is so bad, for example, that reports of Iceland being some sort of safe haven that’s devoid of violent crime somehow sidesteps the pressing issue of sexual violence.

Yet, as criticised elsewhere, the connotations and implications of deploying a word like “slut” impact people differently: to be a slut, for example, as a transgender woman of colour in America often leads to arrest with the falsified charges of being a sex worker, thereby resulting in police persecution and oftentimes criminal treatment. Transgender immigrant women stopped entering the United States without documentation are routinely held in Immigration Detention Centres and placed in male facilities, where “slut” holds a particularly lethal dimension as a rationale for sexual violence.

Fact: Women of colour, immigrant women, disabled women, and sex workers are generally more likely to become victims of sexual assault. Men are rarely called “sluts” before getting raped, but rather “faggots” or “sissies” or “baby,” as sexual violence against by men by both women and men persists (statistics are hard to ascertain because of underreporting and institutional mishandling). Not all sluts are sexually assaulted, yet not all survivors of sexual violence are deemed “sluts.” Rape cultures require unpacking, researching, theorising, and collectively organise against. This will not occur without sustained communal criticism and theory as fuel for further action and justice.

“Corporate interests”

The first SlutWalk I went to in Reykjavík, the event’s inaugural launch, was well-organised and the chosen speakers were bone-rattling. In general, from what I have experienced and seen, Reykjavík SlutWalk’s organisers have been diligent, and diverse, its speakers well-chosen.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across the widely publicised Druslugangan #drusluátak video. While I understand the editors’ PR choices, I question why we are empowering celebrity male figures to talk about rape, instead of actual survivors of sexual violence. Clearly many of these speakers, along with corporations like telecom provider Nova, are using the hype that follows the movement’s momentum for their own gain.

And this is not a movement that should be capitalised upon by corporate interests.

There are so many of us

I am so moved by the many survivors who spoke of their own experiences, especially those who  seemed viscerally uncomfortable, but were brave enough to be part of this raising of public consciousness. Many of the men discuss how rape is never okay, calm and collected, while women and men such as artist Sunna Ben can barely even voice the trauma of violence and the hardship of being re-traumatised by people who discredit or doubt their accounts.

There are so many of us out there. Yet, far too often, we elevate the voices of non-survivors as we disempower and silence actual trauma survivors and those who develop and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thus, despite the many “call for changes” in this video—which I applaud—I call for changes in how we discuss and act upon the epidemic of rape. Survivors require community education, therapeutic support, legal reform, police accountability, and the routine reprimand of perpetrators.

Sadly, increased representation rarely yields a direct translation into tangible change. Still, the video serves as a valued progression in affirmative anti-rape representation in reigniting a national dialogue on sexual violence and the possibilities at hand for justice reform.

You cannot hashtag feminism. No such feminism will set us free. But it’s a good start.

Ragna Rök Jóns is a transfeminist writer and transmedia artist whose words have appeared in The Reykjavík Grapevine, The Daily Beast, Women in the World, Adult Magazine, Bluestockings Magazine, and elsewhere.

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