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Politics of Slutwalk

  • 27 May 2011

Slutwalk, a feminist rally scheduled to take place in Melbourne tomorrow, 28 May, is a mass response to victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence. The movement originated in Toronto, sparked by a police officer's comment that 'Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimised'.

It has spread globally, engaging a generation of women and men that older feminists forever lament have shirked their political responsibilities; who have enjoyed the privilege and forgotten the rage.

Guy Rundle's now infamous article published in Crikey last week pointed out that Slutwalk is indebted to the Reclaim the Night movement feminist anti-rape movement , which dates back to 1976.

Although Reclaim the Night marches operate differently in various locations, they are, for the most part, women-only rallies that articulate the right for women to move freely in their communities without fearing, or enduring, harassment or sexual assault. Radical feminists captured the movement in 1978 to also articulate and oppose the gender-based violence inherent in the sex industry.

As such, Reclaim the Night marches tend to embody some of the characteristics of radical feminism: 'separatism' — the political segregation of women — and 'women dressing for women', the rejection of historically 'feminine' clothing and behaviour.

Slutwalk, as Rundle states, is in a sense a 'rebranding' of Reclaim the Night. Where Slutwalk differs is that it attempts to transform the language of oppression into a language of autonomy, men are welcome to participate, and participants are free to dress provocatively or not, as a public declaration of their right to safety regardless of their attire.

But his differentiation of the two movements fundamentally misunderstands the cultural distinctions between generations of feminists, branding it a war. 'Slutwalk uses feminist themes as a cover for young women to wage war against older women,' he writes, thus dismissing the political import of Slutwalk. Where he observes power in the form and solidarity of Reclaim the Night, he slights Slutwalk as spectacle.

The movements are necessarily different. Older feminisms have failed to engage younger generations due simply to our different historical experiences of gender. The 'separatism' of earlier feminisms, although grounded in convincing rhetoric, have little currency for women feminists whose only relationships with men are respectful and loving. Women's experiences of gender