New feature: Feminist critics of SlutWalk have forgotten that language is not a commodity

// 8 June 2011

SlutWalk is primarily a protest movement against victim-blaming, points out Sophie Jones. Feminist critics of the name have got the wrong end of the stick, she argues

Woman on Toronto SlutWalk holding sign“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimised.” The Toronto police officer who allegedly uttered these words probably did not expect to inspire a wave of protests against a culture that blames rape victims for their attacks.

Neither, one imagines, did he expect to ignite a fresh bout of feminist debate about the politics of linguistic subversion.

Victim blaming is hardly news and the bias against the offender in cases of sexual violence is well-documented. So why are the SlutWalk demonstrations happening now? It’s not Shakespeare, but in its own way the police officer’s comment managed to crystallise the bewildering mass of statistics, victim’s stories, tabloid sneers and political blind spots that have preoccupied feminists for decades. This clumsy, bigoted sentence turned a depressing socio-political trend into a tangible thing: small enough to grab hold of, fragile enough to throw to the ground, clear enough to watch splinter into a thousand pieces, broken enough to stamp all over.

The women who organised the original Toronto SlutWalk understood that words are powerful weapons. But what kinds of weapons are words? Is the word ‘slut’ the equivalent of a gun or a bomb: a killing machine made by and for the patriarchy, impossible to redeem?

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