By Sohini Chatterjee

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

It was on 3rd April 2011 that “Slut Walk,” a revolutionary feminist protest movement began in Toronto, Canada. Spreading transnationally soon after, it turned out to be one of the largest, most prominent feminist revolutions of the 21st century. When Michael Sanguinetti of the Toronto police force had remarked that in order to avoid getting raped women should stop dressing like sluts, he could not have anticipated the world wide rebellion against victim blaming and slut shaming that his comment would spark off. One of a kind in its approach towards women and the gender question, Slut Walk stands up to the many Sanguinettis in the world who believe that women who are raped or sexually harassed partake in the violence meted out to them, even if unwittingly. The movement not only questions this vapid assumption, but also vehemently decries the misogyny that insensitivity towards victims of sexual abuse expose. It reclaims the term “Slut” and redefines it to replace its misogynistic connotation with the emancipatory. Slut Walk seeks to end rape culture, patriarchal signification of women’s existence and identity, and attempts to bring female sexuality out of the socio-cultural taboo that it finds itself mired in. I would perhaps not be guilty of exaggeration to contend that Slut Walk is one of the most fiercely passionate pro-women movements that the world has witnessed in recent times. A harder look into the merits of the movement generates vital debates around gender and sexuality, which threatens the normative in no uncertain terms.

In patriarchal parlance, a sexually emancipated woman is a “slut” precisely because her sexual agency poses a potent threat to hegemonic masculinity. Hence, she is frequently called promiscuous, insincere, or in short, a femme fatale. Since societies are only comfortable with the male boasting of his sexual prowess, the silencing of female desire is the norm. The women who resist this oppression of silence constitute the category of Sluts. The sluts dare to question the lone extension of social acceptability of expressions of sexual desire to men. The politics of Slut Walk is precisely directed against the patriarchal construction of female desire and seeks to extend equal recognition to female sexual agency. So far, feminist movements have challenged the patriarchal construction of a woman’s identity in many ways, but sexuality remains in the mostly overlooked periphery. It is important to understand how patriarchal cultures essentialize women’s identity in sexual terms, but do not allow women to be agents of their sexual selves. Women’s movements have previously addressed questions of women’s socio-economic-political participation almost obsessively, ignoring in the process, the cultural moorings of women’s identity and their representation. Notions of gender equality, when viewed through an uncritical lens, are upset by a lack of keener understanding into a women’s multifaceted identity, even as women’s rights are passionately fought for. Without adequate comprehension of the matter, it is difficult to break out of the inflexible gender normativity pre-constructed to cause grand inconvenience to feminist alternatives. The politics of Slut Walk is an advancement of hitherto conventional feminist movements. Slut Walk addresses concerns of identity construction and how it develops to the disadvantage of women. It exposes the nuances of women’s identity in a male dominated society and emphasizes the merits of deconstruction of a masculinist representation of female identity. As a result, ‘Slut’ ceases to be a pejorative term aimed at robbing women off their sexual liberty, but instead becomes emblematic of women’s authority over their body.

Slut Walk sends out an unambiguous message against victim blaming: notwithstanding whether a woman is a slut or a sage, she can, under no circumstances, be blamed for the event in which she is forced into participation in a sexual activity. The phrase “Consent is Key” has been reiterated time and again. A non-consensual sexual act performed on an unwilling other is a case of sexual abuse and is a crime in every sense of the word. Questioning the victim’s way of life to justify the crime is a logic that fails to qualify every standard of reasonableness. The effort to speculate and explain the probable causes of sexual violence by questioning the behaviour or appearance of the victim is typical of societies where powerlessness of women serves to trivialize their victimization. Slut Walk is revolutionary in the effort it has made to expose the severity of male dominance, which refuses to admit the guilt of violence by trying to get the victim to share the blame of the crime. The victim’s already marginalized existence prior to the victimization makes it easier to silence her voice or to make it go completely unheard. Slut Walk tries to bring victims of sexual violence out of the stifling misery of powerlessness by condemning and resisting their re-victimization which victim blaming causes.

Slut Walk also questions the permission extended to men for exhibiting their lack of restraint in the face of apparent sexual “provocation.” Responding to apparent “provocation” is the problem of the provoked in this regard, hence the individual guilty of the violence that such apparent “provocation” caused, cannot legitimately pass on the guilt to the victim. People of different colours, class, caste, creed, religion, gender participating in Slut Walk march down the streets dressed “provocatively,” often carrying banners that read, “My Clothes Are Not My Consent”, “Our Society Teaches Don’t Get Raped Instead of Don’t Rape”, “No Means No”. Such powerful messages disrupt the assumed linkage between the motivations of the crime and the crime as it happened. The crime is seen for what it is; it is treated in isolation without delving deeper into what might have caused it, as in cases of sexual abuse such obsessive cause finding is irrelevant, if not detrimental to the interest of the survivor. Slut Walk questions social morality and asserts women’s rights. It is unique in shifting the focus away from the woman’s body to the crime and the criminal on the one hand, but on the other, curiously places emphasis on the woman’s body in helping her develop a wholesome sense of the self that is not informed by masculinist interpretations. Slut Walk clearly states that instead of teaching women modest ways of dressing, men should be taught a lesson or two in civility and respecting boundaries. The movement also condemns the patriarchal assumption that women who dress in non-conservative ways are in fact “asking for it”. The simple fact that when women do feel the need of asking for it, they will say so out loud, without anyone having to force them into participation in a sexual activity somehow evades the logic of men who imagine the victim “is asking for it”. The “asking for it” logic hence is unfounded and a clever ploy to absolve the perpetrator of his guilt to some extent.

Slut Walk is a unique, revolutionary, powerful, subversive post-modern movement that questions every assumption, construction and representation of women’s identity in patriarchal cultures. It refuses to excuse cases of rape and sexual harassment on any pretext. It also exposes the banality of rape avoidance strategies espoused by the likes of Sanguinetti. The movement has widely been a protest stage for the LGBT community and women across borders against sexual profiling and objectification. Slut Walk also questions patriarchal social structuring and seeks to subvert it by empowering women to liberate themselves of the socio-cultural burdens they find unsavoury. The movement also seeks to do away with the ‘othering’ of  “sluts” as women who are rendered morally suspect by society. It gives the subversive call to dissolve the compulsory obligation put on women to be “good” in order to be rewarded with social acceptance or reverence. Slut Walk resolves to stand against the division among victims, primarily women, in patriarchal societies. It seeks to unite women and the LGBT community through the shared marginalization of their existence. Thus, even though started primarily against victim blaming and slut shaming, Slut Walk has evolved to engage in various other significant issues of feminist concern. It is movements like this that bravely expose myths surrounding gender and encourage the spirit of defiance, that ultimately help us move towards a future where gender becomes an irrelevant determinant of socio-political-economic status of individuals and their future.


Sohini Chatterjee is a student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her interest areas include identity politics, Indian culture, mythology, contemporary Indian politics and narratives of diaspora. She identifies as a feminist and believes it defines her more than anything else. Writing is not solely an intellectual exercise for her but a powerful weapon or a magic wand which, she believes, can make the world a better place.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind