A history of Slutwalk
On April 3rd 2011, approximately 3000 women in Toronto, Canada, took to the streets in a protest march against what they called “slut-shaming”. This occurred when a female survivor of rape approached a police officer and asked for help; she was told that the rape would not have occurred had she not been dressing “like a slut”. The anger over this statement gave birth to a worldwide movement against shaming women and judging them based on their choice of clothes. Among the objectives of the walk is to simply give women the opportunity to reclaim their right to dress and commute as they please, without the fear of being shamed into conforming to socially constructed rules which repress them and strip them of their rights.
Victim blaming is a universal problem, and occurs in developed, developing and under-developed nations. The idea that a woman “must” have done something to “incite” sexually violent behavior appears easier for the larger population to digest, and an interesting contradiction comes to light from this. At one end, women are generally known as “the weaker/fairer sex”, i.e. the gender that is submissive; on the other hand, all forms of weakness are apparently replaced with some sort of power to inspire rape and assault the minute she chooses to dress up! This is one of the issues, which is highlighted by the women, and men who participate in Slutwalk. They illustrate their point by wearing [or not wearing] clothes, and hold up placards which condemn those who associate their choice of clothing with being “deserving” of sexually violent acts.
Since 2011, Slutwalk has gone on to gain popularity in other countries, which put their own spin on the name “Slutwalk”, and use the event to highlight their experiences of being judged for sexual assault. 2012 saw London hold its very own Slutwalk, which was attended by hundreds of female protestors, mostly dressed in what they termed as being their “slutty clothes”; some bore signs which stated “you don’t have permission to touch me even if I dress like this”. Others chose to share their personal stories with placards, one of which read, “I was raped at age 13 while clearing the snow from outside my house; I was covered in warm clothes from tip to toe. Did my snow clothes turn on my rapist”?
The series of Slutwalk events in India began in Bhopal on July 17th 2011 with only 50 participants. The organizers stated that while over 5000 people had registered for the walk on a social networking site, many parents did not allow their children to attend due to the title of the walk, which, in India, translates into “Besharmi Morcha”. Unlike previous Slutwalk events, the organizers also asked the participants to “dress conservatively” as it was “against Indian culture”. The Delhi edition of the walk, which took place on July 31st 2011, was deemed “conservative” by foreign expats who participated, since participants chose to dress conservatively. This move has since been considered sensible in an Indian context, as the average woman would be wearing regular clothes as opposed to fishnet stockings, short skirts and boots, and despite her conservative clothing, is equally vulnerable to rape. The 500 participants in Delhi therefore, made their point without raising eyebrows.
The first Kolkata edition of the Slutwalk was held on May 25th 2012 and was given the title “Haato Duschoritro” which loosely translates into "Walk, you immoral woman". Made up of college students and their professors, the procession of approximately 150 individuals made their way around city streets. The city chose to dress both conservatively as well as “provocatively”, thus inviting stares and disparaging comments from numerous bystanders. That, however, was the “point”, stated a University professor, who said, “We are making a ruckus and getting reactions. Unless you break the walls of silence, nothing productive can be done”.
Slutwalk events are continuing annually despite some resistance from authorities who are unable to grasp the concept of women empowerment. The debate over whether these walks will inspire actual social change is also ensuing, while some feel that it is elitist in nature. What is evident from the number of participants and the nature of their messages however is that the walk has broken some barriers of ignorance, and is benefiting at least a section of those who have been judged and stigmatized for no fault of their own. Slutwalk can therefore be considered as a modern women’s movement, which will contribute considerably towards encouraging women’s empowerment in the near future.