Date Set for Melbourne SlutWalk

On January 24 this year, Toronto policeman Michael Sanguinetti walked into a lecture room at Osgoode Hall Law School to deliver a talk to 10 people on campus safety. He began his talk with a line that has since passed into infamy: “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” Sanguinetti must be wishing he’d heeded the advice. His statement, which he has since retracted, prompted a debate that in turn has become a movement.

The first SlutWalk was held in Toronto, and women are SlutWalking through the streets of cities across North America, Europe and now Australia. Boston’s took place last weekend. Melbourne is set to join the worldwide SlutWalk movement on Saturday May 28. Other SlutWalks are planned in the UK for London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Katt Schott-Mancini, an organiser of the Boston SlutWalk, summed up the motivation behind the SlutWalk in the following way: “What you are wearing doesn’t cause rape – the rapist causes it.”

The number of sexual assaults in Australia trended upwards by approximately 50% between 1995 and 2007, about twice the rate of Australia’s population growth in the same period. There were 19,781 recorded sexual assaults in Australia in 2007, or slightly more than one every half hour of every day.

Anti-pornography activist Dr Gail Dines - who will be appearing in Melbourne as a guest of the Wheeler Centre on the eve of the Melbourne SlutWalk - has questioned the use of the word ‘slut’. “Women need to take to the streets,” she writes, “– but not for the right to be called ‘slut’. Women should be fighting for liberation from culturally imposed myths about their sexuality that encourage gendered violence.”

Feminist writer and activist Ray Filar has responded to Dines by labelling the SlutWalks a reprise of the riot grrl culture of the 1990s. “There is room for more than one feminist march,” writes Filar, “and more than one kind of feminist activism.”

A (male) organiser of the Los Angeles SlutWalk has responded to Dines more stridently. Hugo Schwyzer has blogged, “SlutWalk stands for the principle that no matter how short the skirt, no matter how high the heel, no matter how promiscuous the past, every woman is entitled to freedom from verbal or physical sexual assault.”

Melbourne academic Lauren Rosewarne sees the debate re-exposing the divide between second- and third-wave feminism: “The movement of slutwalking is the fascinating phenomena [sic] of what happens when the political passions of the second-wave fantastically crash into the third-wave’s warm embrace of sexuality performed in all its spectacular, confronting and revealing glory.”

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