Protest · Rape

A Day Late and A Dollar Short: My Thoughts on Slutwalk London

Slutwalk London has been much criticised in the blogosphere for its Twitter support of Julian Assange. This fits with some of the broader failings I found at the march itself, and I thought it would be useful to write a post specifically about the successes, problems, and failings as I saw them on the day.

Fundamentally, this year’s Slutwalk was a fantastically well organised event. Helped by its international nature and the extensive media coverage it has enjoyed, it was very well publicised and conveniently located. The choice to hit Piccadilly and then go on via Oxford Street to Trafalgar Square made it very much an everywoman march and the focus was very definitely on the public.  There was a strong sense of solidarity and camaraderie as the march progressed, with chants being made up on the hoof and taking off through the crowd. On arrival in Trafalgar Square, we were met by a well-prepared lineup of awesome speakers. The organisers had clearly made a commitment to be inclusive, focusing on individual experience and the real impact and emotion involved, whilst not forgetting the importance of the credentials many of the women brought or the impact made by the organisations and campaigns they head up.

The list of speakers ban be found here: http://slutmeansspeakup.org.uk/post/6449572406/speakers and notably included talks on trans* experience and the experience of women involved in sex work or the asylum system. Slut Means Speak Up, the group who organised the Slutwalk have launched Slut Means Speak Up as an ongoing campaign. Their website encourages supporters to have an inclusive approach to gender in their own work, and to address intersectionality in their discussions.

While the Slutwalk organisers are to be applauded for making an effort to be inclusive in their speakers, the same unfortunately could not be said of the mere mortals doing the marching. Most women came in groups, either with their student women’s rep, or as part of existing feminist organisations.The extent to which the march had reached women outside the usual activist circle seemed to be limited, with most people appearing to know a number of other women on the march.

Whilst a number of men joined the march, there were probably more male photographers than attendees, and photography tended to be focused on the most scantily-clad women with a frequency that suggested the motivations behind the photography were not always entirely on message. Slutwalk gets a lot of publicity from the controversy surrounding it’s method of communication, and while I felt that this was a necessary and important part of the march, I also felt that more could be done to ensure that (particularly photographic) media coverage was on message. Feminism shouldn’t have to be sexy to get coverage. Pun unintended.

There appeared to be few visibly trans* women there and while I hope that is simply a matter oversight on my part, I think it is important to remember that being invited is not the same as being welcomed and even being welcomed isn’t enough if you’ve stayed away because of bitter experience at other events. It would be interesting to know whether women who don’t currently pass stayed away and what could be done about it in future. 

A major problem with the event was the extensive involvement of the Socialist Worker, a publication which has a historically poor track record on, well, involving women at all. There seemed to be an overarching assumption that the majority of march-goers were socialists, or at least strongly left leaning. Becoming a feminist does not necessarily entail becoming a socialist. Many of us are conservative, or libertarian, or liberal, or..well, an odd mixture of ideological and political views. Presenting feminism as a tenet socialism seems an unnecessarily alienating approach to a subject that it should be possible to get everyone to agree on. It misrepresented the views of many of us on the march and, worse, it allowed a movement that has historically actively oppressed women to appropriate our event to push an agenda which had nothing to do with rape.

The disappointment that I and many women felt at this aspect of the march was intensified further by the support for Julian Assange’s position that he should be tried for the rape of two women in the UK, rather than Sweden, the home country of both women and the country in which the rapes took place. * It is not impossible to demand 1) that rape is always investigated thoroughly and prosecuted carefully in the jurisdiction where the rape took place and 2) that whistleblowers are not allowed to be extradited to countries where they may face the death penalty, or countries which have a known history of torturing political prisoners. It IS impossible to say that either of those causes takes priority and maintain a reasonable position. Survivors cannot be denied justice because their rapist is politically important. In fact, the political agenda behind the Julian Assange case highlights to us all what authorities CAN do when they REALLY care about catching a rapist, and it’s a standard we must hold them up to in every. single. case.

The disappointments of the Slutwalk highlight the need for an ongoing discourse on how such events should be run, how we can include people who currently feel unwelcome, how we can reach people who haven’t been radicalised by University, how we can win back those who were radicalised then lost their way, and how we can prevent feminism from being claimed as a leaf on the tree of socialism.

 

*I haven’t seen the Twitter comments, as I do not have an account, and am happy to be corrected if anything I have said misrepresents what was said there.