Back in January, a constable from the Toronto Police  gave a talk at a college, where he advised female students to stop being so slutty if they didn’t want to be raped. “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized,” he cautioned his audience.

And in response, SlutWalk was born.


It happened in Toronto and Chicago and LA and Boston and London, and on October 1st, it is coming to New York City. Not sure why we’re so late to the game, actually. That’s a little weird.

SlutWalk is a protest movement. It wasn’t originally supposed to involved a lot of very, very revealing clothing, but participants made their own rules, and now it seems to be expected that plenty of the people marching will be doing so in their, well, sluttiest outfits. The point being, I think: I can wear whatever I want, and that doesn’t mean you get to do anything you want to me.

In college I took a class called Women and Politics. It was my first Gender Studies class, and it was held in a huge auditorium, with about 150 students.

During the first class, the professor asked us to raise our hand if we thought that rape had nothing to do with what a woman was wearing or how she presented herself. Only fifteen people or so raised a hand. I was stunned. Really? People think like this?

They definitely do. And it definitely needs to stop.

But at the same time, there’s something about SlutWalk that makes me a little, little bit uncomfortable. Like the amazing Virginia of Beauty Schooled and iVillage (who I always find myself copying– this time accidentally), I have some qualms. And they aren’t easy to articulate. But I will try.

First of all, though: I think it sounds like a lot of fun. I want to do it. Maybe wearing the skankiest outfit you can piece together doesn’t make the right point. Maybe the point should be that women are perceived as sluts no matter what they wear. Maybe wearing the skankiest outfit you can imagine makes the right point. We should be able to wear anything, or nothing, and it shouldn’t impact our safety. Either way, it just sounds amazing to march with a whole bunch of women. And I think I’d go skanky, personally, because I feel too shy to normally, and it’d be nice to do it in, well, such a safe environment, where I could dress for fun, without worrying about getting a lot of attention. It would be pretty nice if the whole world was like that.

But it isn’t. And “slut” is still an uncomfortable word for me. It sounds a little violent. It hits my ear like a slap. It doesn’t quite work. I don’t really want to reclaim it, because I don’t hear myself in it at all. I hear someone saying something wrong about me. Something that needs to be corrected.

Slut is a word that has never made sense to me, actually. A slut is a woman who sleeps with a bunch of guys. So most women are sluts? It’s vague, and yet bitter. A slut is a woman who wants sex too much. Why is wanting sex a bad thing? “Slut” carries an old, vicious, malice. A fear and anger towards women who are comfortable with their bodies, and women who enjoy sex, and women who seem too wild and too difficult to control.

My friends ask me sometimes, “Will he think I’m a slut?”

They say, “But I’m not a slut!” defensively, when they’re talking about how many guys they’ve hooked up with.

But who would even think for a second that they were? Who can make enough sense of the vagueness of the word to apply it? When does it ever make sense?

I don’t want to proudly call myself a slut. I want to proudly insist there is no such thing.

And maybe SlutWalk does that. Look! It says. We’re ALL sluts! Therefore, none of us can be.

But at the same time, there’s a twinge of something else…That effort I feel feminists making so often to be sexy. To flip off the endlessly lingering stereotypes about ugly, man-hating feminists, and show up in the highest heels possible, with the reddest lipstick. As though we still need to prove that we are hot.

I don’t want to have to prove anything.

I want to get together with women to protest rape and unfair sexualization. But I really, really, don’t want to call myself a slut.

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts.

A version of this piece is up on HuffPo here.



Kate on July 27th 2011 in body, feminism

27 Responses to “SlutWalk”

  1. Noel responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    You raise great points here! I agree with the point of the march, as you do. But as you said so well, slut is such an ugly word. It’s hard to reconcile with good of the march with that … concept.

  2. Harriet responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    I absolutely agree with this post. Not all words are worth “reclaiming.” I’m for freedom of sexual choice, and respect for sexuality, and making judgments for myself, based on what is right for me to do. “Slut” is a label applied from the outside–it expresses another person’s judgment of my sexuality. I want to be the one making the judgments. I don’t need to be given any label, empowering or not, based on the choices I make about sex–I just want the freedom to make those choices. If a label is necessary, I pick “autonomous.” But Autonomous Walk doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  3. Kate responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Ha! Your last line made me smile. You’re right, and it’s too bad.

  4. Jak responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    My favorite definition of a slut is “a woman who sleeps with people, just not with *you*”. Because you’re right, the word sounds horrible just coming out of your mouth.

    I like the idea of Slutwalk but I just don’t know that it hits the right notes. It’s grown out of the first bit of the movement but I don’t think the message has spread as effectively as it should for what it’s actually about.

  5. Meg responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Kate, I love your blog! I always think, going in, that I have an easy answer to whatever you’re working out, and then you point out all these interesting things I hadn’t thought of and give me something to chew on for the rest of my day!

    @jak, that’s my favorite definition too.

  6. San D responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Dear Constable,
    I thought rape had to do with being vulnerable to another’s overpowering advances regardless of clothing style. Oh silly me. Although I do admit that I think what we as humans choose to wear sends all kinds of messages, real or imagined. But that said, call me crazy, but I haven’t heard an alleged perpetrator accused of rape say “it was her clothing that made me do it”. Just sayin’

  7. Terri responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    This issue has provided fodder for endless dinner table conversations with my husband this summer. If the same is happening in other households across the land then much of the impact of the “slut walks” is accomplishing it’s purpose in ways that don’t require dressing up.

    I’m a second wave feminist and I’ve had my reservations…too.

  8. Emily responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Great thoughts, Kate. I agree in many ways. In a perfect world, one’s sexual choices wouldn’t require linguistic categorization (be it “slut” or “prude.”) They’d just be your choices, and that would be that. There would be no need for a word like “slut.” The thing is, until (if) that world ever shows up, OTHER people will still use these labels. I can’t control what words other people use to describe me, but I can control how I define them to myself. That’s what I think SlutWalk is all about. If THEY are going to level these words at us, we can negate the meaning of it by taking something shameful and making it something different. When you see people dressed like strippers next to 40something moms all marching under a banner with this word on it… maybe it saps some power from the word itself. Maybe some day it won’t mean anything at all.

  9. Ashling responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    While I appreciate the sentiment, rape is about power, anger & control and has very little to do with how a womon is dressed (or not) regardless of anyone’s disgustingly ignorant and unprofessional statements to the contrary (I do hope he lost his job). I don’t honestly see what point is being made to those NOT participating in the walk. If it feels empowering to womyn to march through the streets scantily clad, go for it! Grab that empowerment and self-expression with gusto & enjoy! I just think there needs to be a self-honesty in why one chooses to participate and what one believes can be accomplished.

  10. Emily responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    I used to get called slutty alot and it was well before I had ever had sex. I’ve had big breasts since 13 or 14, and it has always been quite a challenge to find clothing that fit, looked cute and stylish… but somehow didn’t reveal the giant mounds of flesh attached to me. Obviously, this wasn’t something I could accomplish, so I tried to get used to some facts. 1. I pretty much always have cleavage. 2. if I don’t wear a bra, I will get stares, some from girls who hate me because they think I’m being slutty. Some from guys who like to yell from cars so that I know I look slutty.

    It never mattered what I was wearing. I got called sluttly. I was clearly the sluttiest virgin on earth.

    The best moment was at youth group, when a younger boy tried to feel me up during the customary hug goodbye. I pulled away. “What are you doing?” He raised his eyebrows at me and said “come on” before trying to grab at me again.

    I took a few steps back and looked at a guyfriend for support. He shrugged “come on emily, look at what you are wearing You are kind of slutty.”

    I looked down at my jeans and tee-shirt. the shirt was thick but white. you could still see the outline of my skin toned bra through the material.

    And that was my last day at youth group.

    Point is that even at a young age, these guys thought that it was ok for them to try to feel me up because they thought I was dressed slutty. To this day, I ask my fiance all the time “is this too slutty to wear out?” He looks confused. “you aren’t slutty. I don’t know what that means about the clothes. You never look slutty”

    Maybe the march isn’t about reclaiming the word slut. Maybe it is about reclaiming our bodies and our right to have as much of it covered as we like. I don’t want to have to feel ashamed everytime I wear a bathingsuit, because my breasts are apparently innately slutty. If we are going to get called sluts anyway – we may as well remind them that it doesn’t mean they get to put their hands on us.

  11. Diana responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Why are we having SlutWalk in October when it’s cold out??

  12. Lili @ Relatable Style responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    They say, with paedophiles, it’s not the beauty in children that attracts them, it’s the damage. Children from broken homes are easier to lull in. I don’t know if this is true, but it does make sense to me. I wonder if there is any characteristic in rapes of grown women like this, anything that correlates? Maybe it comes down to the rapists’ preference? I know they sound like harsh questions, so I’d like to add that I see rape as a despisable crime and I think it’s completely the attackers’ fault… I just wondered about it reading how few people raised their hands. I wondered if something makes women more likely to be victims (like demigraphics, which is quite obvious).

  13. Raven responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I was being called a slut in a private, Episcopalian preparatory school where we wore school uniforms simply because I *liked* a boy–because I wanted a boyfriend with whom I could hold hands and kiss. The word is, as you say, too vague. That even having a crush in the most innocent way can be considered slutty is worrisome.

    There was a SlutWalk in Seattle, too. People wore provocative and revealing clothing as well as t-shirts with SlutWalk themed slogans. Men walked, women of all ages, even children. The point is, as I’m sure you’re aware (but the constable wasn’t) that people regardless of age, sex, or attire get raped; women bear the brunt, but is the 83 year old grandmother at fault for wearing a housecoat that went above the ankle?

    I wasn’t able to attend due to my health, although I had planned to take my ten year old daughter with me with a t-shirt that read “My Mom is a Slut”, but read an article about an important phrase for people who identify with the word or try to turn it into something positive (because whether we agree with its use or not, plenty of people still use it in their daily lives):

    “Sluts don’t deserve to be raped either.”

    It’s simple and obvious and everyone should get it, but clearly, by the quote from the Toronto constable, this word is pervasive even in the minds of people sworn to protect others from rape. Blaming the victim/survivor is so much easier than addressing the complexities of violence against women, as is assigning a defaming label.

    The first time I ever heard “slut” used in a positive instead of pejorative manner was in the title “Ethical Sluts,” an introductory book discussing polyamory that I read when I started living with someone who identified as poly.

    Taking the word and making it into a positive–to mean someone who is at home and comfortable with her body and sexuality or who has a sensual air about his movements and speech–helped me turn back on all the times I got called a slut for liking someone in middle school, for maintaining a two and a half year monogamous relationship in high school, or for having developed large breasts in my mid-teens.

    I can look back now and say that yes, I did seem to have a sensual air about me at an earlier age than most, and I was comfortable with my body and my sexuality. So why did it make them uncomfortable? Perhaps that’s an explorative topic for my own blog. ^_^

  14. Taryn @ thefitflosser responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 1:17 am #

    Absolutely you should wear your best “slut” outfit and march the streets with pride! In no way should a woman’s safety be compromised because of her freedom of expression.

    Perhaps the shape of a woman’s body is considered slutty due to her natural curves and alluring breasts. Would it be better if we were all anorexic and resembled a young, shapeless boy? Of course not! Show off those curves!

  15. laura krueger responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 6:48 am #

    “TAKING SLUT BACK”: the meaning of the word IS changing. young girls prefer to be called a slut rather than a bitch.when I was at highschool, if they started calling you a slut, you could forget it. not one guy would ask you to go out. this has changed, I think. I even found a brand of t-shirts using the word slut, and not in the negative way: it IS changing.

  16. Rosa responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    For what it’s worth Heather Corinna, the founder of sex-ed site Scarleteen, has written a bit about the (often incorrect) impression that Slutwalks are all about women in lingerie here:

  17. Yet Another Kate responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    There was a SlutWalk here in Austin, I wanted to go but was out of town that weekend.

    When I was in college, I saw my first-ever protest. It was against violence towards women and about 200 women marched through campus chanting “Yes means Yes, No means No, whatever we wear, whatever we go.” I still remember seeing those women and thinking how awesome it was.

    The idea of SlutWalk totally took me back to that, and if I could have gone I’d have been wearing as little as possible. I think that point is worth making – whatever we wear, whatever we go, it is not OK to judge us, to act violently towards us.

    Also, Emily, I totally relate to your comment up there, as someone whose massive boobs came in around age 11. Wearing a tank top could get me kicked out of some places, lol.

  18. Nina responded on 29 Jul 2011 at 3:16 am #

    fantastic post.
    you’ve pretty much covered all of my own feelings on this topic

    Emily: yep. same deal for me too. sluttiest virgin at my school apparently. i can’t help if i look more sexual than my friend with the boyish figure.

    and i have to disagree with anyone who says you are more likely to get raped if you dress sluttily. rapists tend to look for weakness, not confidence.

  19. Rebecca responded on 29 Jul 2011 at 10:45 am #

    As another woman with full assets, and they were full in 4th grade, I understand what ya’ll mean when you say that you were treated differently because you had massive boobs! I’ve always wondered why that was… it wasn’t like I had them shipped in from a mail-order catalog!!

    That said, I also dislike the word slut because it makes such a huge judgment against the person it is being said to, of, etc. Why do people feel they have the right to say those things? It’s one thing to take the power out of a word by using it yourself or using it about yourself, but I think it is truly vicious and hateful to make that kind of criticism or judgment about someone else.

    Quick story: my grandmother was a pillar of the church she attended and was often asked about different things. One Sunday, the “ladies” of the church were outside talking about (gossiping) one of the other Sisters and her conduct (they wouldn’t have used the word slut in that time), and they asked my grandmother’s opinion. She was quiet for a bit and then told me that Sister made the best chocolate pie she had ever put in her mouth. The group quickly broke up and, as the story goes, never discussed this matter again!

    I say let’s find the good and leave the prejudice, condemnation and judgments out of it completely!!!

  20. Liz responded on 29 Jul 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    I completely agree with you when you wrote, “I don’t want to proudly call myself a slut. I want to proudly insist there is no such thing,” and “I want to get together with women to protest rape and unfair sexualization. But I really, really, don’t want to call myself a slut.”

    Why can’t they just call it “The Stop Rape Now Walk” and everyone could dress as they please? “Stop Rape Now” sends the same message as “Slut Walk” without making people uncomfortable or labeling. I am uncomfortable with the “Slut Walk” title. I feel like using that title is a way of gaining attention, but not in a positive way. It sort of seems like some cheesy reality show. Like “Hey, look at me.” I hate to say that because I’m completely pro the cause!!

  21. Beth responded on 30 Jul 2011 at 8:53 am #

    I’m with you on not reclaiming the word “slut.” That implies that there was ever any positive meaning in it–that it was every a word that we owned. In fact, it’s always been a word to put down women, to show power over them.

    Personally, I’m all about sex inside of marriage, but it drives me crazy that a sexually promiscuous woman is a slut, whereas a sexually promiscuous man is… a player? A stud? Just a boy being a boy? A man can do the same thing and get no shame from society.

    That’s why we shouldn’t “reclaim” the word slut. The word is completely unfair.

  22. Konrad responded on 31 Jul 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    There was recently one in Portland as well. I didnt realize that it had grown from such a large movement. I’m glad that people are taking a stand on this to work against ignorance.

  23. Caley Philipps responded on 04 Aug 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Reminds me of a post on i can read…

    “We live in a society that teaches Don’t Get Raped instead of Don’t Rape.”

  24. Lara responded on 11 Aug 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    There was a rape trial in Italy awhile back where the guy was found not guilty because the victim was wearing jeans. The defense said (and the jury obviously agreed) that you can’t rape someone in jeans – jeans are too hard to remove, especially in a struggle. Jeans cannot be removed without the wearer’s assistance.

    Now I see buttons and bumper stickers opposing this ruling with an image of jeans.

  25. shevrae responded on 12 Aug 2011 at 10:01 am #

    While I agree that clothing choices probably don’t have that much to do with it, I DO wish women would be more careful in their decisions regarding drugs and alcohol. These substances impair your judgment and can make it impossible for you to resist the advances of someone – be they a rapist or a fellow at a party who is just as drunk as you are. If we want to be women in control of our lives – it requires we actually BE in control of ourselves.

    And I’m not implying that a woman who drinks alcohol is “asking for it” – the person at fault (legally and morally) is ALWAYS the person who forces something on a woman she doesn’t want. I AM saying that impaired judgment all around can make it difficult delineate later what exactly was wanted and when.

  26. vic responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    I agree with you about the words slut walk. Maybe instead of that title it should be “I’m Fucking Mad and I’m Not Going To Take it Anymore!” walk

  27. Victor M Paz Jr responded on 21 Feb 2013 at 12:51 am #

    Damn…. Where was I during this in the last 2 years… Awesome.