What a difference a day makes. Saturday in London and walking the mile or so from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square, I am buoyed up by the goodwill, the solidarity and the sheer bravery of the women - and men - who have turned out for Slutwalk. Reading the online commentariat on Sunday evening, I am overwhelmed by the onslaught of opinion that is negative, disapproving and, though I may be reading between the lines, frankly alienated by the very idea.
Is slutwalk getting it wrong? Or is all this hostility as much a measure of the mountain we have to climb as opposed to a genuine helpful response?
A day of solidarity, bravery...
To begin, there is, for me, little connect between the glossy images used to tart up (sic!) media coverage of the event - and the day itself. What I saw, on the march, in Trafalgar Square, were people from every walk of life, young, old, gay, straight, mostly modestly dressed. I loved the "Pensioner slut" placard, smiled at the one declaring "I only fuck feminists", and, more seriously, approved a line summing up the entire day :"Don't tell me how to dress: tell him not to rape".
In Trafalgar Square, individuals spoke, courageously, about their experience as survivors, or as mothers, daughters, sisters of survivors. Total respect to Emily, there talking not on behalf of any organisation, but simply laying out her own experience in public, for the first time, in front of an audience of thousands.
...and the real role of the state
Asked to speak about the experience of the trans community, I felt, that i have been lucky. After all, the 'worst' I have ever experienced, just going about my daily business, is fear, threat and intimidation - unlike the dozens, hundreds of trans women who every year in the UK are beaten, injured, hospitalised... just because...
But then, as a journalist, its not my job to experience, but to tell stories: other people's stories. This year I have written extensively about the plight of trans women in fear of their lives, seeking asylum.
So I talked about Lita, a Russian trans woman who fled to Sweden after being attacked, beaten, stripped and urinated on in broad daylight. She is now in hiding after the Swedish authorities suggested she had little to fear, returning to Russia - despite the fact that her assailant was a police officer: or her main fear, legal harassment by a state that will not recognise her trans status.
I spoke, too, of Fernanda Milan, a Guatemalan trans activist, who fled to Denmark where, being placed in the male transit camp, she was raped repeatedly, violently. The police, when finally they spoke to her, were interested only in her asylum claim, alternately ignoring and blaming her for her own rape.
Which, I realise, the more I listen to those who deal with rape on a regular basis, is the core of the problem: its not just that some men rape. It is the fact that across the globe, the authorities, the legal system itself is broken when it comes to rape. Even here, in the UK, where we like to self-congratulate on our legal process, the system is simply dismissive.
Which is why I think Lisa of Women Against Rape has a point when she refuses to join the easy calls for the extradition of Julian Assange: because whatever you think of the merits of that case, it is striking how different the attitude of authority is towards this one individual, compared to how they deal regularly with other rape allegations. Sadly, though, the point is missed: WAR are not asking for especial leniency for Assange; merely that others suspected of this crime receive similar attention.
Logic fail when it comes to comments
Back though to that hostile commentary. Take Sky, f'rinstance. (Beware: some comments may be seriously triggering).
Loads of blokes going online to express conditional solidarity. OF COURSE they don't support rape: but can't these deluded women just see how they provoke it! Associating "slut" with rape is just "thick". As is walking in underwear. Don't women realise they are putting out the "wrong signals"?
Its all about nature, doncha know?
So much hostility!
And creepiness, too: the commenter who singles out one of the women depicted as especially attractive (on a thread after last year's event). Really? On a rape demonstration?
Except the real message here lies in the dishonesty of the opinion expressed. Because if these guys meant what they write, then they'd be up in arms when some council estate youth is done for joy-riding a Ferrari. Because.. . it's a Ferrari. It looks so good, its practically asking to be nicked. I wait with bated breath for that argument to arrive in court.
Were they serious about women being "to blame" if they get drunk, they'd be enthusiastic supporters of increased penalties for men who rape while drunk (and drink is so often a factor), because presumably they just KNEW that they would be more likely to lose control when under the influence - so drink is not mitigating factor, but known precursor.
If they were serious about avoiding risk, they'd be campaigning to get young men off the street, because those most at risk of violent assault at night are male youth. So just going out for the evening, men are deliberately inviting violence.
Nah. The logic just isn't there
Nor in all the stuff about covering up "a bit". Because when was the last time that a man in a nightclub went up to a young woman and politely offered to pay her taxi home so she could change into something "less provoking"?
This is religious reactionary ranty stuff (of any denomination). Stop dressing LIKE THAT - and you'll be less at risk. Only then the standard will shift, and shift again, until veils and full-length dresses will be all that's acceptable.
They perpetuate a myth, that, all evidence to the contrary, it's what women do that "causes" rape. And it's the thinly disguised rage of some of those commenting that tells me that slutwalk is right to continue.
For it means that somehow, somewhere, the central message is getting through and worse, from the perspective of the whiners, the whingers, the "wot-about-t'menz-ers" it may just be hitting a very raw nerve indeed.
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