Saturday, 28 May 2011

Lancaster Slutwalk Makes Herstory!

A personal report:
Something happened today that we haven't seen in years, and I've never seen with such strength in Lancaster. Women marching together as women against sexual violence and for justice for women. Around 100 women and at least 20 men (several of whom supported the march by serving as stewards) joined the Lancaster Slutwalk, marching through Lancaster to denounce that British legal mindset that lets too many rapists go unpunished and blames the victim for the crime.

Women have been told, and many believe, that 'dressing like sluts' is asking for victimisation. Women's bodies are increasingly seen as 'porn', the female body a shameful thing, contraband that a 'decent' woman smuggles along as she goes about her business, or risks the blame for persecution. Images of women's objectified bodies are used to sell every object under the sun, creating appetites that can't be satisfied, with the delusion that they must.

It was a very noisy march, with a lot of chanting: 'Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!' And 'Hey ho, hey ho, patriarchy has to go!' and 'Slut, slag, cow whore, we won't take it any more!' Chants had been suggested at an organising meeting and approved. The latter of the three was gallantly started off by a very earnest male marcher with a meg.

There'd been some (fairly wary) heckling on the internet, and some fear expressed too that this blatant wearing of short skirts and fishnets might 'attract abuse'. That it was playing into the hands of 'sleaze seekers'.

It didn't. Shoppers on Penny Street, and throughout the route, women and men, stopped, and looked, and actually smiled. Some of the younger ones looked a bit confused, but interested. The older ones clearly understood (and heard) what all these marching, chanting women were about. Almost with pent-up relief, it looked like. I heard cheering and applause. I saw some serious nodding and some smiling approval. Or amusement. I heard a voice warm with support call, 'It's about time too!' Well, you had to be there.

The march ended in a rally in Dalton Square, where a crowd listened rapt to speakers, enthusiastically cheering points. It helped considerably that the speeches were good. What follows is my personal summary / mashup of those speeches:

Ellie Best, one of the Lancaster Slutwalk's original organisers spoke about the lack of interest or training shown in parliament when this issue is debated. That the Secretary for Justice, without research evidence or consultation, can propose his personal fantasy league of rape, as a means of assessing the rights to justice of victims of non-consensual sexual assault.

Other women and men spoke about means used, the labels and the blame. About the need to speak out against terms that denigrate women as women. Not letting these terms pass in conversations and situations without challenging them, and the objectification and pornification of women that they feed. Indeed, to speak out against any term that denies humanity in others, objectifies them to excuse abuse.

One woman mentioned Nadine Dorries MP. Her 10 minute rule bill calling for 'abstinence to be included in sex education teaching’ has recently been passed in parliament. Nadine's bill calls for girls to be compulsorily taught 'abstinence' in sex ed. Without the boys. Just the girls. If it was the girls sexually assaulting the boys, that plan might come to something. As the girls actually don't get to say who rapes them, that being the essence of rape, it's a further callous abuse of their dignity and value. It is due for its second reading in Parliament on 20 January 2012. That's what parliament thinks of women.

Parliament is consistently loading pressure onto women's jobs, wages, services, healthcare and lives to keep 'the economy' healthy. (Whose economy?) And now wasting taxpayer's money, that we work so hard to earn, teaching girls to blame themselves when they are forced to bear the burden, maybe even the unwanted pregnancy, of someone else's violent crime.

Research studies of offenders show that rapists choose their targets not because of their clothing (the most common outfit of rape victims is jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt), but because they identify a lack of confidence in them. They look for targets they see as being too frightened to fight well, and too traumatised to make a complaint.

Women should complain to the police when a sexual assault is committed. Even if they don't believe they can win their case. A complaint will go on the rapist's record. If he attacks again, a second complaint will resonate against the first, and the case should be better investigated. No man should hope to get away indefinitely with sexually assaulting women.

The attitude of the police was illustrated in 2010 by the case of Raoul Moat, the gunman. When Moat said that when he got out of prison he was going to kill his ex-partner, his warders warned the police in her area. The Northumberland police did nothing. Not even a phone call to warn her, the mother of a small child, both of them trying to rebuild a family life after years of bullying and abuse.

She was his ex, and the current enquiry will investigate this police approach that held her liable to his abuse. It seeems they were busy with more important things. But as it turned out (and as she might have informed them, had they rung her) she had attempted her own defence by lying in a letter to Moat that her new partner was a policeman. So once he'd shot her, he went after policemen as well, shooting her partner and then an actual policeman, who was blinded. At which point the police lept off their sexist cloud and went into full overdrive. Suddenly Raoul Moat was public enemy No.1. One phone call to warn a woman might have changed everything, and saved all those victims. The police didn't make it. And don't they wish they had. The circumstances surrounding Moat’s case are now subject to investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Their report is due in 2012. They welcome your comments.

Ken Clarke and Nadine Dorries have to go, back into the dustbin of old mistakes and crusty ideologies. Men are not beasts, uneducable, unevolved. Is that what the Tories see when they look at themselves? We see the skillful proofs of men's discipline in every walk of life. Women are not prey. We see the skillful proofs of women's discipline in every walk of life. In addition to which they are largely tasked with raising the nation's children, at immeasurable cost. Women are oppressed and it wastes their valuable time, skill and energy, crucial to the nation, the human species and the planet. The world has way too many problems. Only equals can solve them.

Women face sexism in every arena. There are mountains to climb. But the suffragettes had it tougher. If each person that went on this march, and each person who wants this to change, picked a foothill, of their choosing, put some energy into breaking the prejudices on one issue, challenged even one thing, and supported one another, it would make a difference.
Things change. The trick is; never give up.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant report of a brilliant event, so good to see women and men, young and old standing together in this!

Anonymous said...

Good piece. Not everyone 'got it' though, including some women watching.

My partner came home and said she sympathised with the aims but not the name. She was working in one of the shops on the route and a woman with two young children in tow asked her what it was all about, so she tried to explain what 'slut' meant without causing offence.

I know why it's called this but to me the origin doesn't matter. To me, using the word 'slut' is as bad as people who punctuate their conversations with 'f******' and 's***' in public places.

So while I think this is great that this took place, why have we become a society of shock? Ultimately, surely such tactics have to be 'upped' to cause more shock. What happened to us as a species in the last few years that's made us all so angry?

Are we men really to blame for all of this? Because sometimes that seems to be the claim. I'd like to think some of us are trying, at least.

I ummed and ahhed about putting my name to this, but since I've mentioned my partner, who certainly would never want to be drawn into discussing this in a public forum, I've decided to post this anonymously. Given the courage of the women involved in this protest this may seem ridiculous: my apologies if my choice offends.

Anonymous said...

Anon...I hear what you say. I try as a women not to fall victim to catagorising people in the same way I am often catergorised. I also believe that there are plenty of good men out there! However, the name has to be as shocking as the subject matter. Rape and the the casues of it be it social, medical etc should not have a soft name in my opinion. And rape is something to get angry about, especially if government is not doing enough! By the way, slut came possibly to mean 'slattern', a lazy and messy womam which has now come to mean something very different. In all honesty? Using the wored slattern would have confused people a lot more. Sometimes, desperate times, take desperate measures...its not always about causing shock. Maybe there people marching really feel PASSIONATE about this. I herald such attitudes... :-)

Chris Satori said...

I agree that it's an offensive word and an offensive concept. It's also a regular pre-watershed word on the BBC, used by male and female actors, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not, sometimes about themselves. I think that may stop now. It's good to complain about it, imho. Any decent person should challenge it.

You mention it was a difficult concept to highlight in a public place without giving offence. I can understand that, but doesn't it apply even more to all the porn on display in W.H. Smiths and Asda? We are offended on a daily basis. It's difficult to stop something if it's actually considered improper of one to name the offence.

I doubt you'll find many police officers using the words 's**t' and 'f*****g' in a presentation to a mixed undergraduate audience. At what he did say, I would have totally cringed. God knows how an 18/21 year old feels. Being lectured on the evils of potential sluttery before an audience including one's male peers (and academic competitors), within the context of education about rape? Ouch.

What's worse, a lot of people agreed with him. That's serious heat. And they were only kids, not working for the UN. It's great that they stood up and defended themselves, armed with facts and statistics, not prejudice.

The idea has had debate and refining since then. I don't want to reclaim the word. And I'd be very surprised indeed if any mature woman in the UK didn't recognise the concept, if not the language. We've all heard it, or its gender-biased linguistic equivalents.

I find the word very shocking. I think all the women found it hard. But it's a landmine insult in a lot of people's minds, and it needed outing and defusing. People shocked on Penny Street can surely begin to empathise with those victims of violent sexual assault who suddenly find they have it to deal with.

Anonymous said...

I find it appalling that if the police knew Moat had made threats to kill his ex, that they let him out at all. These men - Moat and also Jonathan Vass - who murdered Jane Clough were clearly threats to their ex partners yet they were still allowed to walk free to commit these horrible crimes. Even if they had called her and she knew of the danger she would probably not have been able to prevent it. The system should not have allowed them to walk free in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I am a man. I am not a rapist. I think rapists deserve to be punished.
However, by way of analogy, if I walked around late at night with £50,000 in cash and twenty rolex watches in a clear plastic bag, many people would have little sympathy if I got mugged and my valuables taken! I would not have taken adequate, sensible precautions to reduce the risk of causing temptation to the criminally inclined.
Similarly, young women who wear clothes which flaunt their bodies in a sexual way are likely to attract the 'wrong' kind of attention. I would not rape them, just as I wouldn't rob somebody even if they were flaunting their money and valuables, but there is an element of common sense here which many women appear unwilling to accept. It is just not sensible to take unecessary risks simply because you want to look like a tart but not behave like one, especially if you then walk home down dark streets!
OK, I'll sit back now and wait for the screams of slutty indignation!!!

Chris Satori said...

It's an argument that's been put forward frequently, and it's worth discussing, although it sounds like you might prefer something stronger!
The man with the cash and the rolexes might be an adequate comparison if a body was a commodity that you could just leave at home. You can't leave your body at home and you can't pretend you don't have one. Everyone knows what you are 'carrying'. One has to make a choice, whether to live in fear, scurrying invisibly in the hedgerows, or whether to stand up and experience a human life worth the living.

If you think about it, in your terms, women take risks on a daily basis for the sake of freedom and survival. That is common sense too. If they stopped, life would be over.

The other flaw with the argument is that dress is a precipitating factor in sexual assault. Statistics say not. The most common dress of victims is jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt. The precipitating factor is perceived vulnerability. ie If a target appears to lack the confidence and strength to fight back or make a coherant complaint. Dress is not a motivator for rape, it is a culturally adopted excuse for not providing a statistically credible deterrent.

The problem doesn't so much come from what women wear, as the patriarchal-religious propoganda (which you call common sense) that their bodies are commodities and also that their bodies are porn, the display of which might trigger associations of disgust / attraction / violence. In those who are more familiar with porn than with real women.

However, to women, these are simply our bodies, the vehicles of our lives, and it is frankly a drag to be continuously hassled about what it can or cannot do, or be, or look like, to the extent that the vox populi is proscribing where one cannot go, what time one must be safely home, under threat of extreme violence.

Can we go swimming? Do sports? Go dancing? Look at men? Drive a car that might one day break down? All these activities are forbidden for women in other countries, for the very reasons you present.

We in Lancaster live in the 21st century, not a jungle. We make complex rational decisions and difficult compromises every day. It is not beyond our education system to teach boys that they are not the natural predators of women, but our natural allies, or to teach girls that they have broader concerns than fear for the the slave / commodity market value of flesh they had not considered selling.

We need to think outside the box of our old preconceptions about the gender divide. I hear what you are saying about common sense, but you have to hear what women are saying about changing that situation.

First it needs for decent people to accept the very obvious fact that women have bodies. To have a body is not a crime, or a statement. It is not a commodity, or porn, or a target. Women are people, living their lives, with responsibilities and plans, loved and depended on by others. They need to pass freely, to network socially and professionally without fear or prejudice, and they have a right to pursue their harmless pleasure when their work is done, without censure.