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.