On Saturday, Slutwalk 2013 was held in London, through Piccadilly and up to Trafalgar Square. For those of you who have missed the hype surrounding the Slutwalk marches last year, they were a response to a Toronto police officer telling women that if they want to avoid getting raped, ‘they should stop dressing like sluts’.
For me, Slutwalk has extended beyond that initial response to yet another embarrassingly misogynist epithet.
I helped organise Slutwalk in Paris last year. I marched just after I had been assaulted, again. My bruises hadn’t faded, and I still ashamed enough of what happened to me to cover them up.
When a friend of mine was brutally attacked by her cab driver, she said something that rang painfully true with me; that walking around with a bruised face as a woman made her feel awkwardly conspicuous, as if men could see her as someone who had been beaten and therefore could easily be beaten again. Her vulnerability as a woman was overly visible, and this made her feel scared.
That’s how I have felt every time I was assaulted. Of course it would happen again - because why wouldn’t it? I am too weak to protect myself. I am too stupid to avoid conflict. I am too ostentatious as a woman to fade into the background. I am here to be beaten, to be used as you wish.
So for me, working on feminist projects like Slutwalk has helped me re-empower myself after my freedom to exist safely had been repeatedly compromised.
Fashion and feminism might not seem to go hand-in-hand, but I think they’re a perfect fit. For me, clothes are an expression of self and theoretically I ought to be able to wear whatever the fuck I like without fear of being assaulted or harassed.
However, this is so far from reality that it is mind-blowing; there is rarely a morning where I get dressed and don’t feel a fleeting moment of sadness when I worry that my skirt will be attracting undue attention, that maybe my shirt is too transparent or my shoes too provocative - and for me, these feelings are borne from fear.
This fear is fairly illogical though - yes, I get more attention on some days in a miniskirt but I’ve been assaulted and harassed wearing anything from full length dresses to pyjamas to my underwear, and statistically you aren’t any more likely to be raped wearing a miniskirt than you are a pair of jeans.
This fear is something that is propagated by a victim-blaming culture that wants us to look at why men rape us, why we make ourselves so goddamn rapable, so alluring, rather than looking at why the fuck anyone is going around raping, and assaulting in the first place.
Slutwalk is special though, because we are no longer silenced. We are no longer condemned by the word ‘slut’ but can embrace it - even if you are having the amount of sex that societally deems you a slut, you do not, ever, deserve to be assaulted [incidentally, is there a sliding scale of slutdom - or are you automatically deemed a slut if you cross a certain magic number of sexual partners? And what is this magic number? I'd love to know, so I can work out exactly how much of a slut I am... --Rebecca].
Even if you are dressing like a woman who has a lot of sex (a bizarre concept in itself), you do not deserve to be assaulted.
However many times you say yes, the time you say no, or the time you are silent still deserve to be heard and respected. I wish this stuff was as common-sense as it sounds when it’s written down, but apparently it still needs articulating.
I have had relationships where partners have told me that I looked like I’d been raped, or that I looked like I was about to get raped so I ought to change, and they never understood why that felt so painful to hear.
The reality of not being able to exist on your own terms as a woman without fear of attracting unwanted attention, fear of putting yourself physically in danger, is devastatingly upsetting to me.
Once when I reported being beaten up by a group of men, the police woman asked me if maybe they had done it because they thought I was a prostitute.
I was furious - even if they had, did that make it okay? Did being mistaken as a sexworker place me in a realm of women who deserve to be used and beaten on the terms of men?
The banners on the Slutwalk march empowered me because they empowered every woman - mothers, prostitutes, pensioners, teenagers. My understanding of feminism does not discriminate based on profession, or race or age or religion.
It was powerful to march alongside the English Collective of Prostitutes, young teenagers, older women, women wearing their knickers and women wearing burqas. Women who didn’t care what the woman standing next to her looked like or sounded like or dressed like, but just cared that she felt safe and empowered too.
The collections of signs bearing statistics repeatedly brought me back to reality when it started feeling like a party. Looking around me at signs reminding me that rape conviction rape in the UK is 5.3%, that there are only 15 sexual assault referral centres in the UK and at least 47,000 rapes a year, that 26% of people think a woman is responsible for her rape if she was wearing revealing clothing (34% if she was flirting), that one in three women experience sexual assault - these are terrifying figures. But marching alongside people who wanted to protest against this inequality, gave us a collective voice.
The atmosphere was brave and warm and loving - there were signs that made me laugh, banners that spoke on their own terms, chants about loving your cunt that were sung through Trafalgar Square. I felt united and fearless and powerful - as if I could have marched in my undies if I wanted to (I didn’t - it was very cold) and not been afraid. And that is an awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I just hope that the rest of the world is listening.
Have you attended any of the Slutwalks? How do you feel about the campaign to reclaim the word ‘slut’? I want to know in the comments!
Olivia is on Twitter @oliviasinger