The Problem With SlutWalk’s New Name

Yes, the term "slut" is controversial and uncomfortable. Wasn't that the point?


As a woman pushing 30, I’ve been called a slut more times than I care to think about.

Most women have. Cruelly by partners. Casually by gossips. Playfully by friends. Randomly by strangers.

I’m not sensitive to many words, but this one has always bothered me, has always lingered in the air a couple extra seconds. Drop the dreaded “C word” on me and I won’t blink, but “slut” — a tidy little package of judgment, shame and manipulation — has always felt unusually heavy.

When SlutWalk Philadelphia debuted in 2011, I didn’t necessarily like the name. It made me, like a lot of people, uncomfortable at first — and it should have. Like the word, the SlutWalk has pretty uncomfortable origins: A protest march that eventually went global, it began in Toronto after a police officer advised women to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Instead, women decided to take a little stroll together in fishnets.

I have no real interest in “reclaiming” the word – you can keep this one, among others. But if it’s going to be used against us, I’m personally in favor of harnessing its power to call noisy, unladylike attention to the idea that what we wear somehow determines that it’s OK to harass us.

Which is why when the SlutWalk returns this weekend as the “March to End Rape Culture,” a rebranding it debuted last year, I can’t help but think that it’s lost some of its power.

Like many of the affiliated walks, Philly’s chapter decided to shed the controversial name in favor of something less offensive. While other cities caved to feminists who reject the word and officials who think it invites trouble (head smack), local organizers have cited the concerns of black participants – who expressed in an open letter that they don’t identify with the term – as the motivation behind the switch.

It’s hard to argue with the Philadelphia organizers’ reasoning. Whatever you want to call it, Saturday’s walk should be as inclusive as possible, and the title shouldn’t get in the way of all of us coming together to protest the completely batshit tradition of shaming women who take an ownership of their bodies and sexuality.

But, “The March to End Rape Culture”? If SlutWalk was unusually abrasive, this one is unusually sterile.

Because you know who is likely to get into a discussion about “rape culture”? People with too many graduate degrees and a fetish for paradigms. You’re preaching to the preachy choir here with such a fussy, academic term — or worse, discouraging a conversation with the choir. No one is going to tell you that they are in favor of “rape culture” and don’t understand why women have the audacity to walk down the street and expect to not be sexually assaulted. We’ve pretty much agreed on this — or rather, we think we’ve agreed on this.

But “SlutWalk”? This one opens up quite the conversation. Plenty of people, including police officers on the record, will tell you that women who dare to take off their cardigans are to blame for the catcalls. Plenty of people will happily weigh in on what makes you a “slut,” including using birth control (noted, Rush Limbaugh!) and interning at Planned Parenthood (classy one, Miss America detractors).

Ultimately, I don’t know what I want Saturday’s walk to be called, but I want it to be as uncomfortable as telling women that their dignity is conditional. It’s a little wordy, but the “Are You Fucking Kidding Me Right Now?” walk has a certain ring to it.

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