Recently on Twitter, I mentioned attending Slutwalk with my 7 year old daughter and something predictable happened. I was told off by some men for being an irresponsible, hysterical mother and politicising my daughter against her will.
That someone on the Internet thinks you’re wrong isn’t news – that is a rite of passage as hallowed as two people falling in love before resetting their relationship status until it all devolves into screeching obscenities at each other via Facebook – what is news is that Slutwalk is gaining serious momentum through grassroots support and social media planning and some feminist crossfire.
Slutwalk is a sharp, witty and thoroughly snarky event of its time, born from a policeman’s counsel that women should not dress like “sluts” if they want to avoid being raped. Event organisers around the world have turned the word into a rallying cry and international movement.
As a march that puts attackers on notice that they are out of excuses - they are the only ones to blame for sexual assault – Slutwalk has reached Australia with apt timing. While the event may not change a media who refer to crimes as “scandals”, alleged attackers as “the great seducer” or victims as “strays”, Slutwalk has received saturation coverage in the press thanks to the irresistible media appeal of the vague promise of provocatively-dressed theatre, factional feminist fighting and that word.
But what is it about the word slut? Initially used to describe a woman of poor hygiene, it has taken on a more carnal turn to describe any woman who has sex in a manner that apparently upsets others. Whether it is too much, too enjoyed, too independent of socially-accepted courtship rituals is in the eye of the slut-shaming beholder. The word encapsulates the latent victimising that lies in the heart of how the law and media approach sexual assault: was the victim to blame? What did she do wrong? That is why thousands of women are rising up for Slutwalk.
By explaining the word slut to my daughter and the concept behind Slutwalk, I managed to cure my own reaction to it
I initially blanched when I told my 7 year old I was attending Slutwalk. To say the word out loud felt like I was tainting her somehow. Discomfort at exposing her to a word less diabolical than my usual fare during the several hours of Tourette’s-burdened Sunday morning political television programming.
How does one explain a slut to a 7 year old? I explained that words can change with time. In the old days, a slut was someone who didn’t have a bath but that today people use it for all sorts of reasons and they were often bad ones. I then told her about Slutwalk, a group of people who believe no one is allowed to be mean to one another and that, if someone has been hurt, we shouldn’t call them names but give them the support and protection they need.
It was as simple as that.
By explaining the word slut to my daughter and the concept behind Slutwalk, I managed to cure my own reaction to it and gain a 7 year old desperate to attend her first march to say no to “all the bullies” of the world.
Will this politicise or indoctrinate my daughter into a life deprived of independent thought? Oh please. I would love to indoctrinate my child. Manchurian that candidate, show me how, I am damn well begging you. No, any parent will tearfully share their near-Sisyphean trials to instill a regular thought or behaviour in their progeny. Children are like cats, but with a far superior agenda on the matter of acquiring toys.
But it’s sweet that anyone could think a child is so easily swayed.
Hopefully come Saturday, my daughter will simply see thousands of people from all walks of life who believe in acceptance of others and being good. That’s a pretty potent message for a young girl.
Amy Gray is a writer and ABC radio regular. Her written and photographic work has been published by Five Mile Press, BBC and Lonely Planet. She also blogs at Overstimulated.
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