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‘Calling it Slutwalk has made it the success it is’

By Mvelase Peppetta

When Canadian police officer Michael Sanguinetti said “don’t dress like a slut”, he’d made a huge mistake. In fact he’d touched that rock the women who’d made their way up to the Union Buildings in 1956 had warned against.

Sanguinetti’s words, uttered a few months ago when giving university students safety tips, found me waking up this past Saturday morning to take part in the Cape Town leg of a global movement known as “Slutwalk”, a hot potato of a name I’ll soon get to.

The aims of Slutwalk are … this is where the issues arise.

Slutwalk – very en vogue, a la the Middle-East uprisings or the quick trip to the high streets the youth of England recently made – is a movement organised via social media.

The brilliant upside of using social media to organise a movement, opposed to you handing out pamphlets on a street corner, is that far more people will find out about it. The downside is that the chances of it spinning out of control and becoming something you didn’t mean for it to be are far greater. One need only look to the demonstration against the death of Mark Duggan turning into the UK riots as an example.

As it were, with Slutwalk, there’s been a slight shift from the stated goals of the original Slutwalk organisers in Canada and the organisers of Slutwalk Cape Town. When I got the chance to speak to one of the organisers, Umeshree Govender (a very impressive UCT masters student) she saw Slutwalk as being part of a wider anti-rape movement.

But Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett, organisers of the original Slutwalk, saw it as a movement against “victim-blaming” ie “rape is wrong, but don’t dress like a slut”.

Certainly society’s idea, as seen in victim-blaming, that men being “animals” have some twisted “right” to access a woman’s body whenever they want is part of the wider issues of rape. But within South Africa’s context, where rape, never mind victim-blaming, is still so prevalent, I like Govender’s slight recasting. And here we get to that hot potato of a name which, for me, seemed to distract from that simpler, more straightforward reason for the march.

Though most saw fighting against rape as enough of a reason for the Slutwalk march, for some co-sluts the name itself was a reason. For that minority, the march was more about reclaiming the word “slut”.

There was something poetic about finding out that the slutwalkers who had most grabbed my attention, two 16-year-olds in full (or rather, very little) slut regalia, attended my conservative, all boys alma mater. My first memory of a “slut” was from another alma mater, an even more conservative all boys school.

It was a Friday afternoon and we, myself and some schoolmates, were hanging outside at the end of the school day when a woman walked by. In that age-old tradition of teenage boys, and the lesser evolved male, wolf-whistles and catcalls were made because, as one of my schoolmates catcalled while leering, she was dressed like a “slut”.

Those two 16-year-olds I spoke with, (un)dressed as they were — surely a mini practice session for the Gay Pride float they’ll most probably be go-go dancing on in a few years — showed a level of maturity I didn’t possess at that age.

I sure as hell would’ve loudly shouted Slutwalk’s anti-rape slogans had the 16-year-old me been told that the “slut” from my high-school memory was later raped. I’d probably have also added that “perhaps she ought to not have dressed like that”.

But those two not only know rape is wrong, they know a woman has every right to dress how she wants and if she does get attacked, it is in no way her fault.

They were quick to say they had issues with the name but decided to participate because they’re “against rape” and that to me is the crux of the issue.

Some people, like 5FM’s Anele Mdoda (who tweeted that the name Slutwalk was an “epic fail”) decided to not participate because of the name. Some people, not Mdoda though, would say “rape is abhorrent” but then warn you “not to dress like a slut”.

Rape is about power. If you can grasp that you should understand that the notion that “dressing like a slut”, even when said with the best of intentions in any context regarding rape, is just plain wrong and something to stand against.

If you were there to just stand against rape, that’s also admirable. As long as there are men who force themselves onto a woman, we need to do anything we can to make it clear it’s not acceptable.

Govender put it very well.

“We can argue semantics until we’re blue in the face but we have to admit that calling it Slutwalk has made it the success it is … it gets people to stop and think about it and it’s sad that calling it Slutwalk is what it takes. It’s better than a so-called ‘tasteful campaign’ that gets zero-to-little attention.”

That is fact.

I’m against rape and victim-blaming but were it not called “Slutwalk” I wouldn’t have marched on Saturday morning nor would I be writing this.

Marches are not a useless relic of history. We may get tired of saying the same thing time and time again; it may seem to be achieving nothing but then again, at the time, so did the march by the women of South Africa to the Union Buildings in 1956.

Mvelase Peppetta is a writer for with a chronic case of being too opinionated. Doctors are looking into a treatment.

  • Akona

    It’s true – had it been called something else it may not get this much attention.

    Anything to help speak out against rape and victim blaming

    Joburg – 24 Sept – Zoo Lake!
    Our heritage cannot be the acceptance of rape!

  • http://Facebook Leana

    Hats off to Govendor whom were able to get to the main message to be send through the slut-walk! “Slut” is in the eye of the beholder and therefore it is all about the right to be safe!!!!

  • Sarah Britten

    Putting on my communications strategist hat, I have to say that Slutwalk makes sense. There are so many causes out there – which ones do we pay attention to? There’s a very interesting case study on the Harvard Business Review which suggests that associating the colour pink with breast cancer appeals is actually counterproductive. I like the unapologetic implied aggression of Slutwalk, the reclaiming of a pejorative. This is something that many minorities have done across the world, not always with the aim of correcting injustice. But if you’re going to stand for something, go out there and do it. Stand in the middle, and you’ll get run over.

  • cyberdog

    Exactly.. just because I walk around with a T-Shirt with a Bulls-eye on the back, it in no way gives anyone the right to actually take a gun and shoot me… The same applies to womans clothing. If anyone feels that womans clothing invites rape, I feel that mens clothing invites a bullet between the eyes … Retarded, isn’t it. Woman have full right to put on as much or as little as they please.

  • MLH

    I’d prefer us to determine the issues involved in SA. Women are raped for wearing trousers (can there be anything less revealing?) or for showing too much leg, cleavage, whatever. Mini skirts were really only ever made for standing still, straight and tall — said by someone who wore them regularly in the late 60s/early 70s and had not yet been introduced to slacks.
    In a perfect world…but it isn’t!
    I am saddened today at how many teens (whose mothers should know better) display more underwear than overwear and how many pre- and early schoolers are allowed to run around in public (at swimming pools and beaches) with no clothes on at all. While rape is not the fault of the raped, it is still out there.
    For much the same reason, I don’t wear gold jewellery any more.

  • Slut-walker

    Fabulous campaign, with a fabulous name! Well done to the organisers. I’m most definitively taking part in the JHB leg of the campaign, viva slut-walk viva!

  • ian shaw

    As to sexually provocative dressing by women, I propose that men adopt tgeh medieval custom of wearing a codpiece, i.e. a hard and much decorated enclosure for the male organ. Even the armour of many knights ahd an armoured copiece. Of course well-endowed men had an extra large one and I wonder if its purpose was not to call female attention to this fact. Rape is a horrible crime and it is about power, not sex, and intentionally wearing sexually provocative attires is certainly not an invitation to rape, but it is also not a symbol of free expression. It is an equally provocative expression of female power, i.e. “we wear anything we want, and what are you going to do about it?”

  • Nompumelelo Motlafi

    I had a serious fight with someone on the Slutwalk page with me claiming that rape was more about power than sexual desire and him claiming otherwise. Eventually I conceded that I would avoid wearing sexy clothing in certain areas; but had experienced attempted rape in situations where I was fully clothed and in full view of the public.

    But – if sexual desire has anything to do with it – I wonder whether rapists are actually more sexually aroused by what they see initially or whether they are sexually aroused by the fact that they are able to put the victim in a position where she/he is powerless against the attacker.

  • Jon

    Although I had many reservations about the SlutWalk in the run up to the event, it’s interesting to see how a potentially confrontational name can cause such an impact. It’s attention grabbing, which is what we need. And we need a huge helping of confrontation to get back in the faces of the rapists and the people who either overtly, or covertly by inaction, condone rape. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest incidence of rape of any country in the world. There are an estimated 1.7 MILLION rapes a year in this country, of which only about 55,000 are actually reported, and only a very small percentage are actually successfully tried. This is simply not acceptable. Women are a precious resource and we should be taking care of them, not blaming them for becoming the victims of abuse. The government of South Africa has to wake up to the fact that we are facing a crisis of epic proportions, and that the South African people are no longer going to accept excuses.