Feminism: back by popular demand!

Submitted by cathy n on 13 June, 2011 - 2:51

For our previous article on the politics of Slutwalk, see here.

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After weeks of debate and controversy about the politics of Slutwalk the London march on 11 June was positive and full of a feeling of solidarity. The crowd of 5,000, marching through London shouting “Whatever we wear, wherever we go; yes means yes and no means no!”, was diverse: people of all sexualities and genders, not overwhelmingly white (which had been a particular concern). It was, however, mainly a demonstration of youth!

In contrast to movements like Reclaim the Night – men, transgender people and sex workers’ organisations were not only “allowed in” but actively invited. We spoke to Irish sex worker-led campaign Turn Off The Blue Light who said the Slutwalk organisers had called and asked them to come to London — “We would like to thank Slutwalk London…all too often sex workers are excluded in society”.

Speakers at the end of the march included representatives from Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Gender Action for Peace and Security and the English Collective of Prostitutes who received a good reception from the crowd when they advocated complete decriminalisation of sex work.

Workers’ Liberty activists stood in solidarity with the message that that rape is about power not sex: we need to challenge the routine placing of sexual violence alongside the diversionary and offensive idea that men “just can’t resist” a woman in a short skirt.

With others from anti-cuts groups including the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts Women, Westminster University Women and Royal Holloway Feminist Society we also highlighted that we need campaigns to defend and extend women’s services, sex education and the social provision to make liberation a reality. Our placards read “stop shutting safe havens for women and children” and “no women’s liberation without socialism, no socialism without women’s liberation”.

The left was there too. But the Counterfire-organised “Hoodies, Hijabs and Hotpants” bloc didn’t seem that visible, although we saw one woman marching in a burkha. The SWP had gone for a not very political “No means no, Clarke must go!”….

However, the majority of banners and placards were homemade. Organised by university undergraduates and college students, Slutwalk motivated many younger women to get involved – new to activism and feminism but eager to make their voices heard and declare their right to dress and behave how they like without being attacked or blamed.

Politically Slutwalk remains broad and difficult to define —this could be a good thing but it also needs continued discussion. Feminist activist group, Feminist Fightback (www.feministfightback.org.uk) distributed a leaflet on the day highlighting a key debating point — how do we move on from "subverting" "slut" to a fuller anti-capitalist feminist politics about violence against women.

Organisers in Toronto have already begun to plan another march for next year and London organisers are establishing a “Slut means speak up” campaign around various issues. Their first action is a petition on the fact that 90% of rapes go unreported, and only 6.7% of those result in conviction.

What will Slutwalk become? Where will it go from here? We don’t know, but a 5,000 strong march is a good starting place: as one placard put it, “feminism: back by popular demand!”

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