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University News

‘SlutWalk’ confronts rape perceptions

Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2011

Clarification appended.

In January, Toronto policeman Michael Sanguinetti visited Osgoode Hall Law School to offer students advice on personal safety issues.

“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this. However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” he told the students, according to a May 8 BBC article. His comments, though brief, instantly sparked an international movement called SlutWalk, an event to combat slut-shaming, victim-blaming and rape culture.

The first SlutWalk was held April 3 in Toronto, but more, dubbed “Satellite Slutwalks,” quickly popped up in other cities around the world, including London, Asheville, N.C. and, most recently, Providence.

At noon on Saturday, around 150 supporters gathered in Burnside Park to spread their message.  

Sarah Quenon, one of the organizers of the event, said she read about SlutWalk in the news and sensed that criticism of the event — by both the mainstream media and feminist organizations — is that the “message is skewed or lost” due to the clothing choices of many participants. The name of the event often encourages attendees to dress promiscuously, Quenon said, which can undermine the goal of the walk.

“I want to send a clear message to speak out against rape culture,” she said.

Gabrielle Sclafani ’14, who performed spoken word poetry to kick off the walk, held similar concerns. “I read about SlutWalk in different cities, and I was skeptical at first,” she said. “But Providence was less focused on the spectacle of it and not a big demonstration of people scantily clad.”

Compared to media images of SlutWalks around the country, Providence SlutWalk was tame. While there were some short skirts and high heels, most attendees were expressing their views with picket signs, including “The only thing my dress asks for? Dry clean only,” “Rapists cause rape, not our clothes nor our choices” and “My dress does not mean yes.”

Franny Choi ’11 performed a poem called “China Doll” about the fetishization of Asian women to “remind the crowd that there are groups of women whose bodies always mark them as a slut.”

“It’s important to speak out against rape culture,” said Yvonne Yu ’13. She added that casual references to rape, like telling a friend “You Facebook-raped me,” diminish the seriousness of rape.

“After being at Brown for three years, I’ve realized that this is important,” she said.

Men also showed their support. Josh Kilby, a local LGBTQ activist, spoke to encourage the LGBTQ community to “get behind this new and exciting women’s movement.”

Harpo Jaeger ’14 attended “in support of other people’s right to call themselves what they want and do what they want,” he said. He added that he thought it was important for men to attend the event because “there’s a perception that feminism is only for angry women who don’t like men, but it should be possible for everyone to support women’s rights.”

Sara Molinaro ’09 from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a former Herald metro editor and editorial page board member, acknowledged a connection between domestic abuse and rape in her speech. “People ask, ‘Why doesn’t she leave? Why does she put up with that?'” Molinaro said of victims. “The question itself is unfair. Instead of asking the victim why she stayed, ask the perpetrator why they abused.”

The last speaker was Katt Shott-Mancini, another organizer of the event, who described herself as “anti-SlutWalk.”

“I have a bone to pick with this kind of activism,” she told the crowd. “It’s not about minimal clothing. It’s not about what you wear — in Toronto it was. It’s about ending rape culture.    

“You’re not proving a point by wearing heels,” she continued. “You need to follow up, go to meetings. You’ve got to do it more than one day.”

Shott-Mancini’s speech, which was littered with curse words and tinged with aggression, left several attendees confused. Though the speech was met with scattered cheers, one member of the crowd said, “I don’t feel emboldened to go out and SlutWalk.”

Still, marchers persisted with enthusiasm. Turnout was small compared to at other Slutwalks, like the 2,000-person Slutwalk Boston. But the crowds made their presence felt, chanting, “Yes means yes! No means no!” and “Hey, ho, patriarchy has got to go.”

“We’re here because we have a daughter and because we consider ourselves feminists,” said Sarah Prak, who came with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Naomi. “We’ll be able to tell her that even when you were small, you believed in expressing yourself freely and your right to say ‘no.'”

Meghan Daniel, a senior at Providence College, put it simply: “We’re here because there’s honestly no good reason not to be.”

A previous version of this article contained quotes from Sara Molinaro ’09. Molinaro is a former Herald metro editor and editorial page board member.

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