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The first SlutWalk march was organized in 2011 in response to violence against women, the notion of rape culture (of women being somehow responsible for the rape) and after a police officer had publically announced that women could avoid rape if they did not dress like sluts. The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto, but SlutWalk soon gained international attention, and SlutWalks were organized all across the globe. In SlutWalk: Feminism, Activism, and Media, Kaitlynn Mendes provides research on eight countries (Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, the UK and the US) that held SlutWalks.
Mendes gives the reader a detailed discussion on the global, yet individualized take on SlutWalk in these countries, how social media was crucial to the spread and the forming of coalitions, how rape culture was challenged and how the movement was represented. In doing so, Mendes describes both the challenges and the legacy of SlutWalk.
In 2011 SlutWalk gained international attention due to the marches, where a varied crowd of women and men participated in order to support victims and survivors of rape, but also to challenge the notion that women are often responsible for rape. In many ways these marches were successful, but there were ongoing internal and external debates about the name as many people opposed the word “slut”. There were name changes and cultural changes that took place in order to situate SlutWalk appropriately in certain cultures. Women of color and other feminists also contended that the word slut was more culturally significant when discussing sexism and sexual harassment for white women and they felt that the organization did not relate well to or take into account their own experiences. In similar ways, SlutWalk and its mission was simultaneously credited for challenging rape culture and for using misguided tactics. Supporters felt that through SlutWalk they promoted awareness and challenged the notion of women being responsible for rape, while opponents felt that some tactics (such as marching in underwear) played into the male gaze and focused the attention on thin, sexy, white women only.
When it came to voicing various opinions about both local and international marches, sharing information, getting involved, spreading news and recruiting new member, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter became crucial to the cause. As organizers and members valued such sites, they also became the source of personal attacks and trolling. Discussions ensued about the proper way to deal with harassment without censoring all negative comments. Many decided not to censor any commentary at all, or to censor information that was particularly sexist, racist or discriminatory, as well as add trigger warnings to comments and threads.
Overall, despite controversy surrounding the name and critique from feminist groups stating that SlutWalk was not inclusive of their experiences or culturally sensitive, taking into account varied experiences, Mendes believes that SlutWalk did help promote and create some vital changes. Mendes states that the movement did help solidify a re-emergence of anti-rape activism around the globe and assisted in putting feminism back on the agenda, as well as promote changes around the world. Mendes states that the need to challenge and oppose rape culture does not end here, but that SlutWalk along with other feminist organizations were equally important a few years ago as they are today. She also notes that the work toward ending rape and sexual harassment will probably never come to an end.
Mendes has written an interesting book covering the history of SlutWalk even though the movement is still fairly new. She has done so in a way that highlights both the appraised and critiqued aspects of the movement, and how SlutWalk has managed to take on a global form through cultural appropriation for the various countries where marches have been held. Mendes writes in a way that is easy to grasp, explaining concepts and feminist theories as the reader moves through the chapters. The target audience is most likely those already familiar with feminism, or the SlutWalk movement, but anyone interested in these concepts would find the book appealing. The book works well in the classroom covering topics related to media, communication, feminism, activism and women’s rights and it displays one way in which a small grass movement initiated through social media can become a global phenomenon reaching millions of people and inspiring activism.
© 2015 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.