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This is why Slutwalk still matters.

SW SIGNS

By KAREN PICKERING

In three years of running the march in Melbourne, I’ve had a lot of conversations about SlutWalk; some in public, on radio, television, in print, on panels and debates. But many more conversations have taken place in private and they often begin with unsolicited correspondence from strangers.

You might think I mean messages of abuse from people who are either opposed to SlutWalk, feminism, women or me in particular. I do mean that as well. I have received hundreds of messages detailing horrific acts that I deserve to be the victim of, that they hope will happen to me, mostly involving sexual assault, rape, murder, disease, and the more imaginative ones gleefully imagine me the victim of accidents that render me paralysed, unconscious or dead.

These are not so much conversations as one-way communications, some of which are reported to the police, but most of which are deleted and ignored. This kind of mail is by turns troubling, hilarious, pathetic and truly terrifying but what they don’t realise is that by contrast it can be ultimately energising.

Because much, much more important to me is the unsolicited correspondence I have received from people with an constructive idea or a sincere sentiment to share, rather than a threat to issue or abuse to inflict. I’ve gotten letters from women and men, girls and boys, young and old folks, sex workers and sex educators, teachers, lawyers, rape crisis workers, members of the clergy, police officers, grandmothers, mothers and daughters.

They write to tell you about a way in which SlutWalk changed them, opened up a space for them, allowed them the opportunity to reflect and view things differently, or see something for the very first time.

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sw clothes consentTeachers tell of their struggle to prevent the cycles of shaming that start before high school, and the gendered abuse that is casually tossed around classrooms. Lawyers talk about building defense arguments that anticipate the inevitable victim blaming that will, in all likelihood, help the alleged perpetrator escape conviction.

Rape crisis workers have told me of clients who come to them decades after the crime, their lives in pieces and their narratives full of self-reproach and shame and guilt at having brought it all on themselves. Coppers have told me that in good consience, they have advised victims not to proceed to courtrooms in which they will be retraumatised and convictions are almost impossible to secure.

Of course, some conversations start with an argument. I’ve convinced a lot of people of the value of SlutWalk by engaging in open, rational debate over their concerns. Some people don’t change their opinion, which is one hundred percent fine with me. The thing is that we’ve had a constructive conversation about women’s rights within an explicitly feminist framework. SlutWalk has already done its job here even that person remains unconvinced.

Perhaps most memorably, an elderly woman told me how she was branded a slut for going on a date with a fellow after her sweetheart was killed in the war. She had found no way to insulate her daughter from the pain of being called a moll or a scrag in the seventies, and had held her head while she cried. Her granddaughter went through the same treatment with skank and ho, and now had a daughter of her own (as well as a son). They all came to Slutwalk together; a family united against the hatred of women for simply existing. A family with a generational understanding of how female sexuality is feared, demonised and punished.

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KP article shot
Karen Pickering

But most of the messages I receive are from survivors. They all have such similar stories – nobody believed me, I thought it was my fault, I didn’t even realise it was rape. I feel their pain acutely because their story is mine. I am a rape survivor who had so completely internalised the slut shaming and victim blaming of my culture, I believed for nearly twenty years I had brought it on myself.

I joined the SlutWalk movement and offered to help organise the first march in Melbourne because I had been waiting my whole life for the feminist energy I knew was all around me to come into sharp focus. SlutWalk seemed to me the primal scream of women who were tired of being dismissed and blamed and reduced. It has always felt to me like a logical extension of the Riot Grrl movement, Women’s Liberation, the Suffragettes – it’s women standing up, doing something unthinkable, outrageous, improper and declaring that we’ve had enough.

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What I didn’t know when I began was that it would uncover my own experience and excavate the shame I felt at having failed. Failed at being a worthy, innocent, undeserving victim of rape. Now I know that sexual assualt victims don’t belong on a sliding scale with girl guides and old ladies at one end and footy slags and sex workers at the other. There are no deserving victims. Nobody is asking for it. And we won’t be silent any more.

Karen Pickering has been part of the organising team for SlutWalk Melbourne since March 2011. She is the creator and host of Cherchez la Femme, Melbourne’s monthly feminist talkshow in the pub. She tweets @ThatPickering.

She and the organising team warmly invite you to join them at SlutWalk Melbourne this Saturday at midday at the State Library of Victoria. More details @SlutWalkMelb and slutwalkmelbourne.com.au. Check the hashtag #WhyISupportSlutWalk for more reasons to join us.

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