Three years ago I founded Slut Walk Lanark County. I created a Facebook page and started getting the word out. I formed a committee to help organize our first event and recruit supporters. Many people I spoke with in the field of advocating for women supported me and were excited to finally have a Slut Walk in our County. In September 2014 was launched at a Take Back The Night event in Carleton Place. The local newspaper wrote about it, and there was a small buzz created. But when it came time to organize the inaugural march, the community was not supportive. Businesses refused to sponsor the March or put posters up, schools would not allow me to come speak to students and some of the organizations that supported SWLC were threatened with funding being pulled if they associated themselves with SWLC. Though the need for Slut Walk was glaringly apparent in Lanark County, it was not supported and so, the inaugural march was postponed. Public education was going to be the focus of the local chapter with a view to organizing a march in the future.
The progress of creating public awareness about what Slut walk is about and why we need it in our County has been slow and uphill. At other events meant to educate people about rape culture, domestic violence and gender based violence, I would be there, talking about Slut Walk and handing out pamphlets and posters. People were not receptive and even refused my posters because the word “Slut” was on them. This word is so offensive to people that they cannot even touch a paper with the word printed on it. This made me frustrated, no, angry, because women and girls are called Sluts every day and we have to just live with it, accept it as normal, as okay. But, it’s not!
There have been many movements addressing rape culture and violence against women: #YesAllWomen, #TheGhomeshiEffect, #IBelieveVictims, Slut Walk, HollaBack, Take Back the Night, to name a few. These movements are necessary, unfortunately, but not overly effective, obviously. Women are still being assaulted and raped, women still feel unsafe walking alone at night (or in the daytime, in public, really), women and girls are sexualized and objectified, we are slut shamed and blamed, cat called and groped etc. We are told that “boys will be boys” and we shouldn’t take it so personally. We are told to dress in a way to not draw attention to ourselves, to our breasts or buttocks, our legs or tummies. We are taught how to protect ourselves if we are attacked, to carry our keys between our fingers, to check under and inside our cars before getting in them. We are accused of lying when we report assault or rape. Women are not valued, not protected, not believed. We are not equal; in 2017 women are not viewed as anything more than sex objects and body parts. This makes me furious.
A friend wrote on her Facebook timeline about her thirteen year old daughter and friend being cat called and verbally assaulted while walking home from the store. The girls were so shocked by what was being shouted across the road at them they could not react. When the men became more aggressive in their language, calling them sluts and whores, the girls became frightened and ran the rest of the way home. My friend had to console and reassure these frightened and confused girls, which was difficult. But, even more difficult, she had to speak to them about how to protect themselves next time this happens, because it will happen again. And again. And again. Reading her post, tears filled my eyes as I felt so sorry for these girls having to experience this. My tears burned my eyes and then anger, no rage, burned my heart, my gut. This should not be happening! Not just in our community, but anywhere. Girls should not be subjected to the whims of men who think they own girls’ bodies and have a right to leer at them and call out obscenities.
When I was promoting the inaugural march for Slut Walk Lanark County, many people, some of them friends, complained about the name. There was much debate about the name of Slut Walk and even with explanation and information, people, mostly women, expressed a strong dislike for the name. They were offended over the word “Slut” and wondered why this word had to be used; is repulsive and crude. And they are right about that, it is. And women know because we hear it thousands of times during our life as boys and men hurl it at us as an insult or threat, other girls and women use it accusingly to judge and belittle one another, police officers and lawyers and judges use it to diminish the claims of sexual assault and rape, making it the victim’s fault. Women hear the word Slut and worse so many times in our lives that we almost accept it as part of the landscape of womanhood. But, this apathy, this acceptance is dangerous. It allows men to continue to sexualize and objectify us, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers our friends… We must not tolerate this language, this behaviour any longer. We must stand in Solidarity and fight back.
Rural communities are less forward thinking than urban areas. The exposure to diversity and social justice is very limited. The moral codes and social norms are often carried over from the previous generations because things have “always been this way” and so they are accepted as correct. People don’t speak out against racism, homophobia, misogyny etc. because much of the time they don’t even recognize it for what it is. Slut shaming and victim blaming is what happens when a woman is assaulted; obviously she was asking for it. Look how she was dressed, where she was, how much she drank, her reputation, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Much of the time, girls and women don’t even realize they have been assaulted or raped, or if they do, they don’t report it because they either don’t think they have a right to protection or they don’t think they will be believed. Women live in domestic violence and don’t even realise that they do not have to live with violence because they witnessed it growing up or have been experiencing abuse most of their lives. Domestic violence is their normal. Girls are taught that their value weighs heavily on whether or not they have a boyfriend and, later on, a husband, because they are not valuable in their own right.
This is why I founded Slut walk Lanark County. This is why I sit on the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Committee, why I sit on the board for Peggy’s House, why I volunteer at Interval House. This is why I show up and speak out. I grew up in this community and I have raised my children here. I lived within the bubble filled with rape culture and homophobia and misogyny. But I did not teach my children to accept these things; I taught them to be different, to be advocates for themselves and others, to be feminists.
Feminism needs to be taught in schools, modelled and demonstrated. Parents need to teach their children that all people are equal and have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Generational views that are patriarchal and misogynist must not be carried on, but called what they are and abandoned. The only way we are truly going to keep girls and women safe is to accept nothing less than absolute equality. I feel sick knowing that my girls have grown up in rape culture. I am disheartened that younger girls are still growing up in it and that adults are still allowing it to happen. However, I am also infuriated by this and so the fire in my gut burns strong and I will continue to stand in Solidarity with women and girls. I will keep marching, keep talking, keep advocating until there is no need for me to do so.
My motivation is this: wouldn’t it be amazing if my granddaughter didn’t know what rape culture was? Or my great-granddaughter only learned about it in her sociology class as part of the history of Feminism? Wouldn’t it be a dream come true to live in a world that is Feminist? “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” (John Lennon) So, this is a call to all the other Dreamers out there; raise your voice, move your feet and let’s smash the Patriarchy and end rape culture!