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"Slutwalk" aims to take ownership of the word "slut," stop victim-blaming

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | APRIL 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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A crowd, some dressed in lingerie and ripped up jeans, walked through downtown Iowa City on Thursday night. As they moved in a cluster up and down Washington Street, they chanted: "It's a dress, not a yes."

 

Around 75 men and women participated in Iowa City's first-ever "SlutWalk." Participants said they hoped to bring awareness to the issues of rape and victim-blaming by taking ownership of the derogatory word "slut."

Christina Carberry, the University of Iowa Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance president, said she wants to be able to have safe, consensual sex with whomever she chooses without being labeled.

"I'm going to call myself a slut," the UI senior said. "I think we should try to take away the power of the word. I want to create a world in which female sexuality is accepted — not ashamed."

SlutWalk, an international movement, began in response to a comment made by a Toronto police officer in 2011 in regards to a local rape. The officer said the woman wouldn't have been raped if she wasn't "dressed like a slut."

"We need to bring awareness to this issue," Carberry said. "We need to tear down the social norms. Instead of getting mad, I want to challenge it and take action."

UI freshman Chad Leonard, who participated in the walk, said a woman's clothing should not be the reason she was raped.

"It's just kind of important because a lot of people blame the victim and say just because their wearing 'whore-y' clothing that that's the reason they got raped, which is not the case at all," he said. "Rape isn't about sex; rape is about power. It doesn't have anything to do with the clothing."

Carberry said she hoped the walk would bring awareness to the issue and show locals that sexual assault happens everywhere.

"I feel like Iowa City people assume these things aren't happening here," she said.

According to the Rape Advocacy Program in Iowa City, 67 people in Johnson County called the crisis hotline between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011.

Some participants in the event said they walked to support friends who have been affected by sexual assault.

"I have a personal connection to it," said UI sophomore Mackenzie Keiser. "I just think it's a really good event that gives sexual assault a voice and an outlet."

Yet University of Pennsylvania communication Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson said taking ownership of a derogatory word like "slut" can be difficult.

"Trying to reclaim long-lived pejoratives is a risky strategy," she wrote in an email. "However, it has been done. Obamacare was a recent coinage. 'We're here. We're queer. Get over it.' was one such attempt. The Tina Fey piece on 'Saturday Night Live" that proclaimed that she and Amy Poehler were indeed bitches, and 'bitches get things done' was another."

Douglas Cole, a UI Ph.D. candidate in linguistics, said language is used to help people with identity.

"By taking those derogatory comments where they insult the victim, [the participants in the walk] create a community," he said. "I think it's a way of building solidarity. They're trying to show group identity. 'Not only are we women, but we are women who were offended by this term.' "


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