Tracey Barnett

Tracey Barnett is a Herald columnist

Tracey Barnett: 'Slutwalk' confuses rape message

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In honour of tomorrow's "Slutwalk" march in Auckland and Wellington to protest at the blaming and shaming of rape victims for what they wear, I have decided I am going to dress as a giant radish.

Granted, it has never been said I'm the brightest sparkler in the package.

When I was a kid, I always thought Clark Gable said things like, "I'm going to radish you, my dear." You can imagine my partner's confusion in bed at crucial moments when I start shouting endearments about small red vegetables.

I figure if I show up dressed as a giant salad accoutrement, it will be no less confused than the reactions that will come out of tomorrow's protest against blaming victims of rape.

Tomorrow at 2pm, New Zealand will join a grassroots movement that has spread from Toronto to Delhi.

Slutwalks began in reaction to what one suspects is one sorry Canadian policeman after he suggested to a group of students not to dress like "sluts" to avoid rape.

Suddenly every woman who was ever raped in a baggy sweatshirt, every little girl who was sexually abused in their Wiggles pyjamas, every suffragette who ever wore socially shocking "bloomers" in their day, was again reminded of the message that no victim of any kind of violence can bare to stomach: This crime is your fault.

Let's be clear. That is the opposite of the message intended here.

Just as murder victims don't "ask for it" by walking home from work at night. Robbery victims don't "ask for it" by having a wallet. Child incest victims don't "ask for it" by being compliant. In each of these cases, society sees a clear perpetrator and victim.

Except for rape. Truly, this crime is the real showstopper of justice. We allow rape to somehow come up for debate - like you can be half-robbed or half-dead.

And that, my fellow Sluts, is what I fear will come out of tomorrow's march; confused messages. I honestly do not have confidence that seeing at least some women dressed in their best bustiers and fishnets will accomplish the clear message needed here - that rape is a crime of violence, not sex.

Instead, at worst it may do the opposite; reinforce the message the organisers' good efforts are trying to fight.

This wonderfully energetic, wholly welcomed grassroots anger at rape survivors being victimised twice may be wasted on the people who most need to hear it.

Organisers will win by raising the issue, to be sure. That alone is worthy of the action. But they will lose by making their protest message too muddied and convoluted.

I mourn that the name of the concept alone will alienate as many women as it entices others. For some, "Slutwalks" will register as satire, others as a call for sexual empowerment, and for still others the reinforcement that this crime is a sexual one - which it is not. It is a crime of violence.

I fear that even this protest's good intentions inadvertently reinforce the confusion of the two, like asking its audience not to think of a big pink elephant.

Using sexuality to satirise a crime that, above all else, needs to be seen as a crime of violence, has backfired on the message.

I get it. Demonstrations need some theatre, but the art of protest succeeds when it resonates beyond those who choose to march in the streets. So where has that resonance led so far? From Boston to Delhi, Slutwalks have as often led the discussion directly back to the very message I suspect organisers are fighting most: that rape is about sex.

How many opinion forums have veered off into reclaiming the word "slut" and women's sexual freedom? I could give a whore's thong over whether the word "slut" should be "reclaimed". But I do care deeply about the invisibility of rape and our inability to see it as a crime of violence, not passion.

It is a sad commentary that if these protests were labelled anything else besides Slutwalks, with women in skimpy clothes leading the charge, these marches would never have got the kind of international press coverage they have received. Somehow, again, women win and lose in the same breath when it's always some protester's cleavage shot that will make page three.

Maybe it's too much to hope for better clarity of message in a movement that has spread from continent to continent forcing us to even ask these questions.

More importantly, I will always celebrate action over silence. I just don't think I'll be alone when you spot this proud non-slut in the crowd. Just look for the slightly confused radish on your left.

* Slutwalk Auckland starts at 2pm tomorrow at the bottom of Queen St.

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www.traceybarnett.co.nz or Twitter @TraceyBarnett

- NZ Herald

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