Art against gender-based violence

From slut-shaming to Slutwalk – the power of reclaiming

On the 9th of June we, the interns of the WAVE, had a chance to talk to Beatrice Schreier and Katia Young, members of the Slutwalk collective which was founded in Vienna in 2021. The Slutwalk movement originally started back in 2011 in Toronto, Canada as a provocative powerful response to the slut-shaming and related gender stereotypes.

Slut-shaming is the practice of disparaging women, and occasionally men, for acting in a manner that violates “norms” regarding sexually appropriate behavior. These denigrations which are often double standards, range from criticizing women for wearing sexy clothing or having multiple sexual partners to blaming sexual assault and rape survivors for their attacks.

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Indeed, the word “slut” is used so frequently today, that it is difficult if not impossible to find a woman who has never been called a “slut”. In reality, the word “slut” is rarely aimed against a particular individual and has less to do with how sexually active a woman[1] is; rather it is used to humiliate, disgrace, insult and discriminate against all women. It recalls structural inequalities and deep-rooted stereotypes of a patriarchal regime. When the word “slut” is used for victim blaming “it gives perpetrators power. If you call woman a slut and slut is raped or sexually harassed – that’s perceived as her fault.” – says Katia. Perpetrators restore to victim-blaming to justify their actions, get away with the violence they committed and make the victim doubt and blame herself, feel alone and powerless.

member of the Slutwalk collective (Beatrice Schreier on the right)

Why is the initiative called a “Slutwalk” then?

The collective aims to turn around existing power dynamics. “We really want to provoke the question “what is a slut” or “who is a slut”, – says Beatrice, adding, with a proud smile, that she always called herself a slut.

The name “Slutwalk” speaks for itself and reflects the provocative and rebellious spirit of the movement. The collective does not hesitate to question the public, to speak openly or to shock: the main goal is to make day-to-day sexualised violence against women visible. Thus, to provoke is a way to start a dialogue, to make people react, ask questions, see the problem and think on it.

“Slutwalk” basically means demonstrations where women take the streets dressing “slutty” to claim for sexual self-determination and freedom from violence. To dress “slutty” still requires courage from participants, but the “Slutwalk” does it best to create a setting where women feel comfortable and safe to do so. In fact, as long as you share core values of the “Slutwalk”, you can dress as you are and however you feel to join the protest, no requirements really exist.

Just on 25th of June the second Slutwalk protest took place in Vienna, gathering several hundred people. These protests: dynamic, inclusive and outreaching to the general public, can be certainly considered a form of art and performance due to their visual and expressive nature.

The initiative also organizes benefit concerts and generally restores to music, dancing and open speeches to broadly manifest the message of empowerment and give a feminist perspective on art.

The collective believes that it is possible to reclaim the word “slut” for a positive meaning one day: it can be a feminist empowered woman, not caring about the stereotypes and opinions of others.

Katia adds: “when you use a word for self-description, it is always empowering and changes the meaning of the word, then it can’t be used as an insult anymore”.

Every time going out women still have to worry about what might happen: choose what to wear, where, when and with whom to go out of concern for safety. “If we are alone or in small groups of women” – says Katia, – “we often feel like we can’t say anything and we just have to give in to things that happen on streets; but if we go in a big group – that’s very powerful and empowering”.

The Slutwalk collective is a place where women can talk openly about things that happen, share experiences, empower each other and make a change together: a change towards a society where women can be sexually free, protected from any form of violence and treated equally.

To learn more about the “Slutwalk” you can head over to their Instagram account @slutwalk_vienna

[1] The word “woman” is used in this article to include female, lesbian, intersex, trans and agender (FLINTA) people and anyone who is not a cis man

Written by Alisa Shilova

Photo Credits:

© Käthe Löffelmann