Reclaim the Night v. Slutwalk

I wrote yesterday about why I will be going on Slutwalk on June 11th in London, hopefully with lots of people from the RHUL Feminist Society, even though we may all be hungover from celebrating the end of term the night before. But I wanted to think a bit about why Slutwalk has taken off so massively, and is more appealing to many young women (and people of all ages, sizes, colours, creeds, genders) than Reclaim the Night

It’s a reinvigoration for a start. Feminism seems to be picking up speed again, or at least that’s how I see it from my limited point of view, and many more young women are getting involved. The youth of the UK has been politicised by the student protests of next year, and suddenly everyone has an opinion on politics in a way that they just didn’t before. Again, from where I stand. Correct me if I’m wrong. I went to a lecture at Royal Holloway last week, an interview by Professor Edith Hall with Professor Judith Hawley, and they spoke briefly about how feminists today are beginning to question the movement and how they can fit into it, how we can move forward. Reclaim the Night was exciting and new and innovative for feminists of the generation before my own, and it can become disheartening to march every year on the same march with the same message and yet feel like nothing has changed. I think yearly marches of whatever type are prone to that same feeling simply by that very nature. Those that are spontaneous and new create media attention and seem like they can make that difference in a way that those which are happening every year cannot. This is not to say that Reclaim the Night is not powerful and empowering, but I can understand why people are finding Slutwalk more appealing from this angle.

It could simply be the use of the word ‘slut’. It is something that I can imagine young women not being worried about being associated with. It is much cooler to be a slut (especially if you are calling yourself one, rather than being called one by others) than to be a prude. That is not to say that young women would truly like it if they were slut shamed in the cruel way that too often occurs, but it sort of symbolises fun, wanting to have a good time, not stuck up, all things that young women want to be associated with. And all things that are not traditionally associated with feminism. As mentioned yesterday, Slutwalk was not started by feminists and although feminists have gotten involved in a big way it is not purely a feminist march. And the problem with the ugly lesbian in dungarees stereotype is that it does put off many young women who don’t want to be associated with those things, because to be so is to be ostracised from society. That is not to say that it is a bad thing to be an ‘ugly’ lesbian in dungarees, but if you are not one then there is no reason why you would want people to assume that about you. The use of the word slut makes it seem cool, however terrible that may be, to be going on this march. The dress code is certainly a chance to have fun. And whilst women may want to protest victim blaming and restrictions placed on women, they also have to live in the world which expects them to be feminine and pretty. Give them a break.

Maybe it’s international sisterhood. Perhaps it is the wide range of people in the wide range of places that has made this march so exciting to so many. To be connected to women around the world in this way is certainly powerful and that strength that comes from standing together in such a visible way feels like it may make more difference than the various individual, similar but unconnected marches which happen worldwide at the moment. Going on the London Slutwalk means you follow women in Toronto, Chicago, LA, Boston and Paris to name but a few. You add your voice to an already huge milieu of people around the world, and that can be an inspiring and motivating thought.

I suspect publicity has something to do with it too. It is not that people don’t know about Reclaim the Night, but often it is only known about in feminist circles. The kind of women who would already by looking for a march to go on will research things like Reclaim the Night. There is often some media coverage after the event, but little before. This is not that those organising Reclaim the Night are failing to publicise, simply that no one could have expected the massive international publicity that Slutwalk has been afforded. You don’t have to be a feminist looking out for these kinds of stories to notice it, because it’s everywhere. And that means that women who may not have considered marching on an issue like this before have been encouraged to join in, simply because of the magnitude of the coverage in all media formats.

I don’t have the answer as to why Slutwalk has taken off in a way that Reclaim the Night didn’t, I’d love to hear your thoughts too.