While they may not have made a certain royal figure’s honours list that day, attendees of the Sydney SlutWalk protest rallied on the Queen’s birthday holiday last Monday to demand honour and respect for a woman’s right to dress how she pleases. Rashida Yosufzai writes.
Words: Rashida Yosufzai
Pictures: Joel Carrett
Sound slide: Jessica Black & Ella Rubeli
The worldwide movement started with a controversial remark by a Canadian police officer. Said to a group of only 20 people earlier this year, he remarked: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” The protest movement has since spread like wildfire in major capital cities around the world and reached Sydney shores on June 13.
An estimated 200 people turned up on the wet and cold day, despite crowd expectations running in the thousands, based on those registered on social media sites. Individuals and community members stood side by side with sex workers, activists, comedians, and members of political parties such as the Socialist Alliance, the Greens and the Australian Sex Party.
Some wore fishnets, black angel wings, nuns’ garbs, wedding dresses and even burqas – clothes worn by a variety of people to challenge conceptions and stereotypes around the word slut.
They held provocative banners and signs such as “don’t tell me what to wear, tell men not to rape,” “proud and happy slut,” and “blame rapists not boobs”.
One woman was dressed in a full burqa – the Islamic dress of modesty, with a sign taped across her veiled mouth that read “under cover slut”. She said she wanted to challenge the view that, “in the eyes of the male gaze, if you have sexual agency then you’re a slut.”
Australian writer and feminist Eva Cox, addressing a small crowd, rallied support for “a new revolution” to reignite the women’s movement of the 1970’s.
“Women … are still seen as objects, we are not seen as people that have the initiative to make up our own mind and to have a mind,” she said.
“We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t — because we really need to look at why women get blamed for wearing too many clothes in the same way that women get blamed when they wear to little,” she said, making a reference to recent political pressures to ban the burqa.