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South African "Sluts" Tell Men: "Control Yourselves, Not Women!"

"Slut Walk" phenomenon comes to Cape Town. More protests planned for Johannesburg and Durban.

This story was first published by the South African Civil Society Information Service.

 In 2008 hundreds of South African women donned their miniskirts and protested at the taxi rank [cab stand] where a young girl was brutally accosted by taxi drivers and hawkers for wearing a short denim skirt.  The men who accosted her allegedly stuck their fingers into her vagina and called her a "slut."

Women were outraged.  The angry protestors wore mini skirts and T Shirts saying, “Pissed-Off Women.”  They stormed the ranks and told the perpetrators in no uncertain terms to lay off women and girls who wore jeans and short skirts.  Their message was clear.  Don’t tell us what to wear and don’t think that our short skirts are an invitation either. 

This past weekend about 2000 women and men gathered in Cape Town for South Africa’s first of a series of Slut Walk initiatives, which are also set to take place in Johannesburg and Durban in September.  Everyone dressed up in clothing that would typically be considered  “slutty” and placards sporting messages such as “Patriarchs se poes!” and “Proud Slut” abounded. The atmosphere was electric with ribaldry, revolution and a celebratory freedom of sexual expression most often linked to Gay Pride.  What this tells us is that South African women from different social classes and cultures have collectively had enough of sexual assault, rape and the patriarchal controlling attitudes towards them. They have joined the global Slut Walk movement to add their voices to the powerful message that enough is enough. 

The Slut Walk phenomenon began in Toronto in April this year when a policeman offered advice to students on how to avoid sexual assault in a crime safety forum at the Toronto University. His comment to them: “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this. However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Little did he realize that his utterances would spark a worldwide feminine movement which deconstructs the patriarchal view that it is what women wear that causes the perpetrator to rape.  Nor did he realize that the very word he used in a derogatory sense would be the very word that would be adopted as the signifier for this rebellion. 

The organisors of the first march in Toronto seized the word “slut” and reclaimed their right to wear what they want and express their sexuality freely. The message was loud and clear: “Don’t tell us what to wear – Tell men not to rape.”  After this first Slut Walk in Toronto, it became a phenomenon that rapidly spread to London, Orlando, Mexico City, Melbourn and Delhi and more recently to Cape Town. Facebook also boasts close to 100 Slut Walk pages from countries around the world including Helenski, Mumbai, Morocco and Singapore.  

This Slut Walk phenomenon shows no signs of abating any time soon.  It is a movement that refuses to be shamed and the messages from every country are similar.  “This is what I was wearing when I got raped & I still did not ask for it,” states a purple placard carried by a voluptuous woman wearing a low cut black lace top and leggings.  “I was wearing jeans and a button-up collar shirt when I got raped, states another.  “I was 10 when my father raped me and he did not care what I was wearing”’ shouts another. ‘I wear heels to be tall. Not raped!’ says a placard carried by a short woman in heels and tight mini skirt.  ‘Control yourselves – not women!’ states a placard carried by a longhaired young man holding hands with his girlfriend.   

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