On Saturday, I took my sons Joey (12) and Ben (10) to Cape Town’s first ever SlutWalk.
In case you haven’t heard about them, SlutWalk protest marches were started in Canada earlier this year in response to a Toronto Police officer’s pronouncement that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order not to be raped. They have since become a global phenomenon.
I’ll be honest, the boys didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity and would happily have spent the rest of the day playing their computer game, but after we talked about it for a bit, they agreed to come along. I felt it was important for them to experience a SlutWalk because it might help them to understand:
• that women have the right to wear whatever they want – however “suggestive,” “revealing” or “provocative” it may be – without fear of being raped;
• that rape and violence against women are huge problems in South Africa and in every other country around the world, and that almost without exception the perpetrators are men;
• that derogatory words like slut derive their power from the social context in which they are used, depending on who uses them with reference to whom and with what intention, and that such words can be reclaimed, defused and subverted by the very people they are meant to hurt;
• that, while even at their young age they are constantly being bombarded with stereotyped, hyper-sexualised and misogynistic images of girls and women in various media from TV programs and music videos to magazines and computer games, real women are much more interesting and diverse;
• that solidarity is a powerful weapon and that men have an important role to play in supporting women in their struggle to live their lives the way they want to live them;
• that learning about feminist history from books is great, but that being an active part of it is even more exciting;
• that there is power in numbers and that when one person complains about an injustice it’s just their personal opinion, but when many do so together it becomes a political force that can bring about positive change;
• that politics doesn’t have to be something that only happens every four or five years (like voting) or something that they, as children, are excluded from (like voting).
So on a gorgeous winter’s day we joined a throng of perhaps 2,000 people, dressed in everything from burqas and casual street wear to…well, not very much at all, on a protest walk through the streets of our home town. The chants included old favorites like “Real men don’t rape” and “No means no,” as well as ones I hadn’t heard before, like “It’s a dress, not a yes”, “None of us are asking for it” and “It’s Cape Town, not Rape Town.”
I took my sons to a SlutWalk for their sake. Although they are still children now, they’ll soon be young men who will constantly face important personal choices in a deeply patriarchal society that routinely ignores, undervalues, demeans and brutalizes its female citizens. And I took them for my own sake, as their father who’s partially responsible for bringing them into this world and who hopes that the choices they’ll end up making as adults will contribute to bringing these injustices to an end.
When we got home, the boys went straight back to their computer game. And that’s as it should be. Playing is an important part of their everyday life. I hope that by taking them to events like the SlutWalk, the idea that women have the same rights to equality, freedom and safety as men will also become a part of their everyday consciousness.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng