If you told me 20 years ago that I would be attending a protest march of, among others, scantily-clad women, and some men, I’d have laughed it off.
But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing on Saturday morning, when I join the second annual SlutShameWalk.
Back then, I would perhaps have been called a ‘Christian conservative’, whatever that may have meant. I was all about human rights and all, but I would have looked down on a raucous protest, much less one where some young women were showing quite a bit of thigh, or even a very low neckline…
I guess I’ve changed.
The first protest to be called a SlutWalk took place in Toronto, Canada, in 2011 after a policeman suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” as a precaution against sexual assault. Subsequent rallies have occurred globally.
By then, I was quite deeply involved in Namibia’s feminist movement, but I might still have thought this was over the top. It seemed to me that flashing one’s cleavage or thighs in the wrong street would be inadvisable, the same way that you would advise a rich man not to flash too much cash in a sketchy neighborhood.
I’m glad I was taken to task by several feminist friends. I was encouraged to read a bit. Maybe not in the politest of terms.
Since then, I’ve read very much. I’ve had deep conversations.
I’ve learned that protest is always disruptive and often shocking.
Christians like Martin Luther King, and indeed, Jesus himself (see Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-16) engaged in precisely this kind of protest, doing something the common wisdom of the time found ‘shocking’ (getting half-naked, ransacking a temple, sitting black people next to white people on busses) in order to make a point about broader injustices.
I’ve learned that sex has little to do with sexual assault. Most rapists’ confessions say the desire to have power over their victim is the main motivation for the crime.
I’ve learned that men raping women who wear long dresses, or even burqas, is not uncommon. That a rapist is more likely to be a husband or boyfriend than some scary lecherous figure hiding behind the street corner.
I’ve also learned about the pernicious effect of the constant advice to women to watch how they dress, watch their tone, not be unladylike – lest they be considered a ‘slut’ or a ‘hoe’ or a ‘bitch’. Lest they be raped, or worse. This leads to women practically living in a prison without walls, where virtually anything can be ‘seen in the wrong light’.
The Namibian edition of the SlutWalk made a big splash the first time round in 2019. They missed a year because of Covid-19, but are back with a bang, now. Allies, including men, are encouraged to attend.
The Windhoek SlutShameWalk starts Saturday March 10 at Ausspannplatz at 08h30AM, to be followed by a workshop at the Bank Windhoek Theatre School at 11.
We will be dressed in many ways – making the point that any kind of dress is acceptable, and no kind of dress justifies rape. Some of us will be wearing underwear or body paint or bike shorts (horror of horrors). Others may be in full Islamic dress or in business suits. The only item of clothing that is required without compromise is a mask.
Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com