A short dress is not a yes

The message: Marchers take on the streets of Sydney with banners.
The message: Marchers take on the streets of Sydney with banners.

The rain was just starting to subside as hundreds of people — men and women alike — assembled at the Sydney Town Hall to march in an anti-rape rally dubbed SlutWalk, last Monday afternoon.

The SlutWalk has become a global movement since April — spreading across North America, Europe and Australia, and soon to New Delhi — after a police officer in Canada said women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimized.

Melbourne was the first city in Australia to hold the march, with thousands of people taking to the streets there. The crowd in Sydney wasn’t as big, despite more than 7,500 people showing their support on the SlutWalk Sydney Facebook page.

The Sydney organizer Samadhi Arktoi told reporters at the rally that the rain had deterred many from attending.

Despite the gloomy weather, the participants marched from Town Hall to Harmony Square, shouting “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no!”

Most of the marchers wore winter jackets and coats. However, a few people who were brave enough to withstand the cold came in tank tops and slip dresses. One woman wore a black slip dress, with black feathered wings, while a man had a short black dress on, holding a sign “Yes means yes, and no means no”.

The ratio of men to women at the rally was equal. Mathew Lee, a 25-year-old student from Sydney, said the assumptions underpinning “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” were as hurtful to men as they were to women.

“They [victim-blamers] make certain assumptions about male behavior,” he said.

“It is assumed that if women dressed like sluts, men will be unable to control themselves; these assumptions assign us these kinds of instinct that men can’t help but rape women,” he said. “And I think that’s nonsense. I’m a man, I have never raped a woman. It’s just garbage. People use these kinds of excuses when it’s really about their own inability, their unwillingness to control themselves,” he said.

Lee said he joined the walk because it pushed a feminist agenda.

“I guess it falls under [the banner of] feminism, where you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. I’m quite proud to call myself a feminist,” he said.

Student Phillip Hall, 25, also joined the rally, donning red heart-shaped shades.

“I think there is a massive culture of victim blaming in this country and other countries, which is absolutely disgusting. The way the media portrays these cases and things enables that culture to thrive,” he said.

“I’m here because I think we need to stop blaming victims, stop blaming how they present themselves, what they do or what they don’t do, because the only person responsible for sexual assault is the person doing it,” he said.

The walk has sparked a debate here about whether the movement is really helping campaign for women’s rights or whether it’s a step back because of the campaign’s controversial name.

Mariana Amirudin, a Jakarta-based women’s rights activist and editor of feminist journal Jurnal Perempuan, is more concerned about another aspect of the walk.

While she acknowledged that campaigning for women’s rights over their bodies was an important cause, she was also concerned that women in the West still had to fight for their rights over their bodies.

“The campaign for women’s bodily rights in developed [Western] nations was supposed to be over, with radical feminists in the 1970s often campaigning about it,” she wrote in an email.

“I’m concerned because this means, even in Western countries, conservatism that rejects the freedom of individuals and is degrading to women is creeping up again,” she said.

Indeed, in many parts of the world, including in the West, which is considered more liberal and where modern women’s rights movement started, women are still seen as objects.

Sydney-based performing artist Emma Maye, who came to the rally dressed as former child star Betty Grumble, said that she experienced sexual harassment almost every day.

“It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. I will get a wolf whistle, a snide remark,” she said.

Maye insisted it was important to understand why these things still happened in 2011.

Megan McKenzie, who also joined the rally dressed in a 1950s outfit, said that she had been “groped, grabbed all sort of things that are completely unwarranted and completely uninvited”.

They both joined the rally as independent individuals hoping to make a difference.

“I think it’s important for people to participate in these events, to start a conversation and bond with like-minded people,” Maye said.

McKenzie hopes the campaign will change people’s behaviors.

“Unwanted touching, unwanted sexual advances, unwanted comments are not acceptable. And the way someone dresses should not be seen as encouraging sexual assault. It’s [sexual assault] actually [driven by] something else inside the perpetrator,” she said.

Back in Indonesia, Titiana Adinda, a woman’s rights activist who has worked with victims of sexual assault at the Women’s Crisis Center at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta, said it was common for law enforcers to blame the victims in sexual assault cases, saying they had “asked for it”.

“They think victims invite violence by the way they dress or by being flirty,” she said.

Similar campaigns on women’s rights over their bodies have been carried out in Indonesia, Mariana said — albeit under a less controversial name. Mariana alluded to the thousands of people who took to the streets to protest the pornography bill between 2004 and 2006. However the bill was still passed.

According to her, Indonesia went through a period of enlightenment in women’s rights between 2004 and 2006, but that religious groups had since used religious symbols and moral claims to trump these campaigns.

The government, Mariana said, also paid more attention to radical religious groups than to women’s groups. Riding the wave of SlutWalk might be a good time for Indonesia to revive its own campaign.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sydney, australia | Life | Tue, June 21 2011

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