SlutWalk Melbourne has supporters all over the country and one of our most esteemed friends is the brilliant Sydney crime writer, PM Newton. She wrote this for us to put SlutWalk in the context of other fights for women’s rights.
There’s this picture that occasionally does the rounds on the internet. It features an older woman, grey haired, dressed in a conservative high- necked long-sleeved shirt and long skirt and she’s carrying a sign that says “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit.” You’ve probably seen it.
I’m not sure what the original protest was, the women is carrying a small American flag so the possibilities are sadly numerous, and I’m not sure whether she was the originator of the phrase, or just carrying it forward but those words are appearing on more and more signs.
I’m not surprised it’s caught on. “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit” expresses, succinctly, the bafflement and rage of many women as the rights fought for over decades, and seemingly established – such as the right to control fertility – are either under siege, or being actively rolled back.
There’s a sorrowful weariness to that sign. Really? We’re here again? Having the same conversations again? Pointing out what we’d thought we made clear years ago? How long are we going to have to do this? WHY DON’T YOU GET IT?
Sometimes it feels like women have been carrying signs and marching behind banners of various kinds and in support of various causes forever. There’s been “Votes for Women” and “Reclaim the Night” and “Equal pay for equal work” and “Save Our Sons” and now “Slutwalk.”
The signs change. The women holding them change. The language changes. The basic issues don’t.
As I wade through my fifties I find myself more and more drawn to that sign held by that elderly woman in America. And, when you think about it, that’s a bit sad.
So, when a bunch of young women, unweary and unbowed, come along armed not only with a new vocabulary but with new energy to bring to the fight it’s a cause for celebration. The women who will be taking to the streets this weekend are part of the fight for rights we already thought we had and the fight for rights we haven’t yet managed to obtain. If you want to know more then I suggest read Emily Maguire’s beautifully articulate enunciation of why the word slut, with all its power to shock and indeed to alienate, is a word that feminists might want to reclaim.