The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest recorded use of the word ‘slut’ in English to 1402, when the poet Thomas Hoccleve complained of ‘ye foulest slutte of al a tovne’. 609 years later, the term is still being used as a sexual epithet against women, with the additional insult of the word’s alternative connotations of dirt and squalor. A notable example of this came from the mouth of a Canadian police officer in January – addressing a safety meeting at a Toronto university, he responded to a question on how to steer clear of sexual harassment with:
‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’
Not only did this dispel the myth that all Canadian police are essentially replicas of Benton Fraser in Due South. It also pissed a lot of people off. And rightly so. The officer’s comment played upon two of the nastiest stereotypes surrounding female sexuality. Firstly, that it is essentially shameful and perverse – the ‘dirty slut’ trope – and secondly, that unwanted sexual attention is the responsibility of the (female) recipient, rather than the (male) aggressor. In response, SlutWalk was born – a series of protest marches and rallies calling attention to the iniquity of the double standard in sexual autonomy, and the hugely problematic issue of rape culture. It started in Toronto… it spread around the world… and last Saturday, it ended up in London (on the same day as the International Naked Bike Ride!).