UCD SU’s ‘Slutwalk’ garners controversy

As UCD Students’ Union is set to have their first ever ‘slutwalk’, Patrick Kelleher looks at the controversy surrounding it.[br]UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) are due to run their first ‘slutwalk’ on Tuesday 17th November as a part of their #NotAskingForIt campaign. The campaign was launched in October by author Louise O’Neill, with the title based on her novel Asking For It. The novel tells the story of a teenage girl who becomes a figure of blame and ridicule after having been raped in a small Irish town.The SU has generated a great deal of controversy over the decision to call the event a ‘slutwalk’, however. The name has been heavily debated, including within the SU itself, with a discussion having taken place at the last Council meeting. The idea of a name-change was only discussed at Council however, and a motion was never put forward. This means that despite seemingly significant dissatisfaction with the choice of the name at Council, the ‘slutwalk’ looks set to go ahead.The use of the word is controversial for a number of reasons. Some students have argued via social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, that the name exists only to enhance its social media presence and its ability to gain viral status. In a lengthy Facebook response posted by the official Students’ Union Facebook page on a student’s status about it, the SU said: “The premise of this post is that the name choice was a cynical attempt to enhance the social media presence of this event. It's a position depending entirely upon an assumption as to the character of the people involved in leading and organising this campaign. This assumption is entirely flawed.”Arguments have also abounded on Twitter, where the official SU account has also publicly responded to criticisms. One student criticised the poster released by the SU to promote the event, which shows SU President Marcus O’Halloran standing nude beside Graduate Officer Hazel Beattie, who is wearing a black dress. The student stated that O’Halloran’s presence in the poster was there for “comedic effect”, but claimed that there was nothing to laugh about with regards to the issue at hand. The SU responded by saying that the “poster illustrates how ridiculous ‘showing too much skin’ notion is when applied to men (which it never is’”. They went on to again dispute the student’s stance that it was for comedic effect, saying: “sorry but no – it illustrates double standard prevalent in Ireland.”Another student criticised the fact that the campaign is not being picked up on by cisgender men. The student claimed publicly on Twitter that only around a quarter of the people who had clicked ‘Attending’ were cisgender men, and went on to say that this means it has “completely missed the point”. From looking at those who have said they are attending via Facebook, the majority taking part or showing interest are women.There has also been praise for the campaign and its poster expressed through social media. The SU announced on November 8th on their Twitter account that author Louise O’Neill will be back on campus for the ‘slutwalk’ to lend her support. Another Twitter user said it was a good student feminist campaign. The poster has also received some responses via social media to the criticisms, claiming that it has been successful in starting the conversation.Clearly, the aim of the SU was to bring men into the debate as well as women. The SU didn’t want this movement to be entirely centred around women, as it would then be missing its central aim, which is to change rape culture on campus. Men are central to the existence of this culture, so involving them from the outset was essential to its success. However this does not detract from the accusations that the presence of a man in the poster – as well as humour – detracts from the poster’s purpose.
“From looking at those who have said they are attending via Facebook, the majority taking part or showing interest are women.”
UCD is not the first campus to run an event of this kind. University of Toronto organised a slutwalk in 2011 when a city police officer said: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” There have been many more since, and each time, they have garnered significant controversy from many quarters. Their intent is clear: to challenge perceptions about ownership of women’s bodies. While UCD’s ‘slutwalk’ is certainly achieving this, it is yet to be seen if the campaign will be run with the required nuance for something as sensitive as sexual violence.The #NotAskingForIt campaign was always going to be the subject of controversy amongst students. A campaign on sexual violence of this magnitude has not been run by UCDSU before, and as a result, it is challenging the student body to reconsider the way they think of rape. While the tone of the campaign is evidently in question, #NotAskingForIt can be said to have been successful in one area: it has started a conversation. Students are engaging with this SU campaign much more than they have with many previous campaigns. And that in itself is at least a partial success.