“SlutWalk is ‘kind of like feminism’”: A critical reading of Canadian mainstream news coverage of SlutWalk
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Since its inception in April 2011, “SlutWalk” has grown from a Toronto-based rally and march against victim-blaming and sexual violence into a globalized movement spanning six continents. Given that its mainstream visibility is unprecedented for any contemporary feminist movement, SlutWalk represents a unique opportunity to examine representations of feminist politics in the Canadian mainstream news media. Drawing on the theoretical and methodological tools of feminism and cultural studies, I offer a contextualized reading and discourse analysis of the representations of SlutWalk across print, radio, and televisual media during its first nine months of press. On the surface, the media portrays SlutWalk in a fair and positive light, taking seriously its messages about police accountability, victim solidarity, and women’s liberation as key tenets for ending victim-blaming. Nonetheless, these “fair” messages are constituted by and constitutive of neoliberal, white supremacist, and postfeminist discourses of the “reality” of sexual violence, which undermine intersectional feminist efforts to eradicate sexual violence. I argue that mainstream media representations of SlutWalk reproduce a watered-down version of feminism and a decontextualized understanding of sexual violence that resonates most with white, heteronormative, educated women. Overall, I suggest that the mainstream visibility of SlutWalk is possible only insofar as its representations steer clear of any substantive critique of patriarchal violence as it articulates with racism, heterosexism, and institutional violence. Average media consumers of stories about SlutWalk are most likely afforded a sense that “managing” sexual violence and “liberating” women might be achieved within the existing status quo and through a sole focus on (white) women. In conclusion, I reiterate the need for intervention and engagement with the mainstream reproduction of discourses about feminism, and offer suggestions for how this might be achieved.