Friday, September 28, 2012

Jill Meagher, SlutWalk and Reclaim the Night Sydney Road

Australian readers, and some abroad, will be aware of the sad events of the last week surrounding Jill Meagher's disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her body today. Like many other Melbourne women, I've been preoccupied with thoughts that it could so easily have been myself or one of my girlfriends walking along Sydney Road in the early hours of Saturday morning. It's a walk I have taken many times before.

Sydney Road has held a special place in my heart the last ten years. My first share house was in Brunswick West and I spent a lot of time in Sydney Road cafes, bars, and shopping at Savers and Spotlight. It's remained one of the few unpopularised main drags of the city. It has a natural quality that I adore that's been lost from streets like Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and more lately Gertrude and Smith Streets in Collingwood. Fun places to hang out, but without the multicultural, unvarnished atmosphere of Sydney Road.

By the time I attended the University of Melbourne from 2002, a lot of radical feminist activities that had been so popular there during the 90s had disappeared. More recently, we've had SlutWalk. While I'm pleased to see a resurgence in radical feminist activities, I did not and never will march in a SlutWalk. I see no advantage in women "reclaiming" a word that has been flung at us as an insult. One that has never had any good connotations that need rescuing. I find the ideology of SlutWalk to be a little immature and misguided; immature in that it succeeded at grabbing headlines but little else, and misguided in that to a casual onlooker, the intention of a march with 'slut' in the title can so easily be misconstrued. ("Women WANT to be called sluts now?") I did consider briefly marching in my street clothes instead of an artificial slut uniform, but in the end decided not to be a part of it at all. In the words of a famous feminist whom I can't remember the name of, there are a million ways to be a feminist. SlutWalk just isn't one of mine.

Today I came across Reclaim the Night Sydney Rd 2012 on Facebook. It's a march that is part memorial, part activism. The page has already attracted over 4,700 likes at time of writing. Reclaim the Night is so apt in this circumstance, as Jill Meagher's rape and death highlights what we already knew about violence against women: that it has absolutely bloody nothing to do with the clothes you're wearing.

I want to leave flowers at Duchess Bridal, where the CCTV footage of Jill and her accused killer was recorded. I want to attend tonight's gathering at the Baptist church on Sydney Road. But neither of those activities are 'me'. But I will march in October on Sydney Road, in defiance and sadness, and hope to reclaim a sense of safety in a much-loved area of Melbourne.

Note: Before anyone gets on my case about SlutWalk, these are my opinions and I know others feel very differently. I agree with the reasons the march was set up, just not it's manifestation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please, please, please, do not speculate on or discuss the man accused of Jill Meagher's rape and murder, especially online. This could result in the case never being heard in court as Adrian Bayley's defense lawyers could argue that he's already undergone a trial by social media, and thus will be unable to receive a fair trial.

Please 'like' the Reclaim the Night Sydney Rd 2012 page, and unlike any pages calling for Bayley's hanging or similar, and delete any photographs of him or posts speculating or damning him.


  1. Great blog post, Rhiannon. You've encapsulated everything I'm feeling about this case (and SlutWalk, as it happens). Logically I know I should be as upset about all the other cases like this that have gone before, but this one has particular resonance for me. I really liked what Jon Faine said this morning about not letting this incident 'define life in Melbourne'. If I was in Brunswick, I'd be joining you in October. Andie.

  2. I am a women and live alone not far from where this happened. I too have walked home late at night and naively like most, thought that it was a safe area because its busy.

    Its hits too close to home and will make many like me re think daily activities. I too have seen the 'slutwalk' requests come up but like you, can not understand why any women would want to be defined as such. Jill wasn't dressed provocatively and was possibly responding to a man requesting help for another or some other ruse.

    She doesn't need to be remembered in a derogatory fashion with something like 'slutwalk'. Reclaim the night is what is needed. A timely reminder to all that no matter the time, clothing or area we, as women have the right to feel safe.

    I will be there and encouraging all my friends to join me to show Melbourne and the world that everyone's Mothers, Aunts, Sisters, Daughters and friends deserve to be safe in not only their own communities but the city as a whole.

  3. Thanks so much Andie, I wish we could march together!

    Anon, exactly right.

  4. Excellent Andie, thank you so much for sharing your straightforward, wise and caring words. Well said! I also completely agree with your comments regarding Slutwalk. I will definitely be marching down Sydney Road at the Reclaim the Night in October.

    Northcote sista

  5. I'm sorry my last comment was for Rhiannon (oops typo)... Thank you again for your words!

    Northcote sista

  6. My pleasure, Northcote Sista! See you at the march.

  7. I have never understood the whole slutwalk thing either. I do think that this reclaim the night walk might be a perfect mix of remembrance and activism. Thank you for posting about it.

  8. Brunswick is where I grew up - such a terrible thing to happent.

    I know people feel conflicted about the title of slut walk and find it a real shame that it is another thing that polarizes women. I'm not sure what the right thing is to do about it but it makes me sad.

    Lily Mae

  9. This entire ordeal just breaks my heart! It saddens me that it's so unsafe for women nowadays and I know I myself worry when I'm out late at night alone. You just never know what people's intentions are and it's really sad.

    I will definitely march in October on Sydney Road, both for Jill and myself and the hope for a safer place for women.

    Thank you for this post Rhinannon!

  10. Great blog here Ms. hart. Visiting here again is my pleasure.

  11. I have just discovered your blog and I have enjoyed reading your most recent posts. I agree I don't like this idea women as part of feminism reclaim awful words like slut and b*tch. THose words always have and always will have a nasty connection that just will not disappear into history like.

    The story of Jill is so sad and tragic and I think the reclaim the night march has a much better purpose and meaning behind it. I don't have a daughter but I would like to think that women can walk a city street at night and not be targeted.

  12. I too live alone in Brunswick on a main street with the trams and cars going by. Safety is never far from my mind whatever time of day it is or where I am. Rather than lying idle this case brought it all back into my conscience.
    Growing up I was the child at school bullied and abused (you fill in the blanks here). Yes the title the of the slut walk is contentious but have felt empowered by participating in the inaugural walk last year as well as last night to reclaim my body and right to walk in safety.
    At times as opposed to popular thought felt safer walking the back streets home knowing the map, the lanes to dart down and my sheer ability to scream that loud enough pitch to put any on or off guard. I'm told in my primary school years this could be heard throughout the whole street.
    At work I am required to complete an equal opportunity module every two years that could be extended to the wider community to educate what is not acceptable where we live from the ground up.