What is the Slutwalk to you?

So, a few months back, this Canadian cop proclaims this generalisation that women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimised. You can imagine the obvious outcry this caused (err, unless you agree with him, which is a whole other teapot). Some women actually organised something called a ‘slutwalk’, whereby women march, dressed sexily, and make an attempt to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’. Apparently, if they walk in hordes like that, the over-exposure to sexiness will inure men and conservatives to the usage of the word ‘slut’ in a derogatory context and enable them to magically see the rights of women in a new light.

Right.

Maybe I should let a slutwalk organiser explain it, instead of my sarcastic, naysaying fingers. On the original Canadian slutwalk:

The organisers’ stance was simple: to call for an end to victim-blaming, the idea that victims of sexual assault or rape could somehow be blamed for their attackers’ actions based upon what the victim was wearing or doing at the time. Was the victim dressed skimpily? Were they intoxicated? Did they have a large number of sexual partners? Yes? Oh well, that explains it then.

In addition, the walks protested against a culture of slut-shaming. As the founders put it, “Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”

I agree, of course. The point of civilised society today is basic personal freedom – I choose who I sleep with, how many I want to sleep with, and it’s none of your damn business. I also choose what I want to wear – but that sometimes panders to where I am going; if I’m in India and I attempt to walk into a temple in Kerala wearing a skirt, they will not let me in. (Not that I know what I’d be doing in a temple anyway (!), I’m just saying. There are a few famous places there that actually act this righteous, and it’s a little squicky to rail against it because of the whole religion thing. I mean, there’s no reasoning there.)

If I were a conservative person who didn’t want to have sex before marriage, if I were a ‘free spirit’ that enjoyed sex and wanted to keep having it with different people, if I followed the norm and had fewer than 10 sexual partners, or if I had no choice and had to sell my body for sex to earn money, it is still no business of the perverts on the road to judge me for it. I will have enough people who I meet in a civilised setting who will be passing judgement on me. (That’s a whole different game there.) I don’t need the roadside romeo to think he has the right now to violate me because I seem to like the act. My sexual promiscuity (or lack thereof) and sexual freedom in general is all about it being my decision to have sex. Not a random dude’s right to force himself on me because he thinks I’m screaming for it. And no, dressing sexily does not mean I am screaming for it.

The same article goes on to say:

Some who walk do so to reclaim the word “slut”; to empty it of its power to criticise and judge a person’s sexual expression. Some are self-confessed sluts and proud. Some are slut allies. And some walk because they hate the word “slut” and demand the right not to be called it no matter what they do or how they dress.

Here’s my bone of contention. It is truly great that organising this slutwalk has garnered so much attention around the world. That Canadian officer never knew what hit him when his thoughtless words prompted such an international response. It’s wonderful that feminists are actually rallying around this bit of news and milking it for publicity. But then what? They dress up however they want to and march in public to, err, fight semantics?

I agree, again, that ‘slut’ is a derogatory word that no woman in their right state of mind would welcome being called. So were ‘nigger’ and ‘whore’, for instance. The same article also mentions how these words are now also being used in affection, or to portray a sense of togetherness, being in the same boat and all. It also talks about how women can refer to each other as sluts and ‘hos out of a sense of sorority, with no venom behind the words. So, clearly, ‘slut’ is a negative word that has some positive attributes to it as well. Not really any different from ‘nigger’.

Did the people who were offended by ‘nigger’ dress up in black suits and march saying, “No, I don’t want you to call me that because of my skin colour” or, “I’m proud of it and the word does not hurt me when you use it” or, “I am proud of it and am flaunting it to you now”? Maybe they did. But history tells me they had so many other movements to focus on, so many supporters who were vocal about their opinions and people who actually died for ‘the cause’. I saw this article recently about James Zwerg (for the squeamish, be warned the pictures are graphic), a white man who was part of the Freedom Riders – people who fought for desegregation in public transport. They really had bigger problems than dress-code back then – he faced near-certain death just for riding in a bus with some black college students, believing that ‘public’ transport is for the public, not just for the whites. He was beaten up pretty badly. He was shunned by his family. But, he went ahead and sat on a bus, when he wasn’t supposed to. He has suffered the rest of his life for it, but he is satisfied knowing he made his point.

That kind of ‘civil disobedience’ has power. That flouts some rules very obviously and draws attention to the true madness of the opposition. The slutwalk? Unless you are expecting to be molested on the walk and therefore say, “See?” you really aren’t getting a point across. Why would you walk to “reclaim the word slut”, when there are a hundred thousand other reasons more important? Walk for the victims of abuse and assault, walk for the thousands of women whose voices are drowned or lost in totalitarian regimes, walk for … hell, just walk for ‘woman pride’ like ‘gay pride’ and it will still get the point across better than saying, “I don’t like being called a slut.”

In India, where women even wear salwar kameez and sari, incidences of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and sexual assault are very, very high. And unlike the more ‘free’ culture of the ‘west’, a large percentage of these go unreported because impurity or shame is not the done thing. Don’t talk to me about your right to wear miniskirts when women in clothing from head to toe are still being objectified and violated. Why aren’t you using your opportunity to speak up for these women? For women in your countries who have been assaulted and barely find shelter to turn to? For you yourself, when you were attacked for wearing revealing clothing?

Sure, you’ve attracted a lot of media attention because of the very attitude you want to purge – people think ‘slut’ is a crass word and immediately their attention is perked by something titled a ‘slutwalk’. But what have you done with that attention? You’ve turned a cause that has a much deeper root, and a much bigger issue at its heart, into a media circus fuelled by people who will just turn up to see women in revealing clothes – and you don’t even have a proper point to get across. In fact, you’re probably doing more harm than good, since you’re clearly belittling the efforts of real women out there fighting for their rights to survive and their real problems with sexual assault and abuse. You’ve squandered this lovely opportunity to get that point across, to start some serious lobbying for equal opportunity laws, to start some serious cracking down on sex crime, to get some serious attention to organisations that work to liberate women in totalitarian regimes, and instead have turned this into a laughable matter. Shame.

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