I guess I’m a little late coming to the party to talk about SlutWalk. Partly because it just seems such a no-brainer to me – of course I’ll be marching in support of the idea that it doesn’t matter how women (or anyone else for that matter) dress, we are not responsible if someone rapes us. Partly cos lots of others got there first and said lots of great stuff I completely agree with.
When I heard about the awe-inspiring responses all over the world to that Police Officer telling women “dressing like sluts” was causing rape, I just felt happy to be part of a feminist movement which makes connections between the ways in which women-hating and victim-blaming reinforce rape culture. The idea that men who fancy women, faced with women in short skirts, will inevitably fall about with the raping, is one I hope to see lots of women-loving-men out there challenging as well.
Seriously, is the “uncontrollable male sex drive” not one of the most degrading things possible?
Why on earth should men ever be let out into the world, if they are really that unsafe to have around?
SlutWalk, for me, is deeply connected to many of the “Take Back the Night” marches I’ve been involved in organising and participating in over the last twenty-odd years. The point is that women are not responsible for being raped. Full stop.
What is different is the marketing. And this, for me, is a wonderful and provocative thing – but also the reason I’m writing this now, as more and more feminist responses are critical of the marketing.
The critique of how the media will and are covering SlutWalk? Valid of course – why cover an issue in depth when you can just take pictures of women’s breasts?
But why are we so frightened of the word “slut”? And why is reclaiming that word – “slovenly or promiscuous woman” – the bit people are struggling with?
The reason is context, or how the word “slut” is used to shame us:
It holds nothing for us but humiliation, subordination and the weight of centuries of sexual inequality and oppression. We demean ourselves by
applying it to one another.
The problem with this argument is that it only works if we are ashamed, or can be made to feel ashamed, of either being untidy, or of being sexual “too much”. And this is inherently problematic, because how much is “too much”? Promiscuous, ok, that means I’m not supposed to have sex with what, more than five people in my life? Ten? Twenty? One hundred?
But if sex is a good thing – which I fervently believe, and I know many feminists would agree – then why is having sex a lot, whether it’s with many others, or lots with the same person – why is that a problem? Why should we be ashamed?
I’m not. The parallel for me with this is the deliberate reclaiming by lesbians of the word “dyke” in the 1970s and 1980s. A word still spat out with hatred and bile today at lesbians, or any woman not behaving in ways the person using the word likes – but which many lesbians love because it feels strong in it’s statement of woman-loving. I feel the same about the word “queer” – a very problematic reclaiming for non-heterosexual people older than me; fairly comfortable for people my age; default word of choice for younger non-hetties today.
Reclaiming a word is about making nonsensical the idea that what it signifies is shameful. Being a woman who likes sex is not shameful. Sure, it’s hard at times, in this world we live in, to celebrate that and to challenge that without being “punished” and I’ve personally been described as a slut more times than I can count because I insist on talking about sex with enthusiasm and joy.
So I’ll be out there on June 25th, reclaiming “slut” and no doubt shouting out the odd “Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go” in the spirit of connecting this fabulous new feminist response with fabulous older feminist responses to victim-blaming and rape culture.
And while I absolutely respect every feminist’s right to have their own analysis, I really hope to see lots of you there.