Yet Another Post About Slutwalk (As If You Haven’t Had Enough Already)Posted: May 31, 2011
My twitter feed, geekily stuffed as it is with feminist tweeters, has been over-run the last couple of weeks with posts about the widespread phenomenon that is Slutwalk. You won’t need me to tell you what it is, no doubt, so prolific has the coverage been, but just in case Slutwalk is an anti-rape march started after a police officer in Toronto made the comment that women shouldn’t dress like sluts if they don’t want to get raped, causing outrage in women everywhere. The decision was made that enough is enough; we’re sick of victim blaming culture, sick of the low conviction rates for rape and sexual assault and sick of this all too prevalent attitude. And so women (and their various allies) in Toronto took to the streets to make their message heard, and were quickly followed by women (and their various allies) in other cities across the world. The London Slutwalk is scheduled for Saturday 11th June and I am really looking forward to it.
But it seems that not everyone is excited as me, and there has been a lot of discussion amongst feminists, big and small, about whether the term ‘Slutwalk’ is appropriate and whether it should be supported by feminists and feminist organisations. I can’t add anything to the extensive discussion that hasn’t been said before, but I just want to reiterate a few of the points that I think are most important. Firstly, it is important to note that this movement was not started by women who identify as ‘feminist’. Victim blaming is a cause close to many feminists’ hearts but these were women not involved with feminist politics at the time, whether they do now or not I couldn’t tell you. This was also a snap reaction to a particular comment made, the word ‘slut’ was not chosen at random. And lastly, this march is *not* about reclaiming the word slut so can everyone please stop going on about whether it is even appropriate to reclaim it?
Some women may have chosen to use this march to reclaim the word slut for their personal use, but that is not what this is about. This is about victim blaming, about society calling all women sluts and then using that as an excuse to rape them. And, as anyone at Royal Holloway who has seen the campaign can tell you, there is *never* an excuse to rape anyone. Not if they are drunk, not if they are wearing a short skirt, not nothing. And rapists know this. Almost all rapists are perfectly aware that they have not got the consent of the person they are raping, that there is no excuse for their behaviour. That is why the average rapists rapes six times. Not because they are not aware of what they are doing, but because they don’t care. Rape is a crime, just like stealing and murdering and drunk driving. And everyone who does those crimes knows what they are doing, right? The difference is in the way that everyone else deals with rape. It’s not the rapists who excuse themselves because of short skirts and intoxication and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because women are just sluts who want it anyway; they just use those excuses because they can. Because the world lets them, and agrees with them that it’s really the woman’s fault for getting raped, not the rapist’s for raping. And what kind of messed up logic is that, right?
The fact that I even have to write this makes me feel angry. That people have not got it into their heads yet that rape is not the victim’s fault. And that is why I will march in Slutwalk, proudly, for all the women who have been accused of a crime that was committed against them, not by them. Hoping that people will educate themselves about rape myths when they hear about it; because of course it is not the person in the bushes that you have to fear when it comes to rape, but the man walking you home to ‘protect’ you, the boyfriend or the friend or the ex or even the brother or father.
That is not to say that the term slut is unproblematic, it is a word that has been used to oppress women for centuries. In fact, it used to not be tied to sex at all, but was a word to describe someone who kept an untidy house. How scandalous. But it is a word used to describe women who do not fit into the standard model of femininity, who defies social expectations of what a woman should be. And whilst it may have been used in a negative way, I think that is worth reclaiming even if that is not the point of the march. I am happy to be a slut, if that means I don’t do what I’m told, if I speak up when I’m supposed to be quiet, or don’t act as ladylike as people would want me to, if I have sex because I enjoy it, not in trade for marriage and babies, if it means that I am not fitting into patriarchal restrictions of what I can and should want to be. Jaclyn Friedman’s keynote speech at Slutwalk Boston was on this topic exactly, and she can say it better than I ever can.
There are arguments on every side of this debate, on whether it is worth reclaiming the word slut or whether we should start using new sex-positive terms to describe women’s sexuality, to distance ourselves from the oppression that this word has caused. But I want to be clear that Louise Bagshawe’s argument on Newsnight (arguing against the amazing Zoe Margolis, who will always be my hero) is not one that fits into this debate. The idea that this march is promoting promiscuity is absurd, she has misunderstood the point entirely, this is not what Slutwalk is about. But I also want to be clear that even if promoting promiscuity was Slutwalk’s aim, that would not necessarily be a bad thing. It wouldn’t be as powerful message, and wouldn’t mobilise women in the same numbers as have turned out to protest against victim blaming, but promiscuity is not the self-destructive behaviour that she claims it to be. It is not for everyone, to be sure, but people like Louise Bagshawe are the reason why Slutwalk is still necessary, in this apparently civilised country in these apparently modern times. To start telling women what behaviour is and isn’t appropriate is just one step away from telling them that it is their fault they got raped.
To finish, here’s a roundup of links about Slutwalk for your reading pleasure, on both sides of the argument. You know where I stand, so now see where everyone else is at:
The F-Word: Slutwalk London
Feministing: Slutwalk – to march or not to march
Feministing: A few words about reclaiming “slut”
Pandagon/Amanda Marcotte: Sluts, Walking: A FAQ Sheet