Women are marching again. I feel like I am back in the early 1970s, being pushed around in my pushchair as my Mum and her friends participate in demos calling for ‘women’s liberation’.
But now it is 2011. I think women, in countries like America, Canada and the UK, where these Slutwalks are taking place, are pretty liberated by now. Those who are ‘free’ from severe socio-economic deprivation, I mean. Because poverty is an equal-opportunity killer.
The women in this photo for example, who are white, young, probably middle class (Slutwalks are being publicised via university campuses as well as facebook and twitter etc). They look confident. Confident enough to walk down a main road scantily clad, with the word ‘slut’ written on their bellies. They don’t look very oppressed to me.
The reason for these ‘Slut Walks’ is that a Canadian policeman, involved in a sexual assault case, (by the way they don’t use ‘rape’ as a legal term in Canada) said that women should not ‘dress like sluts’ if they want to avoid being assaulted. Obviously those were stupid comments.
But the fact that an international ‘movement’ has sprung up in direct response to them seems kind of odd to me. As if the ‘sluts’ were waiting, in their bedrooms, with their doctor martens and their lipstick, ready to graffiti themselves and storm the streets as soon as a man said something out of line. These feminist sluts are scaring me a bit.
My key reasons for being sceptical about the Slutwalks and the messages they are sending are:
1) Most rapes and sexual assaults occur within long term relationships, often in the context of ‘domestic violence’ and are not related to women being accused of ‘asking for it’ in the sense of going out and being seemingly sexually provocative to men. I expect, well I know, that ‘slut shaming’ can be one aspect of sexual/domestic violence but it is very complex how it plays itself out within a relationship. The gender dynamics that lead to rape can’t be reduced to one policeman’s off the cuff remarks, and a unified, angry feminist response to those words.
2) The Slutwalks are suggesting that women are the core ‘victims’ and potential victims of sexual assault, and that usually it is men who are their attackers. Of course, statistics back up this view, but statistics are often misleading. Male rape was not made illegal until 1994 in the UK, later I think in many states in America, and research and stats on it are just not available. This is partly because men are not comfortable about reporting being raped. Even less so than women. And because it makes men look ‘unmasculine’. It is linked to some of our prejudices about homosexuality I think. To be penetrated is still seen as somehow ’emasculating’. Maybe it is!
3) The process of ‘slut shaming’ is complex. In my view feminism is as guilty of ‘slut shaming’ as any group of people/ideology, with feminists continually campaigning against the rights of women such as sex workers, strippers, Hooters waitresses and porn actors to do their jobs safely and without being labelled as either low-down whores or poor, abused victims. If women want to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’ they might have to examine some of their own preconceived ideas about women’s sexualities and what they do with their bodies. Even with regards to those of us who do use the term ‘slut’ in our sex lives, among other words, and particularly in the context of S and M sexualities, we often find ourselves in a hornets’ nest when it comes to how feminism interacts with us. I have been called ‘sick’ and ‘vile’ for my particular use of language, including the word slut, in written porn, not by Canadian policemen, but by feminist women. The original organisers of the Toronto march cited Dottie Easton’s book ‘The Ethical Slut’ as an influence. It’s an interesting read, but it is telling us how to be ‘good’ sluts. I hate being told what to do!
4) Feminists, in trying to point out how women ‘are not to blame’ for being sexually assaulted, often tie themselves up in knots around issues of sex, power, consent and gender. Statements get thrown around as if they are fact, such as: ‘rape is about power, not sex’, or, as can be seen on the placard in the photo above: ‘sex is something people do together, not something you do to someone else’ or the chant at one of the marches ‘hey hey, ho ho, patriarchy must go’. I disagree with all these statements. I think sex is about power so ‘rape is about sex is about power’ would be more accurate. I also think it is perfectly possible to ‘do sex’ to someone, with their consent. Some of us like ‘being done to’. As for patriarchy, well, it’s just a made up thing, isn’t it? The problem is that as soon as something becomes ‘a movement’ it seems to need a set of beliefs, a ‘mission statement’. And this makes it prescriptive, dogmatic.
5) Slutwalks remind me of the 1970s, not just because of the women marching in the streets, but because they seem to be part of a feminism that has reverted back to the 1970s ‘radical feminism’ where ‘the personal is the political’ and everything is about ‘the body’. The key feminist issues getting the most activity at the moment seem to be rape, sexual assault, reproductive rights, pornography, sex work, ‘women’s objectification’, FGM. And the body given priority is the ‘female body’. Forget men, forget trans women, forget gender queer and gender non-conforming people. Slutwalks are part of a feminism that is in my view reinforcing not challenging the gender binary.
So I am done marching with feminists. I did it without my consent as a child. And now I am old enough and jaded enough I choose not to take part in this ‘movement’. I am still a slut though, albeit an ‘unethical slut’.