Don’t “Slutwalk” this Saturday

Labour Party

This Saturday the “Slutwalk” phenomenon that began in Toronto comes to London. As this is my constituency I thought it timely to impart my feelings on the subject. As a protest movement, it is one that has divided feminists (in that way not unlike many other feminist protest movements) and I have to say that in this instance I have to come down on the side of those feminists who don’t think that “Slutwalking”  is the best approach to this issue.

As a feminist who has been active for many years in the realm of women’s rights, it is of course heartening to see younger generations continue the struggle. I also believe that the initial spark for this protest movement is grounded in very real issues. I have, in a previous blog, discussed my views around how rape and rape victims are treated within our society – overwhemingly as at least partially responsible for the abuse they suffered. This despicable situation is one that absolutely must change and we as women should fight to ensure society recognises this injustice, but I’m not sure stripping off is exactly the right way to do it.

Of course women should absolutely have the right to wear what they want and no matter what a woman wears she is never ever asking to be raped. However, you have to question why many women feel obliged to dress this way to begin with.

While I think Germaine Greer’s article in the Telegraph in defence of the “Slutwalkers” makes some excellent points I disagree that in dressing in a provocative manner women are simply liberating their sexual desires. I would argue that sexual attractiveness and exposure has actually become a societal obligation upon women rather than a freedom given to them.

You only have to look at what is in the media to realise that we currently inhabit a culture that both objectifies women and encourages women to objectify themselves. If we look at other recent issues, the return of Playboy to London for instance, the selling of padded bras to seven year olds and the proliferation of lap-dancing clubs, is this really a landscape of female emancipation? We live in a world where young girls are groomed to believe that “they’re sexually hot or they’re nothing” and where women believe more than ever that success is dictated by your body shape rather than your career.

What’s even worse is that it’s not simply the case that women are expected to be sexually alluring, even promiscuous, they’re also still judged negatively for it as well. I suppose in the 50s at least you knew where you stood. As a woman growing up now you’re told to look sexy in order to be valued by society then, if you are raped, told it’s your own fault for wearing such clothes.

The Slutwalkers seem to recognise one part of this oppression but are ignoring the other. I applaud the Slutwalkers for their passion and their anger. I too feel their rage against an establishment that blames women for being victims of rape. But I ask them to look again at what society has convinced them liberation is and whether that’s really the “freedom” they want.

4 thoughts on “Don’t “Slutwalk” this Saturday

  1. There is alot of debate about the SlutWalks, but it seems that most women are unified in that the victim should not be blamed for being raped. This is the central point of the Slutwalks. If we are unified on this we should all be marching! Some women however, don’t think the central point is so important. Or that unity is important.

    Instead, there is criticism about the method of bringing the central issue under the spotlight, overlooking the fact that many women have campaigned every day for years, and held anti-rape marches, (not that I’ve heard much about them), but nothing has brought so much movement and attention to the campaign in recent times as the Slutwalks.

    Overlooking the central issue is required in order to focus on the word Slut, and to talk about dress, in much the same way as the Toronto police officer did. (Watch your own response to that statement!)

    There is an assumption that everyone attending the Slutwalks dresses revealingly. This is blindness! I would urge the critics to watch the footage and NOT focus on the women who are dressed OTT carnival style (not that they’d be going out dressed like that day to day!). This is a protest march! People often dress up for protest marches! There are plenty of women dressed perfectly ordinarily, and from all walks of life.

    There is also the assumption that women on the Slutwalk do not understand the other influences of our society. What on earth do you think they/we are? (Watch your own response to that too!). They are certainly educated enough to be able to prioritise and grasp the importance of the central issue of the protest, … the influence that ‘victim blaming’ has on our society… better than the critics do!

    They grasp that women dressed in office suits, saris, burqas, etc., are also raped, and that men and children are raped too, and that there is always some excuse to blame the victim across the world, …not just in UK/West. Many are aware that Gadhaffi is currently using the excuse that the women belong to the rebel side in Libya; that Congo and South Africa are currently the rape capitals of the world; that Delhi is also known for it’s high incidences of rape; that sex trafficking is on the increase; that there is widespread impunity. They are most certainly aware that men who rape view ALL women as sluts, and don’t give a damn what the victim is wearing.

    I ask the critics to look again at what society has convinced them is the more important thing to focus on as regards the Slutwalks: A way of dressing, a word, or victim blaming in rape cases. If your answer is ‘victim blaming’, don’t let the way you like to dress, or how you feel other people ought to dress, or what you feel about the word Slut, stand in your way. To do anything else is to compromise your own conviction that victim blaming is totally unacceptable.

  2. This insightful commentary clearly identifies the flaw in the form that the young women chose for protesting against men’s use of violence to intimidate and subordinate all women. By attempting to “reclaim” a word that never was anything but deeply insulting to women as a class and dressing to match the stereotyped image associated with the word, marchers delivered a conflicted message. Demanding your right to hug your chains merely demonstrates that liberation of the mind is still to be achieved.

  3. This insightful commentary clearly identifies the flaw in the form that the young women chose for protesting against men’s use of violence to intimidate and subordinate all women. By attempting to “reclaim” a word that never was anything but deeply insulting to women as a class and dressing to match the stereotyped image associated with the word, marchers delivered a conflicted message. Demanding your right to hug your chains merely demonstrates that liberation of the mind is still to be achieved.

    Lyn Venables eloquently responds to Mary Honeyball, arguing as others have, that no previous feminist protests against sexual violence,have “brought so much movement and attention to the campaign in recent times as the Slutwalks.” In my experience, that fact alone should prompt Ms. Venables and the organizers to ask themselves what they are doing wrong, since feminist actions that genuinely change the way women think and thereby
    threaten men’s dominance tends to be either either savagely ridiculed or ignored by the press.

  4. I don’t think the organisers are doing anything wrong. The Slutwalks were not months in the planning, it was a knee jerk reaction to a Toronto police officer. The organisers were shocked when so many people turned up. It seems they had inadvertantly caught the zeitgeist. The movement gained momentum very quickly…..for a reason that has far more to do with victim blaming than the word Slut.

    People are joining these marches primarily to protest about the horror of victim blaming. Victim blaming is worth thinking about for more than a nano-second by anyone who claims to stand against it. It is traumatising in the extreme to be raped and then to be further traumatised by being greeted with a cultural attitude and a justice system that doesn’t recognise or uphold justice for what is essentially a crime against humanity in any context. It is punishing the victim in the extreme, resulting in many victims not reporting, nor getting the support they need. The impunity is highly visible. Is it any wonder that so many women have rushed to join this protest, whatever it is called!

    For many women the word Slut becomes irrelevant in the face of the central issue. It’s a headline grabber and it worked, and good. End of. For others it’s an add-on to the central issue…either as symbolic of female sexuality for which we should not have to feel ashamed, or as an insult that must be turned around. Women like men are individuals, we’re a diverse bunch. You too could join the Slutwalk and align with the central issue and still maintain your own opinions about the word.

    There are psychological defenses that seem to not permit some women to put the central issue first. Perhaps some women do not really believe that ALL women are percieved/treated as sluts by rapists, or that they are often judged to be sluts because they have been raped. This is quite understandable if there is an emotional distance from rape itself, if one has not experienced it, or know anyone who has. It’s then more of an intellectual exercise to think about rape. In that instance it becomes easier to imagine stereotypical victims and scenarios that don’t resemble reality.

    There is pride and ego that seems to not permit some women to put the central issue first. They do not want to risk being seen as a slut by agreeing to join, or be seen to support, the Slutwalks. They find the very idea ridiculous and uncouth, and the organisers must be blamed for not taking everyone’s sensibilities into account. It becomes easier to talk about this than the raw subject of rape and victim blaming. Some are would-be journalists, and some who call themselves feminists are writing all sorts of things, laying immeasurable emphasis on the word Slut, turning the Slutwalks into a critique on feminism and dress, eager to display intellectual prowess of magnificent proportions, joining the newspapers in a fantastic attack and utimately upholding patriarchal ideas…whilst blaming the Slutwalkers for the same.

    We have many systems that uphold the oppression of women, still, and violating womens bodies is the most brutal. All of the pervasive threads need to be talked about. Objectively it is nothing but a good thing that so much debate is taking place. It concerns me greatly however, that there is so much woman-to-woman focus, when predominantly the perpetrators of the crime are men. Men who are also subject to the influences of our systems. How do men feel about men who rape? What do they think the problems are? Are they outraged when they hear about a women being raped? Do they see it as not their problem? Are they tired of men who taint their gender? Are they interested in raising the profile of good men? If they knew a friend had raped would they tell? Are men more loyal to one another? What exactly are the influences on men? What do they think about the common myth that men think of sex every six seconds? Do they think these myth should be busted? Are they afraid of women gaining equality? Do men have issues? Or do we only have women’s issues? Do men need a help-line?

    A few years ago I researched on the net about men standing against rape. I discovered that fledgling organisations of men addressing men were springing up from Australia to Zimbabwe. Britain was lagging behind like a backward country. Britain needs to step up. Men need to stop men who rape. It’s high time that we all turn our focus towards tackling the roots instead of only focussing on the tragic human consequenses of violence against women everywhere.

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