“women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”
As many of you are likely already aware, this charming tidbit was uttered by a member of the Toronto Police Force in January 2011 whilst addressing students at Osgoode Hall Law School.
As a result, many cities have followed Toronto’s example in setting up SlutWalk protest marches to address the widespread culture of victim-blame and broader issues surrounding the persecution of sexualised women.
There is a SlutWalk being held in my own city (Melbourne, Australia) and the topic has gone slightly viral within my personal facebook community.
Friends of mine have engaged in a (mostly) intelligent debate about the merits of SlutWalking and some of the key themes that emerged were:
– Encouraging women to dress in a revealing manner is contrary to common sense when wishing to avoid assault.
– Assualt is an unfortunate reality, and the cop wasn’t that far off in suggesting that people should do what they can to protect themselves. Essentially: It shouldn’t be like that, but it is, so don’t be an idiot about it.
– Does dressing immodestly increase your risk of being assaulted?
– How come women get all the attention when male victimisation in the context of street violence by far outweighs that of women?
Many people responded to these themes with arguments I would agree with, namely: women get assaulted no matter what they wear and if you want something done about male street violence, then maybe do it yourself instead of complaining about how much attention women get. But people still seemed to be largely missing the point, so I broke with my resolution to not get involved in facebook ideological skirmishes and wrote this:
It appears that a number of people have misunderstood the purpose of SlutWalk. The protest is a direct attack on the propensity in this culture to blame the victim in situations of male-on-female assault. It’s message is not ‘dress however you feel like it and compeletely disregard your own safety.’ The name, far from being misuided is entirely appropriate, given that the concept of ‘sluttiness’ is integral to this culture of victim blame. The point of ‘slut’ is that women who deviate from a code of virtue and modesty are behaving innapropriately, and boith deserve and encourage punishment for that behaviour. It is a centuries old concept and one of the most persistent and pervasive aspects of patriatrchy.
SlutWalk, therefore aims not to challenge the reality of women’s safety on the streets, but the philosophy behind it. It is even more important, it would seem, that it takes place now in a culture where the plurality of language used to discuss women’s sexuality masks the deeply ingrained tradition of that philosophy.
With regard to men’s safety on the streets, I have two brief points to make. Firstly, the difference between sexual assault and harassment of women on the streets and men who experience violence on the streets, is that the men are being (largely) attacked for one of the many reasons listed above: they are drunk, big, small, badly dressed, well dressed, in the wrong pub, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply there. Women, on the other hand, are attacked because they are women. In the end nothing, not being sober, staying home, traveling in a group, averting your eyes or dressing modestly can change that. You are still a woman, and therefore still a target for sexual assualt. If you need further proof of the complete inefficacy of modest dress in deterring sexual assault, look up some stories of women who dress in full abayas and niqab/burqa – they are still women, and they are still assaulted.
Secondly, there are most definitely things being done to address male violence and victimisation. As usual, no one can see the trees for the forest. What needs to be understood here is, when we talk about an issue, when we deal with an issue, we are dealing with men’s role in and view on that issue. Honestly I am stunned that none of you have realised whilst writing this that several key discussions in state and federal government are currently addressing the issue you feel is so invisible. The trial lock-out, the proposed regulations on shots and energy drink mixers in WA, the enourmous tv ad and poster campaign targeting male violence in liscensed venues otherwise known as the ‘Championship Moves’ campaign. So not exactly under-represented..
I often (read: amost always) refrain from engaging in forum-style discussions (read: flame-wars) that pertain to feminism, human rights or really anything vaguely political, especially on facebook. The primary reason for this is that I find them incredibly unproductive. People rarely read through responses carefully, do any kind of research beyond googling for statistics that back up their argument or give a hot damn about the issue after they’ve removed their fingers from the keyboard.
Another reason however, is that amongst my friends and larger circle of acquaintances, I am frequently attributed an unspoken label akin to ‘token feminist’. This can be something I enjoy, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of causing people to overlay a tone of aggression on my writing, and/or to dismiss my opinions and arguments as ‘radicalism’.
As a result, on the rare occasions that I do partake of a little facey banter, I attempt to be calm, austere and at the most mildly disapproving. On the inside, I want to gouge me some eyeballs.
It is one of the greatest successes of anti-feminist backlash, the ‘hairy-legged nazi-dyke phenomenon’ as I like to call it. Somewhere along the line, they found a way to use our own weapons against us. The trademark feminist writing style of the 70s – emotional, raw, honest- is now used as a reason for the dismissal of their daughters. ‘Don’t worry about her, she’s a feminist, she’s a radical, she’s a progressive.’
Basically, you are only allowed to have opinons about feminism if you deliver them in a sedate, palatable manner and most importantly: you must be able to admit that you are wrong. Because you will be. About lots of things. Most of it even.
I have to admit, that when I first read about SlutWalk, I was a little concerned that a march full of women in their undies with ‘Slut’ painted on their boobies could potentially give the wrong impression. But after seeing the reaction of my friends and acquaintances, after being told that SlutWalk was borderline offensive because it only considers women’s experience of street violence, and after knowing that I would have to write a reasonable, clear and moderate response to these arguments instead of all-capsing the shit out of that forum if I had even a chance of being taken seriously, I realised that there is no way in hell I am not SlutWalking. Because ‘feminist’ is not that far from ‘slut’ – both of them mean I am not behaving as a proper little lady should.
So if a group of women want to get together in fishnets and yell and scream and protest their right to be any kind of women they goddamn feel like being, then that’s where I’ll be.