SlutWalk: What’s the problem?

1. SlutWalk was reportedly initiated in response to a police officer’s comment about not dressing like a slut if you don’t want to get raped. The underlying assumption is that one’s attire — specific items or style — sends a message. And indeed it does.  High heels, fishnet stockings, and a heavily made-up face are considered invitations.  So if a woman is wearing ‘fuck me shoes’, she can hardly complain if someone fucks her.  But is that the message the woman is sending?  A message that she’s sexually available to everyone?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Frankly, given the ambiguity, and the nature of the outcome in the case of misunderstanding, I wonder why women take the risk.

It’s much like wearing one’s gang colours in the territory of a rival gang.  Of course it’s going to be provocative.  Is any consequent assault legal?  No.  Is it deserved?  No.  Should it have been anticipated?  Yes.  So unless the intent was to make a point about the wrongness of gangs and violence, a point best made by arranging media presence for the incursion into the other gang’s territory, well, how stupid are you?

Granted, most women who dress in a sexually attractive way don’t go that far (fishnet stockings and heavy make-up), but why go any way at all?  Why does a woman dress in a sexually attractive way?  Why do women put on high heels, show their legs, wear bras that push up their breasts and tops that expose cleavage, redden their lips, and so on?  What does she hope to attract exactly?

My first guess is that she hasn’t thought about it.  She dresses in a sexually attractive way because, well, that’s what women in our society are expected to do.(1)  In which case she’s an idiot.  Doesn’t deserve to be raped, but really, she should think about what she does.

My second guess is that she dresses in a sexually attractive way because she wants to invite offers of sex.(2)  But then, she shouldn’t be angry when she receives such offers, either in the form of whistles and call-outs or in more direct ways.  That she may respond with anger or offense suggests that she wants to attract only offers she’s likely to accept, offers only from men she’s attracted to.  But, men may cry, how’s a man to know?  Um, try to make eye contact.  If you can’t do that, she’s not interested.  If you do make eye contact, smile.  If she doesn’t smile back, she’s not interested.  Surely that kind of body language isn’t too subtle to grasp.

And yet, many men seem to have such an incapacity for subtlety that if you act like bait, they may simply reach out and grab you.  Are they entitled to do that?  No.  Any unauthorized touching is a violation.  Is clothing authorization?  Well, sometimes.  Consider uniforms.

So it would be far less ambiguous if a woman who wants sex just extended the offers herself.  Why take the passive route of inviting offers from likely candidates?  Why make men try to figure out whether they’re a likely candidate?  Why not just let them know and go from there?

 

2. Many people may not have been aware of the police officer’s comment. So what are they to make of SlutWalk? What are they to understand is the point?  (Prerequisite to deciding whether to support SlutWalk or not.)

a) “It’s okay to be a slut!” Given the ‘sluttish’ appearance that many women present during the walk, this understanding is understandable. But whether or not one wants to endorse that message depends on the definition of ‘slut.’  See“What’s wrong with being a slut?”

b) “We’re proud to be sluts!”

c) “No woman deserves to be raped, regardless of her attire!” This is probably closest to the intended message, but in this case, better to have called it a “Walk Against Rape”. Better, further, to advocate changes that would make rape more likely to be reported and rapists more likely to be sentenced commensurate to the injuries they’ve caused.  Perhaps better still to advocate a male-only curfew.

Of course, “SlutWalk” is far more provocative, far more attention-getting, than the ho-hum “Walk Against Rape”, but I don’t think the organizers considered the difficulty of reclaiming an insulting word.  And ‘slut’ is a very difficult insulting word to reclaim.  Harder than ‘bitch’ and ‘nigger’ and even those reclamation  efforts haven’t been very successful.  Mostly, success has been limited to conversations among women in the first case and conversations among blacks in the second.  SlutWalk is not conducted in the presence of women only.  So, really, did the organizers expect people in general to accept (let alone understand) their implied redefinition?

The organizers also didn’t think through the male over-dependence on visual signals.  The gawkers and hecklers who typically undermine the event should be expected.  The inability of men to process any verbal messages (even those just a few words long) in the presence of so-called ‘fuck me’ heels should be expected.

Consider that even Gwen Jacobs’ action to make it legal for women to be shirtless wasn’t immune to sexualization, despite the clearly non-sexual nature of her action; men (BOOBS!) hooted, men (BOOBS!) called out, and the media, no doubt reflecting a decision made by a man (BOOBS!), or perhaps a thoughtless woman, continues to use the sexualized “topless” instead of “shirtless” when reporting about the issue (BOOBS!).  Imagine the response had Jacobs gone shirtless while also wearing short shorts exposing half buttocks.  It would have been, to understate, a mixed message.

And that is, essentially, the problem with SlutWalk.  High heels, exposed legs, pushed-up breasts, and a made-up faces sends a message that one is sexually available (which is why it’s appalling to me that it has become convention for women to wear heels and make-up in public every day all day) (those who accept that convention accept the view that women should be, or at least should seem to be, sexually available every day all day).(3)  And if it doesn’t send a message that you’re sexually available, what message does it send?  That you’re sexually attractive?  Back to the top—what are you hoping to attract?  (And why are you trying to attract that when you’re at work, working?)

d) “Women have a right to tease!” That seems to be the message SlutWalk conveys, given the likelihood that women who present themselves as sexually attractive aren’t actually trying to be sexually attractive to everyone or, at least, aren’t sexually available to everyone. And that’s a message that many women would not  Especially those who know about the provocation defence.

There’s nothing wrong with extending invitations to sex.  Doing so in public in such a non-specific way—that’s the problem.  Especially given men’s inability to pick up on subtle cues and/or their refusal to understand the difference between yes and no, let alone yes and maybe.  Maybe when men can handle a sexually charged atmosphere without assaulting…  Maybe when other men penalize, one way or another, those who can’t handle a sexually charged atmosphere without assaulting…

In the meantime, we’re living in an occupied country, a country occupied by morally-underdeveloped people with power who think women are just walking receptacles for their dicks.  So women who make themselves generally available, or present themselves as being generally available, are, simply, putting themselves at great risk (and, yes, in a way, getting what they asked for): some STDs are fatal; others are incurable; most have painful symptoms.  And pregnancy has a life-long price tag.(4)

 

(1) There’s a difference between attractive and sexually attractive.  At least, there should be.  Perhaps because men dominate art and advertising, the two have been equivocated.  (No doubt because everything is sexual for them. ) (Which may be to say, everything is about dominance for them.)

(2) Maybe part of her smiles to think of herself as a slut.  She’s a bad girl, she’s dangerous, she’s taking risks, she’s a wild girl for once in her life.  But that’s exactly what they want.  Sexual access.  No-strings-attached sex.  We fell for that in the 60s too.  Free love, sure, we’re not prudes, we’re okay with our bodies, we’re okay with sex, we’re ‘with it’.  But they never took us seriously.  They never considered us part of the movement.  Behind our backs, they’d snicker and say the best position for a woman is prone ( Stokely Carmichael) (read your history, learn about your past).

(3) Of course there’s the possibility that if/when women forego the heels, bared legs, accentuated breasts and butts, and make-up, men will consider a little ankle to be an open invitation.  Which just means the issue isn’t attire at all.  It’s being female.  In a patriarchy.  (Which still means SlutWalk is off-target.)

(4) I hear the objections already: ‘No, wearing high heels and make-up doesn’t mean I’m sexually available!  That’s the point!’  (And around and around we go.)  Then why do you wear high heels and make-up?  Seriously, think about it: high heels make the leg more shapely, attracting the male gaze, which follows your legs up…; make-up makes your face younger, supposedly prettier, lipstick attracts the male gaze to your lips…  If you just want to be attractive, then what you do to your body wouldn’t be sexualized: you’d wear funky gold glittered hiking boots, you’d paint an iridescent rainbow across your face, you’d do a hundred other aesthetically interesting things…