Monday, August 22, 2011

Proud Sluts Walking

Photo by sahlgoode

Earlier this summer, Sabrina L. Schaeffer expressed several concerns about SlutWalk's "mixed messages" from her conservative soapbox over at the Hill. Like most hoping to (further) shame SlutWalk's participants, she accused the goals of the protest and the principles of feminism of contradicting each other.

These assumptions are founded in a predictable post-feminist attitude. But when it comes to our current political arena, antifeminists like Schaeffer keep describing the historical movements of the 70's-- rather than investigating what modern activists are hoping to accomplish today.

In the midst of the twenty-first century, feminism is arguably riding it's third wave with a new set of priorities. If the first wave is associated with gaining the right right to vote and the second wave with obtaining reproductive rights, the distinguishing factors of the third wave are fostering a global consciousness and criminalizing sexual violence without punishing its victims.

Toronto launched the first SlutWalk in response to one police officer's unnacceptable response to sexual assault. In April of this year, Michael Sanguinetti told the young women of York University to stop dressing like sluts to avoid being victimized.

And there it was-- the harsh reality that law enforcement treats sexual assault differently than other crimes because the victim is somehow responsible.

Sanguinetti's words were representative of a widely accepted misconception many women are ready to change-- with radical action. Taking to the streets, those who believe responsibility falls solely on the rapist started a tradtion that would be recreated in every major city across the United States.

But this phenomenon could not be contained by North American borders. Globally, the SlutWalk has stretched as far as India. Women across the world are reclaiming public space and the words attempting to keep them out of it. 

However, some aren't thinking so progressively.

In Schaeffer's victim-blaming column, she said "Just because rape is illegal and not socially acceptable, it doesn’t mean certain behavior might not put women at a 'higher risk of assault.' In short, if women dress like sluts, they might be putting themselves into dangerous situations — whether we like it or not."

But who will act as the official fashion police? 

Slutty is subjective. One woman's shirt is another woman's lingerie. And women are victimized while wearing pajamas, jeans, abayas, and eveything in between. This fact is well represented by the diverse attendants of any SlutWalk.

Furthermore, assuming rape is a man's primal reaction to physical temptation degrades men as well as women. This flawed logic suggests all men will rape when exposed to someone who sparks their interest when, in reality, most are capable of respecting social norms that demand consent be given before a sexual encounter. And those who choose to break this or any other law are criminals.

Rape is a crime-- and placing fault on the victim is a pardon rapists do not deserve.

In a completely egalitarian society, wearing a short skirt would not be a risk. Even in our obliviously sexist environment, the amount of skin one reveals should not correlate with the amount of danger one should expect to encounter.

But some women naively trust a turtleneck and a self-imposed curfew to keep them safe while pointing fingers at those who know better.

Schaeffer continued her critique explaining that SlutWalk is misguided and "Women shouldn’t dress like 'sluts' not only because it’s foolish, but more importantly, because it undermines so many of the educational and professional accomplishments women have made in recent decades and redirects the conversation back to women’s bodies."

While entirely missing the point of SlutWalk, Schaeffer managed to bring up another excellent point.

As women, each of us has a brain and a body. They work together to make up our personhood-- the "total package," if you will. 

Yet society only allows one to be showcased. And women having to dress androgenously to be taken seriously is as problematic as women being faulted for harassment or assault when their clothing is supposedly too sexy. It's merely the flip-side of objectification. And fighting to be recognized as someone, rather than something, is an ongoing feminist battle SlutWalk illustrates beautifully.

Schaeffer goes on to accuse feminism of undermining femininity, courtship and marriage. She misquotes Gloria Steinem and then paints young feminists as ignorant followers, rather than informed activists. 

"Yet in all the marching and screaming, this contradiction appears to have eluded the women of SlutWalk. And in many ways, the effort has become almost a parody of itself. Instead of women burning bras, now young feminists are carrying signs that read, 'Slut and Proud' or 'Sluts Say Yes,'” Schaeffer said.  

It's always embarassing when critics take on topics they know nothing about. For starters, no bra was ever harmed in the name of feminism. They may have been left behind, but they were never set ablaze.

Secondly, the word "slut" is used to control women. It's not so much a style as it is an attitude.

If a woman is uninhibited, expects sexual pleasure outside of marriage, has male friends, stays out after dark, dresses in a way that draws attention to herself, or exemplifies any number of bold behaviors, men (and women) will use slanderous language to describe, but more importantly discourage her actions.

By reclaiming the word set by others' standards on an impossible sliding scale, women are taking back their confidence and their lives. Why should a junior high insult keep us from enjoying and expressing ourselves? Pride is the cornerstone of every SlutWalk.

And saying "yes" is all about consent-- the missing piece in sexual assault. Smart women who like sex and understand the law believe "yes" is a very important part of foreplay.

But Schaeffer doesn't seem to be familiar with any of this.

"Really? Are the participants so young that they don’t even recognize the irony — or just stupidity — in all of this? This supposed provocative effort is just the opposite of what the second wave of feminism claims to be all about," Schaeffer said. 

Antifeminist women like Schaeffer are more than willing to criticize feminism-- or at least a stagnant and dated interpretation of what feminism was at one time. They are completely unaware young activists are in the midst of a third wave that sometimes finds itself at odds with second wave expectations even when employing similar tactics to gain personal freedoms.

But the rest of us know there's still work to be done. And marching never goes out of style, especially if it brings us a few steps closer to political, economic or social equality.


  1. So WELL Said, slutty feminist.

    Since you mentioned India, I must say all was not well in India for the slutwalk. The Media majorly criticized it saying there were more important issues to walk for such as female infanticide or dowry deaths in India.

    People and I am sorry to say many so called feminists in India completely missed the point of the SLUTWALK. The 'women dressing responsibly' speech was more prominent than ever bringing into it traditional Indian culture!

    Thankfully there were bloggers who were for the walk and didn't hesitate to voice of their opinion despite the drowning noise from the anti-slutwalk clan. Renewed faith in the power of the blogosphere.

    Did I say BRAVO!!
    Excellent article.

  2. I understand your underlying point, but--and as much as i hate to do this--I am always compelled to respond to those who rail against ignorance and ideology and yet themselves labor in ignorance.

    You wrote, "It's always embarassing (sic) when critics take on topics they know nothing about. For starters, no bra was ever harmed in the name of feminism. They may have been left behind, but they were never set ablaze"

    Unfortunately, the only absolute that always applies is never use absolutes...

    Be well.