Thursday, 26 May 2011

However we dress, wherever we go

I guess I'm a little late coming to the party to talk about SlutWalk. Partly because it just seems such a no-brainer to me - of course I'll be marching in support of the idea that it doesn't matter how women (or anyone else for that matter) dress, we are not responsible if someone rapes us. Partly cos lots of others got there first and said lots of great stuff I completely agree with.

When I heard about the awe-inspiring responses all over the world to that Police Officer telling women "dressing like sluts" was causing rape, I just felt happy to be part of a feminist movement which makes connections between the ways in which women-hating and victim-blaming reinforce rape culture. The idea that men who fancy women, faced with women in short skirts, will inevitably fall about with the raping, is one I hope to see lots of women-loving-men out there challenging as well. Seriously, is the "uncontrollable male sex drive" not one of the most degrading things possible?

Why on earth should men ever be let out into the world, if they are really that unsafe to have around?

SlutWalk, for me, is deeply connected to many of the "Take Back the Night" marches I've been involved in organising and participating in over the last twenty-odd years. The point is that women are not responsible for being raped. Full stop.

What is different is the marketing. And this, for me, is a wonderful and provocative thing - but also the reason I'm writing this now, as more and more feminist responses are critical of the marketing.

The critique of how the media will and are covering SlutWalk? Valid of course - why cover an issue in depth when you can just take pictures of women's breasts?

But why are we so frightened of the word "slut"? And why is reclaiming that word - "slovenly or promiscuous woman" - the bit people are struggling with?

The reason is context, or how the word "slut" is used to shame us:

It holds nothing for us but humiliation, subordination and the weight of centuries of sexual inequality and oppression. We demean ourselves by applying it to one another.
The problem with this argument is that it only works if we are ashamed, or can be made to feel ashamed, of either being untidy, or of being sexual "too much". And this is inherently problematic, because how much is "too much"? Promiscuous, ok, that means I'm not supposed to have sex with what, more than five people in my life? Ten? Twenty? One hundred?

But if sex is a good thing - which I fervently believe, and I know many feminists would agree - then why is having sex a lot, whether it's with many others, or lots with the same person - why is that a problem? Why should we be ashamed?

I'm not. The parallel for me with this is the deliberate reclaiming by lesbians of the word "dyke" in the 1970s and 1980s. A word still spat out with hatred and bile today at lesbians, or any woman not behaving in ways the person using the word likes - but which many lesbians love because it feels strong in it's statement of woman-loving. I feel the same about the word "queer" - a very problematic reclaiming for non-heterosexual people older than me; fairly comfortable for people my age; default word of choice for younger non-hetties today.

Reclaiming a word is about making nonsensical the idea that what it signifies is shameful. Being a woman who likes sex is not shameful. Sure, it's hard at times, in this world we live in, to celebrate that and to challenge that without being "punished" and I've personally been described as a slut more times than I can count because I insist on talking about sex with enthusiasm and joy.

So I'll be out there on June 25th, reclaiming "slut" and no doubt shouting out the odd "Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go" in the spirit of connecting this fabulous new feminist response with fabulous older feminist responses to victim-blaming and rape culture.

And while I absolutely respect every feminist's right to have their own analysis, I really hope to see lots of you there.


Psycho Milt said...

One of my favourite comic authors is (was - sadly now deceased) Dori Seda, and I always liked the one in which she and her friend, before going out for the evening, demand that her boyfriend judges which of them looks sluttier. "Er... why, you both do!" He passed the test.

Scar said...

As I stated in the previous post, I think that Slutwalk is a massive privilege parade and I have some deep, personal issues with it.

Aside from the good intentions of the Slutwalk, I find myself balking at the idea of associating myself with an event in which I'm reclaiming the word slut. As a trans woman, I already face overwhelming social stigma about my sexual activities (cue the 'deception' tropes') and am automatically stereotyped as a sex worker.
Why I would then want to pile 'slut' on top of that, I have no idea.

This is an event for middle-upper class, cis, white women who have the privilege of affording themselves luxury of being labelled 'sluts' for the purpose of the march, as there will be no extra negative impact on their minority group as a consequence of this.

If it weren't for the use of that word, I'd be more inclined to go (though I'd probably still steer clear, for other reasons I outlined on my blog).

LudditeJourno said...

Hey Scar,
fair enough. I don't agree with your analysis of who this is necessarily for, but if it's not a fit for you, it's not a fit for you.
I think "slut" is absolutely classed as a word, but for me it has more working class connections rather than middle-upper class. EG - the "Hutt Slut" rhyming slang for bogan, Pakeha young women from the Hutt Valley. Class, gender and sexuality shame all in one, nice.
Take the point on your blog about being sexual as a trans woman, and think there are some parallels for many other groups of women too in terms of "sexual currency" for want of a better word. But I'll talk about that at your blog :-)

Scar said...

"I think "slut" is absolutely classed as a word"

That's precisely what I was inferring; that when the word is regularly used to degrade you, then it becomes problematic to join in on a march that uses it in its title.

But for those who are middle-upper class, the word has fewer damaging connotations and it's much easier to assume the mantle of a 'slut' for the walk because it's not something you'd ordinarily be called.

Why this had to be called SLUwalk, I don't know. Probably because it's more attention-grabby and will get more media coverage.
But once again, it feels like the 'normal' feminists made this choice without bothering to consider the implications of the word for others who might want to march.

It's the people who don't have to worry about messages regarding normalcy and deviance who are backing the Slutwalk.

LudditeJourno said...

Slut has been used to describe me - as I said in the blog, for being sex positive, and in the comment above, for being a bogan young woman who grew up in the Hutt Valley. I'll still be there.
I'm not sure your assumptions about those who may choose to participate are fair - I guess we'll see on the day - but your right to not participate is a given.

Is said...

Cool post Luddite! See you there!

Scar said...

I think we have a misunderstanding. I haven't made any assumptions on who will be participating, I was commenting primarily on the demographic whom the organisers and promoters of the Slutwalk are from.

If, for example, it were organised/brainstormed by trans women of colour, I don't think it would be called 'Slutwalk'.

Jessica M said...

I've been called a slut so many times. I'm so tired of it. Reclaiming it feels like I'm taking away the word as a weapon when it's constantly used against me (a cis-white-het-middle-class-feminist). But I can understand why other women don't want to reclaim it or don't feel the can reclaim it. But for me it's important to reclaim it because it's hurting me. It will be the one day where I call myself a slut instead of everyone else calling me one every other day of the year. And it's a reminder that even though I'm a 'slut' I wasn't to blame for my rape, I didn't ask for it and I didn't deserve it. No-one does.

Anonymous said...

I've been called a slut so many times. I'm so tired of it. Reclaiming it feels like I'm taking away the word as a weapon when it's constantly used against me (a cis-white-het-middle-class-feminist). But I can understand why other women don't want to reclaim it or don't feel the can reclaim it. But for me it's important to reclaim it because it's hurting me. It will be the one day where I call myself a slut instead of everyone else calling me one every other day of the year. And it's a reminder that even though I'm a 'slut' I wasn't to blame for my rape, I didn't ask for it and I didn't deserve it. No-one does.

Scar said...

Reclamation can be a powerful tool.
However, using non-inclusive terminology (i.e.'slut') to name a protest against rape culture is still very problematic.
I see it as exclusionary.

I've never been called a slut, as I'm inherently unfuckable and disgusting by virtue of being trans. What's there for people like me to reclaim?

Maia said...

Scar's point about the exclusiveness of 'slut' for those who are deemed unfuckable is an important one. At least one slutwalk is defining slut as "a woman who enjoys consensual sex". Which as well as excluding those are deemed unfuckable, also excludes asexual people, and other groups of women who tend to be marginalised already.

I don't think slutwalk has to be problematic. But I do think it's important to understand that the whole point of the virgin-whore dichotomy is that as well as being punished for having sex and facing a huge societal pressure/shaming/violence not to have sex (or for being perceived as having sex). Women are punished for not having sex and facing a huge societal pressure/shaming/violence to have sex.

This is an interesting discussion of some of the class/race dimensions of 'slut' and their implications.

Scuba Nurse said...

I must confess I have no interest in using or reclaiming the word slut.
Slut walk is about more than that to me, and I have sort of ignored the "reclaim slut" part. I love reading these comments because I have a lot of the same feeling around the word and appreciate having smart people express it so well! Thanks.

Scuba Nurse said...

Was the name "slutwalk" chosen because that was the word the policeman used or have I missed something pivotal?

stargazer said...

this is also an interesting read.

Anonymous said...

I like Scube's approach. It strikes me that, through its evolution, SlutWalk has developed two quite separate forces. One to protest against the victim-blaming represented by the original comment, the other to re-claim "slut".

The two approaches can both approach the event in their own way, because both approaches are valid (depending on your point of view).

Like Scube, I am attending the event because of the need to bring attention to the issue, to demand that women (anyone really) is not blamed for being attacked or raped just because of how they dress or behave.

If others want to do it to reclaim "slut", then good for them. Glad to have them there.

Scar - I do hope you can come along despite the use of the term "slut".

I rather liked this article -

Scuba Nurse said...

oooh both good reading. thanks people.

LudditeJourno said...

Yeah Goodgravey, I think that's right - the desire to protest victim-blaming sitting and the desire to reclaim the word "slut" - which might be separate for some people attending, and therefore the source of some tension.
I guess for me, they are entwined. Interesting to think about this in more depth.

Scar said...

Goodgravey, I will not be attending for the reasons I outined in my blog post:

If I were cis, I'd probably attend.
But I'm not.

Scuba Nurse said...

Has anyone heard that Atlanta changed the name from slutwalk to wewalk? I love it.

Thanks for the link scar, it was really good to read

Boganette said...

I love WeWalk and I wouldn't even consider not going if it was called WeWalk.

I keep going back and forth. I support it, then I read a post against it and I don't support it. Then I read something else and I'm back to being behind it. The naming of it is really problematic. And it's very exclusionary. I don't think that can be denied. But the chief cause is hugely important to me. And I keep being told it's not actually about reclaiming "Slut" but about victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

This article helped me try to figure out where I stand.

I particularly liked the pull-out quote from Tarrant: "SlutWalk is imperfect. All political movements are imperfect. Human beings are imperfect. But while we’re fighting amongst ourselves, sexual assaults keep happening."

I'm glad criticism is coming out now though. For me - There is a lot of reading to be done before the walk.

Boganette said...

"Was the name "slutwalk" chosen because that was the word the policeman used" - Yep.

Scar said...

I'd like to point out that there is no 'fighting amongst ourselves' in this instance; personally, I have decided not to attend the Slutwalk as I find it mildly exclusionary and because some people may have a problem with me being there.
I'm not attempting to change it or argue for change. Nor am I shouting at people for acceptance or inclusion.
Instead I'll be at Queer the Night, which IS inclusive and fewer people will have an issue with trans people being there.

Boganette said...

I'm sorry Scar I didn't mean you with that quote. It was a quote by Tarrant the LA SlutWalk organiser replying to Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy's criticisms of SlutWalk. I should have phrased it better, I'm sorry if it seemed like that was aimed at you.

I totally respect your decisions around SlutWalk and the fact that it is exclusionary. And I appreciate your post and comments about it and what you've said on here about your reasons for why you do not feel comfortable attending. Your comments and those of other NZ bloggers have really made me question the walk instead of blinding supporting it and my privilege around why I jumped into supporting it before I actually read more about it.

Scar said...

Sorry, that was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction as I'm always extremely wary of stepping on the toes of cis women by arguing with them or demanding acceptance.

I felt that I had to clarify in case anyone reading this discussion had perceived my posts as being appropriative, demanding, aggressive or shouty.

In every instance I will absence myself from an event rather than demand entry or demand it to change.

Boganette said...

I don't think your response was knee-jerk - or came across that way. I should have been clearer and I can definitely see the way it came across like I was misrepresenting you. That wasn't my intention but I'm well aware Intent Isn't Magic.

I'm really glad that you've felt able to talk about this on this blog. I think it's really brave and I'm really thankful that I can learn from what you've said. I wish there was some way to make the walk less exclusionary and less of a privilege-fest. I think the dialogue so far has been good in raising awareness of just how exclusionary the walk is.

With your permission I would really like to post your post on SlutWalk on my blog (in the May carnival I'm doing a Slut Walk round-up) - but I can understand if you'd prefer not to have your posts linked on my blog.

Scar said...

So long as no one objects to a trans woman's perspective being shared in the same space as theirs, I'm okay with that.
If anyone voices disapproval however, I'd like you to pull it immediately.

Boganette said...

If anyone did they wouldn't be welcome on my blog. I appreciate you letting me link, your post is a really important one.

president said...

I'm not comfortable with reclaiming the word "slut" because to me it really is such and abusive word. Do we have to "reclaim" every single word that is used against us? I don't see blacks "reclaiming" the word "nigger" for example. To be sure they have reclaimed the word "black." I know that rappers use the word "nigger" but I suspect a lot of that is self depreciating. I wonder what the origins of this word "slut" are and if there is really anything positive to reclaim. However, I will probably attend the march, and perhaps I might get used to the word.