This January a Toronto policeman advised women not to dress like sluts so they don’t get raped, ie if you dress a certain way, you’re asking for it. In response, in April a crowd of women took to the street in Toronto protesting a system that not only does not protect us from violence and sexual assault, but perpetuates it, excuses it and blames us.
Since then, SlutWalks have been sweeping the nation and the globe. In Boston earlier this month, several thousand women who have had enough of this slut-shaming rape culture that blames female victims and not the male perpetrators of sexual violence came out to protest, stating that rape is rape, no matter what we are wearing, how much makeup we have on, how much we’ve had to drink or how ‘inviting’ we seem.
Some critics have misunderstood that the SlutWalks are promoting women to dress or act like a ‘slut’, ie, dress in provocative, vulgar clothing, and sleep around. They’ve totally missed the point, which is that even if a woman dresses in a trashy or sexy outfit, this is not an invitation to rape her. DUH! For the record, women should have the right and the freedom to wear whatever we want, whether it’s a hijab, or a minidress with heels. Clothing is an expression of personal identity, style, and taste.
If one of us can be called a slut, all of us can. To a religious conservative, jeans, hijab, and a Land’s End turtleneck could be slutty. It’s relative. It has nothing to do with our sexuality, whether we are hookers, or what we look like. Prude, demure, modest dressing god fearing virgins are called sluts. It’s one of those great equalizer sexist insults. If you are female, you will be called a bitch or a slut repeatedly in your lifetime.
SlutWalk celebrates CONSENSUAL sex among adults. Women who enjoy sex or speak about it have historically been demeaned as sluts because of the virgin/whore dichotomy most boys are raised with. The good girl is the virgin. The bad girl is the slut. Sluts should be quiet, and paid for to perform a service for men, and not speak out loudly, demand their rights. Well SlutWalk is turning this notion onto its head, sluts becoming not object but subject. SlutWalk protests against a culture that sexually objectifies women, and pressures girls to be sexualized at an ever earlier age. Needless to say, I support SlutWalk.
However, like some critics, I too have been very torn about the use of the word slut, and the debate about reclaiming the word, because I’ve been so sensitive about violent gendered language, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse of women. Bitch and slut are gendered insults that I do not allow to be used in my earshot unless you’re ready for a talking to. Because of this, until recently I as ignoring #slutwalk on Twitter and not voicing my two cents.
I’ve spent years studying and working on gender based and sexual violence against women and girls around the world, focusing on sexual violence in conflict areas, so it’s an issue I feel very passionately about. I’ve met mothers whose children have been raped to death, and children and women who have been disfigured, infected with HIV/AIDs, made infertile, and left to die of fistula. I know that rape is about having power over, not sex. Rape is a weapon of war and terror. Rapists rape, whether the victim is a child, a grandmother or a religious woman wearing a burkha.
I am sick and tired of feeling hurt and pain every time someone says these words, I am fed up with my heart skipping every time I think someone is using these words against women. Fact is, they’re not going away. Women and men have internalized the sexism and gendered misogyny of these words and are using them more liberally than ever. And sometimes I catch myself saying them too. I have gone over the criticism, stayed awake thinking about it and working it through in my head over and over, and here is how I’m resolving the re-appropriation of the term slut, for me. You may find it simplistic, but here goes:
These words are like the N word that I would never ever say or think because it is so wrong and hurtful and yet was reclaimed and is used liberally within the black community. But it would not be ok for a white person to say the N word would it? I don’t think so. And so, just as it’s not ok for white people to call black people niggers, it should be not ok for people to insult women directly or indirectly by calling them bitches, sluts, whores etc etc.
I am hereby liberating myself of the yoke of these gendered insults. I can say slut, bitch, whore, pussy about myself. Anyone trying to hurt or insult or judge me or other women with this kind of language, whether you’re a man or a women – YOU CAN NOT, in my humble opinion and presence. Period. Unless you are part of the SlutWalk movement and NOT a man, and referring to me as a supporter of SlutWalk or a fellow feminist, only then I would feel ok with it. Again, this is my own personal way of resolving this issue, and I am only speaking for myself.
My beloved feminist inspiration, Germaine Greer, wrote a great piece on the etymology of the word slut, and how slut actually meant dirt, as in a dirty part of the house, and then became an insult for the kitchen maid who did not clean the slutcorner well enough. I’m a bit messy, so yes, in keeping with the historical meaning of the word that makes me a dirty slut. My fiancee does most of the housekeeping because he’s tidier, but he’s definitely a bit of a slut when it comes to not washing his hands as often as I do. So I guess I am a monogomous slut that washes her hands a lot.
And if any woman who is abused and raped and called a slut because of what she was wearing, then I am one too, out of solidarity, and I will wear something slutty and shout it out until the media does not mention what a woman or girl was wearing, what she looked like, or how much makeup she had on when she was violated.
Watch this video of Jaclyn Friedman speaking out at Slutwalk Boston. It may make your blood boil.
What do you think of SlutWalk and how I’ve resolved this debate for myself?