Before I offered to organize the Tampa SlutWalk, I thought long and hard about what my personal beliefs were regarding the Walk. I know that Tampa is a slightly conservative area, and that we might come up against a lot of criticism. What I also know, is this is a cause I believe in and personally know many women and men who’ve been affected by sexual assault. That alone, was enough for me to offer to take on such a huge project.
When I first heard about SlutWalk I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about it. I tend to be someone who watches and listens to put the pieces together before I jump in. And before I jumped in with my thought’s on the SlutWalks I wanted to make absolutely sure I had a good grasp on the idea of the movement as well as my own feelings and thoughts about it. I wanted to have the knowledge to articulate exactly why I’m supporting the SlutWalk movement. After tons of reading and lots of discussions with many people, here’s what I now know.
What’s in a Name
I have a background in and a love for marketing and creative design. And I know, better than most, the best way to make your product stand out is to be different. In todays world, of intense, non-stop advertising, sometimes the only way to stand out is to shock people. I believe one of the reasons SlutWalk has been such an amazing, world-wide movement is because of it’s name. If it take’s a slightly confrontational, shocking word, to get people to listen to the message – then so be it. I’d be willing to bet this movement wouldn’t have gained half the momentum it has, had it been called, “women stand united” or something similarly passive. (Plus, “slut” is exactly the word that the police officer used and it was just as shocking when it came out of his mouth.) Our generation is rooted in extreme ideas. We enjoy making waves and we like to feel that we helped create change. We tend to have a cult-like mentality and we feel good about belonging to a community that we can identify with. I would expect nothing less from our generation, than this shocking, powerful, global movement that SlutWalk has become.
The Definition of ‘slut’
Slut – noun
1. a dirty, slovenly (untidy or unclean) woman.
2. an immoral (not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted) or dissolute(indifferent to moral restraints) woman
When I read this I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment. If ‘slut’ is partly described as being immoral and not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted – and part of the SlutWalk movement is to change the way we think about women and sexuality, then if we were successful in changing that mentality, ‘slut’ would have a completely different meaning. When did ‘slut’ become synonymous with women who have a fulfulling and abundant sex life. Oh, right, when society deemed it conduct that wasn’t acceptable. Go figure . . .
The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal “madonna/whore” view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources.
Wait, what? Isn’t that exactly what our feminist resources should be used for? What if they had said that about women fighting for their right to vote? Or about women being in the military. Or about Title IX. Those are all so rooted in patriarchal views and yet women fought for and overcame them too. Our fight for sexual autonomy deserves every bit of strength our feminist resources have to offer.
Gail Dines believes that encouraging women to be more “sluttish” will not change the reality that there are people that are still “blaming [women] for their own victimisation no matter what they do.”
I don’t believe the goal of SlutWalk is to encourage women to be more “sluttish.” The goal, at least from my perspective, is to encourage our society to embrace and accept women’s healthy sexuality, to not shame them or make them feel guilty about the fact that they are sexual beings, and to do all of this free of negative judgement. Then, stemming from that mentality, if a woman IS sexually assaulted, her sexual history and sexual choices she makes for herself are never to blame for why she was assaulted.
If you are a woman, you have definitely been called a slut at least once in your life. (actually, I’d be shocked if it was only once) Maybe you were called this as an insult, as a joke, or maybe you don’t even know it was said about you. Whatever the reason, I guarantee every woman has been called a slut before, and the majority of the time it’s meant to hurt. Every step we take toward women having accepting, shameless, healthy sexuality (even if it’s just a baby step), forces the word ‘slut’ to lose a little bit of it’s power. Then what’s expected and accepted of women will change, in turn, leaving ‘slut’ with a completely different meaning.
I can’t think of another effort, from my generation, that has had as much force as the SlutWalk movement, to take those steps in the right direction for women. For that reason, I am supporting SlutWalk.
We’re Not Promoting ‘Bad’ Fashion
I’ve really wanted to address this part of the SlutWalk movement for a while now, but until now, I’ve struggled with how to write it effectively. When I first blogged about the remarks that the Toronto Police officer said, someone responded by asking me if I would encourage my daughter (if I ever have one) to dress ‘slutty’. Here lies another problem with our definition of the word ‘slut’ and telling women not to dress like one.
What is considered ‘slutty’ and who gets to decide what clothes are too ‘slutty’? A mini-skirt and a halter top? Jeans and a t-shirt? Tight yoga pants and a tank-top? It’s all culturally constructed and so very much tied to personal opinion and taste, that trying to define what ‘slutty’ looks like is absolutely absurd.
When I was younger, my mom took me to a Britney Spears concert. It was right about the time Britney had made her debut and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ was a huge hit. This was the time in my adolescence, that all young girls go through – the “I want to be sexy” stage (no thanks to girls like Britney Spears) where you sneak clothes to school and put make-up on in the school bathroom so your parents won’t know (we thought we were so rebellious). I remember two girls walking up the stairs to their seats and my mom said to me, “Can you see the difference in their outfits?” Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what they were wearing, but the idea was that one girl was in a really skimpy,”slutty” little outfit and the other was in a really pretty, “sexy” outfit. The point she was trying to make, is that there is a way to look hot and attractive without looking trashy. BUT – if you choose to look trashy that’s up to you and you don’t have to look trashy/slutty to look sexy. (On the other hand, even trashy has a sexual connotation and is open to judgment just like slutty.)
I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we see fashion disasters every day. We see sexy gone terribly trashy, and weird and unique go totally sexy and even trashy has gone sexy (look at Lady GaGa, she shocks us every time she puts something new on). Part of the beauty about living in 2011 is that we get to experiment and express ourselves in a variety of different ways. If you choose to go with what’s considered “slutty”, you should still be able to expect the same level of personal safety as someone who went with a burka (which I guess in some cultures may even be considered sexy).
My mom commented on an awesome vlog about this topic. (I highly recommend watching it.) This is what she said,
“If I AM dressing to look hot and possibly attract a man, the choice of man is MINE, and limited to the men who have a MUTUAL (meaning reciprocal or shared) attraction to me. It doesn’t mean that all men think I’m hot or vice versa.”
So, in response to the original question, if my daughter wanted to go somewhere looking ‘slutty’, I would do my best to show her the difference between dressing ‘classy’ and dressing ‘trashy’. But only because it’s good fashion sense and not because she should fear for her safety if she chooses to dress ‘trashy’/’slutty’.
Because I Believe that Crimes of Fashion are not Punishable by Rape
I’m supporting SlutWalk because I believe in healthy, positive sexual autonomy for all people. Because I believe in freedom of fashion without the fear of sexual assault. I believe in a world where the only people we blame for sexual assault, are the people committing the assault. Because I believe that men are much better than the standard that victim-blaming and rape apologists set for them. Because I believe in the power our feminist resources have to change the world. I know that too many men and women are being sexually assaulted on a daily basis and that makes me sick, sad and angry. Because I believe that as a culture we can do better. I believe that we can come together, despite our differences, to create a movement that will improve the way we think and forever change the victim-blaming, slut-shaming mentality of the culture we live in. Because I believe that crimes of fashion are not punishable by rape. And because I believe the SlutWalk movement has the potential to create a better world for ourselves, our sisters, our daughters and even our daughter’s daughters. ♥