ACCELER8OR

Aug 01 2011

SlutWalk, Take Back The Night and Evolution’s Future Sluts

By Violet Blue


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Some people will bristle when I say SlutWalk represents a significant tipping point in cultural evolution. Yes: I think scantily clad girls marching in the streets around the world are agents of change for our species. Maybe that’s why its critics are panicking and handwringing as if Invaders From Mars have come out of a time machine from the future in heels and hose, reminding everyone that their face is up here.

SlutWalk is a protest event that had an international identity within a few months. SlutWalk started in April 2011, and has now become an organized phenomenon of rallies (satellites) around the world, including Canada, the United States, Australia, Argentina, the UK, Sweden, Germany, Mexico, Hong Kong and many more countries. In any given SlutWalk, women of all identities and orientations march for the right to dress as they like while having their boundaries respected.

The first SlutWalk was sparked when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, publicly suggested that to remain safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” To which several women of Toronto replied with a very organized fuck you in the form of a physical take-to-the-streets protest.

“SlutWalk started because a few people were angry at the status quo, we were angry at the Toronto Police, because we were too tired of seeing sexual assault overlooked by many, because we demand better for the survivors of sexual assault, for those damaged by blaming and shaming language, and for the respect that everyone deserves and should be given.”

To SlutWalk’s detractors — almost all of which are exclusively female and feminist-identified — the SlutWalk rallies are doing more harm to women and society than good. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, one self-identified traditional feminist declared “Ladies, We Have A Problem” and bracketed the sentiment with a URL string that reads “clumsy-young-feminists.html.” Ouch.

In the op-ed, author Rebecca Traister claims that she “wanted to love SlutWalks.” Except that, she explained, women protesting in demand of sexual safety being scantily clad while doing so was simply “confusing,” and dressing slutty made them look as if, well, as if they were asking for it. She also presumes that all women in SlutWalks dress like sluts. (They don’t.)

To Traister and many other women that have come out against SlutWalks, the participants came off more like girls-gone-wild at Halloween than women who should be taken seriously about sexual safety.

Like fellow feminist SlutWalk critic (and noted UK anti-porn activist) Gail Dines, Traister’s brand of feminism was stated as at minimum two decades old — and in my opinion, badly in need of a software update. Along with other critics, these two ladycritics opine that the sexual flashiness in SlutWalks are a kind of capitulation that make the participants vulnerable to attacks of all kinds. These older, serious-faced feminists write SlutWalk off as an amateur act of attention getting. Dine has made it clear that in her academic opinion, SlutWalk is harmful

It’s one thing to call the critics dated, but I’ll posit as fact that anyone saying SlutWalkers are out for attention and harming women in the process, absolutely does not understand SlutWalk.

Basically, they don’t get it.

As with Constable Sanguinetti, they’re guilty of slut-shaming and slut-blaming. In essence, SlutWalk was organized to make a statement about female sexual agency, and what happens when you take it away by telling us that sexualizing our already-sexualized-by-culture bodies is our tacit display of telling the world we desire nonconsensual sexual violence.

It’s a mindfuck to wade into that mess, meaning the whole “asking for it” ideology. Being a target is being female, no matter what we wear. And slut-shaming, a relatively new name for an old concept, is the acceptable way of shaming a woman for exploring, owning and expressing her sexuality in whatever way she sees best, most enjoyable, or even most empowering.

Same goes for slut-blaming. Methinks the ladies (and constables) are confusing sluts with victims. I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot of “good girls don’t like sex… too much” in all this anti-SlutWalk hyperbole. For SlutWalkers, sexuality —especially as expressed in ultra-feminine iconography — does not equal violence, victimhood or exploitation. Dressing sexually or behaving “slutty” does not mean a woman is automatically a victim, or just a victim-to-be, a sort-of victim-in-waiting — which sounds a lot to me like 1950s stereotypes where single women are labeled “pre-marriage.’

In fact, most of the people loudly and proudly proclaiming sluthood as powerful see Old Feminism as exactly that: sexual shaming and repression.

But most old-guard feminists that have spoken out against SlutWalks categorize the women in them as young and foolish, with the critics feeling it’s their duty to publicly tell the global movement how wrong they are. Clearly, they know better.

There’s nothing more conspicuous than someone telling a woman what she should and should not do with her body. And of this, today’s outspoken Old Guard feminists are also guilty. Of course they’re coming up against women that are not as clumsy, young and foolish as they think. SlutWalkers know very well that this very act of talking proscriptively about women’s bodies is just as sexist a thing to do as the guy who feels it’s his duty and right to tell us we have “nice tits.”

Perhaps it’s because — to Old Guard feminists — the consequences of “being a slut” are a direct result of women “acting like sluts.”

The mistake being made is in thinking that SlutWalks are the new Take Back The Night. Sorry, sister. There’s a big difference, and it’s all in the… pornography.

Historically speaking, Take Back The Night was a protest similar to SlutWalks in that it was an angry assembly of women that demanded to be heard on issues of female sexual safety and personal agency. The first of such nighttime marches was in direct response to an act of violence in Philadelphia, 1975, where a woman was murdered. An awareness shift was needed: women were compelled to confront Philly’s neighborhoods about issues surrounding the safety of women in their communities. So they took to the streets and marched.

The marches were reproduced around the world as international interest grew (in first world countries, exclusively). Take Back The Night notably responded to instances where women were murdered and had been attacked in daylight, and Take Back The Night participants insisted that communities take action to make women in the communities safer. After a string of murders in the UK not long after the Philadelphia incident, British police had told women to stay indoors at night for their safety. It was not only impossible, but also unacceptable, and the first UK Take Back The Night took place.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Take Back The Night returned to the United States, but with an ideological sea change. The rally in San Francisco specifically focused itself as an anti-pornography demonstration, and equated pornography with violence against women. They marched in a district where sex workers lived and worked, confronting the workers and directing anger at porn theaters.

The then-new Take Back The Night feminist characterized every woman involved in pornography or sex work as a victim that required saving, and of course, needed education about her condition. This mission and viewpoint was a cornerstone of 1970s-‘80s feminism. It was when feminism and female anti-rape culture became defined as anti-porn culture. And in its sister’s hand was the gift of a new kind of slut-shaming.

Over the past 30 years, Take Back The Night has become a franchise. While it has distanced itself from outright anti-porn slut-shaming, it still has a strong anti-porn stance and the message hard-wired in its DNA.

SlutWalks, it should be noted, openly incorporates sex workers and women that perform in pornography as women equally deserving of respect, rather than victims in need of saving.

So it makes perfect sense that today’s feminists of a certain era are none too pleased with SlutWalks, and the SlutWalkers are acting like the Honey Badgers of feminism (they don’t give a shit). The Toronto police officer has long since apologized, and SlutWalks are happening in most major cities, including San Francisco.

But I’ll re-iterate that those saying that SlutWalkers harm women are missing the point entirely. Traister, like SlutWalk’s anti-porn Take Back The Night foremothers, infantilize “sluts” as women who are not making their own choices, but instead claim they are making choices dictated exclusively by the pressures of men. It’s a classic circular argument that places the responsibility for men who behave reprehensibly on the shoulders of women who self-identify as  — or would be labeled as — sluts.

Perhaps what critics like Traister don’t realize is that they’re in danger of being the token female being trotted out to stage an op-ed catfight for the frat boys — thus keeping us all about ten feet below equality’s glass ceiling. The old brand of feminism, or however you like to label it, is at least 30 years old now, and comes from an era when women could not be smart and sexy at the same time. She is stuck in a time when women that didn’t have a certain kind of sexuality were rubber stamped as victims, or about-to-be-victims. And by denying a woman’s right to be a slut, and most especially a safe slut, she’s still safeguarding the male privilege that got us all here in the first place.

And, yes: part of SlutWalk’s goal is also to redeem the word “slut.” Like other Old Guard feminists that have attacked SlutWalk for being “slutty” Traister didn’t bother to ask why they want to redeem the word (and the perception) of sluts.

What’s strange is that I didn’t intend this to be an article about feminism, and I don’t identify as a feminist. I don’t want to be confused with women like Traister and especially not Dines. It’s been energizing for me to watch SlutWalks blossom not just because I’m tired of women talking about porn and sex work without allowing the women who do these things to speak for themselves. It’s also because I’ve been in many environments where women are supposed to dress dowdy and avoid dressing sexy because it is too challenging.

To those that accuse women who dress sexy — or slutty — of being harmful, I full well demand that I be able to dress sexy and be taken seriously at the same time — whether I’m in the boardroom and sharing my ideas or on the street and maintaining my boundaries. Just because a woman is dressed in a way that is sexually inviting, it does not mean that you don’t have to listen to her.

I love SlutWalk’s high-heel feminists. They’re the true punks of feminism, the disruptors. They’re the ones with the brass ovaries enough to dress like sluts and tell the world to STFU about what they should, or shouldn’t do, with their sexiness. I also love that SlutWalks embrace sluts of all genders and identities. Critics need to stick that little nugget of queer, non-binary thinking from the future in their old feminist crack pipes and try to smoke it.

Mind you, not all SlutWalkers wear high heels, or even want to, but that’s part of the point. In fact, SlutWalk encourages women to wear their regular clothes – though fittingly, participants are wearing whatever they choose. A significant number of them are choosing to represent themselves as loud, proud sluts.

You see, SlutWalk is many things to many people.

SlutWalk represents a huge consciousness shift. In the historical context of Take Back The Night and the recent resurgence of old feminism’s new anti-porn crusades, SlutWalks are actually not just a trend. SlutWalks are a leap in cultural evolution. Detractors suggest that SlutWalk is simply a meme, replicating itself, while the fact remains that SlutWalks actually support a fundamental change in sexual evolutionary thinking that was already in place.

SlutWalk is a huge reclamation and restatement about boundaries and women’s bodies. Sex workers are broadcasting the message that just because the nature of the work is sex does not mean that their bodies are automatically available for anyone’s public debate, or worse. At the same time, all of the women in SlutWalks represent the idea that women can dress provocatively — and men still need to understand where the boundaries are.

And some of us are going to wear whatever we want to our own revolution — and our evolution — thank you very much.

13 Comments

  • By sjfbarnett, August 1, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    Thanks ever so much for this amazing piece. To have someone take the time to properly analyze what SlutWalk is about before jumping to conclusions or choosing to single out the Feminists who “are doing it wrong” is refreshing.

    I, myself, don’t classify myself as a Feminist {especially with a capital F} due to the very reason that no matter what my choices, many established Feminists will decry that I’m just not good enough to help propel the movement forward. I stand up for my rights, as well as those of others who need a voice, and I don’t care what people call me.

    We SlutWalked not to demand the right to wear panties on the street, but to demand respect, no matter what our sexual proclivities. We had to be loud and brash to be heard above the noise. And we made a mark.

    SlutWalk doesn’t want or need to tick every box of Feminism in order to be successful. Many people have morphed it into what it needs to be for them, and that’s a sign of progress. As you say so succinctly, of evolution.

    Sonya JF Barnett,
    Co-founder, SlutWalk Toronto

  • By Lori S., August 1, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    I think it’s a huge mistake to characterize the discussions about SlutWalks as simply a generational conflict between Old Guard feminism and a younger generation. Certainly that’s there, but that’s not all of it. Women of color have also been very outspoken about their concerns, and to ignore that is to do them a further disservice.

  • By Taoist, August 3, 2011 @ 10:55 am

    I fully support women being able to wear whatever they want, and especially being able to wear whatever they want without being physically harassed and assaulted. That being said, I’ve seen several of the slutwalk protestors and their supporters (including the author of this article) express the idea that women should be able to wear whatever they want without being judged – which I think is a contradictory expression in the finest of women-expecting-men-to-be-psychic of traditions. You want us to judge how you look when you’re dressed how you want us to judge you as looking, and not judge you when you choose to dress how you don’t want us to judge you. I’m sorry, but as a mere male mortal, I’m not psychic enough to know when you want us to judge you by your appearance.

    Most women I’ve discussed similar issues with are very insistent that they do want men evaluating and judging their appearance, and that how one dresses and appears is a very important part of the impressions one is conveying to others. Claiming that it shouldn’t apply when someone dresses like a slut, but should apply in other cases is simply inconsistent.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, August 4, 2011 @ 2:30 am

    I am a succubus. I dress like a slut, act like a slut, and am quite proud to be a slut. My art is designed to inspire lust, my craft is to make people horny. I am a sexual creature and make no bones about it.

    But just because I spend more time out of clothes than in them DOESN’T MEAN that I’m going to just have sex with anyone, nor does it mean that I will allow you to assume that when I say no, I mean yes.

    I don’t give a flying fuck if you want to think I’m “low class” because I dress to show and flaunt my sexuality. IT DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO FORCE YOURSELF UPON ME, or any other woman who’s not terrified to express her sexuality because men might get aroused.

    Get used to it. As technology advances and more and more people gain the ability to look however they wish, expect a lot more “sluts” to get fed up with being considered “second class” or “easy targets” and start making people realize how idiotic it is to base “morals” on primitive goat-herders ideas of “sexual purity”

  • By Jeeves, August 12, 2011 @ 8:03 am

    If you dress like a whore and don’t think you’ll get sexually assaulted or verbally harassed you’re a fucking idiot plain and simple. Your “rights” don’t overthrow another persons right to do whatever the fuck they want to do to you. Every person has the ability to do whatever they want to do, even you dumb bitches. If it wasn’t illegal, it’d be happening a lot more and I’d bet money women wouldn’t be dressing in a way that invited it. The law won’t protect the majority of you, and I’ll gladly laugh and point and say “nice tits” to whomever I want to. Expressing your sexuality not only invites commentary but we as men know – you really are dressing that way so we react to it. Delude yourselves however you want, you don’t dress sexy just to feel good about yourself. You dress sexy to get a reaction. If you don’t like them, they fucking wear something else.

  • By Janet, August 12, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

    Amen Jeeves.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, August 13, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

    @Jeeves. So you make the assumption that liking being LOOKED at means I’ve given consent to being raped? Lovely thought process you have there. Better think twice about wearing that Rolex. After all, by your reasoning, you’d only wear it because you WANT it stolen, and are giving your consent to be robbed. Violently.

  • By Randy Thio, August 14, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

    Ok, so I’m male, 45, straight. I guess you can say I’m a feminist as I’m all for equality between the sexes. So I get that women want to be looked at, but not stared at. Comments as to appearance to be curtailed (no saying, ‘nice tits’, e.g.). Got it. Although I have never, nor will I ever, force myself upon anyone, I am in serious need of some clarification. It’s true that many of the definitions have changed over the years. I want to know: How would a progressive SlutWalker define consent? Obviously not by appearance. Is it verbal? How does it work? Are men expected to guess or are men to wait until a verbal invitation is provided before being able to ask a SlutWalker out. I’m not being flippant here, I really want to know what the new protocol is. If a SlutWalker is in my home and she’s completely naked grinding away at me, is she simply expressing her sexuality? And in this instance, is the proper male response simply to feign disinterest? For the most part, I now exude a disinterested attitude when approaching or being approached by a woman, lest she should think that I may have ulterior motives. Lots of eggshells to walk on, let me tell you.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, August 15, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    I cannot speak for anyone but myself Randy, but simply put, I don’t care if you look, I don’t care if you express appreciation, I don’t care if you express interest, but if I say I am *not* interested, that does not mean “rape me.” It does not mean “drug me so I can’t make a rational choice.” It does not mean “Get me drunk so I can’t make a rational choice,” either. Even if I was grinding away at you naked, it means you respect me enough to accept “No” if I tell you “No”. I don’t give a damn how horny you are, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO VIOLATE THE FREE WILL OF ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL.

    Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose. Just as your right to stick your dick in my body stops EXACTLY WHERE I SAY IT DOES. YOU have no rights at all in regards to MY BODY. Just as I have no rights in regards to yours. I could be fucking you, and decide I’m done two seconds before you climax, AND YOU STILL NEED TO RESPECT MY CHOICE.

    That’s where Jeeves up there makes his stupidity apparent. He seems to think he has some right to override my freedom of choice and ignore my right to say “NO” just because he gets a stiff dick.

    Far to many women are afraid of their own sexuality due to the programming most of them have had because of hidebound religious “morality” concepts that haven’t advanced out of the dark ages. That’s the source of a lot of that “eggshell walking” you’re forced to do. Fortunately, we are progressing towards true equality, and eventually, most of this bullshit conflicting social “messaging” will be over and done with.

    Sadly, it would be so much easier if more women were simply willing to tell the truth about what they want, instead of thinking that they need to play games. But, since our society tries to force most women into “Madonna/whore” roles, it’s going to take awhile.

  • By Taoist, August 18, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    Where in my original comment did you think I at all supported men forcing themselves on women? In fact, didn’t I explicitly say, in my very first sentence, that I fully support women to wear whatever the heck they want without being harassed or assaulted? So stop acting like I want to rape you or something.

    My comment was just that, apart from the anti-sexual assualt message (which I’ve already wholly endorsed), there’s a duality being expressed in one of the other themes at these slutwalk events that’s inconsistent: the message is to both judge and not judge women based on their appearance.

  • By Valkyrie Ice, August 19, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    @Taoist And WHAT part of my comments were directed at you? JEEVES was the one making the claims that if I chose to dress “slutty” I was consenting to rape.

    My initial comment was addressed to EVERYONE, not you. Had I meant YOU I would have DIRECTED it at you.

  • By James Pope, August 31, 2011 @ 2:43 am

    I’m sooooooooooooooooooo, gettin’ there!!

  • By Tyler, May 27, 2012 @ 2:48 am

    Ahh the Capitalists must be thrilled that young “sluts” are gonna take back makeup and perfume and all the beauty products and diet products and shiny clothes and embrace looking like sluts. Thank god this isn’t like the rumblings of a revolution against them, this is more the “individual freedom” to choose to buy our crap kind of revolution. A get together to promote hyper individualism. But its womens hyper individualism so its cool, as opposed to anything done by a man which no doubt equals lame and “patriarchal”. What they are doing is telling “men” not to rape, well that will be easy to me, never really got into the whole rape thing myself. As for rapists they will no doubt be stopped in their tracks. What started this, they don’t feel those “big strong men” in the police force are protecting these damsels(stripper damsels) in distress. They do it but begrudgingly complain that the women perhaps dressed and acted in ways that may have helped lead to the trouble they got in. Seriously middle class white college girls in distress cops are probably more friendly and responsive to you than anyone else.

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