Sluts, Walking: A FAQ sheet
So, I'm sure you've heard of the Slutwalk, but if you haven't, here's a link. I've been broadly supportive of this, because it brings together two of my favorite things in the world, feminism and humor. The concept of a "slut" is so slippery and so misogynist that the only real way to push back against it is to laugh at it. "Slut" has power as long as the people who it's applied to take it seriously. But if you start pointing and laughing, it shifts the power tremendously.
Of course, since Slutwalk is built around humor, it baffles the humorless. And so defenders of Slutwalk have entered into this maddening space that is the equivalent of trying to explain a joke to the humorless, and if you've ever tried to do that, believe me, it may be the biggest waste of time on the planet. Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy aren't the most prominent examples of the problem, but they are the most humiliating, since they're taken seriously as feminists. I think they may have actually been so eager to start firing on younger feminists that they didn't actually bother to read the basic arguments for Slutwalk before they dove in. Circular firing squads are fun! Too bad they're so fucking counterproductive.
So, in response to all the confusion sown by those who don't get it (but feel they need to express an opinion anyway), I put together a FAQ sheet.
What is a Slutwalk?
You can read about the official formation of the protests here. I haven't gone to any, but my feeling is they're an update on the Take Back the Night Rallies. Back when those were formed, feminists were saying, "Hey, we should be able to leave our houses after dark without getting raped." Now we're adding to that list of things we should be able to do without some dude raping us and then people excusing it like rapists were some vigilante police force assigned to the task of keeping bitches in line: wear what we want, go to parties, have as many sexual partners as we like, drink alcohol, smart off to Gail Dines. Eventually we plan to reach a point where women enjoy the freedom men have to what they like without everyone implying that you have it coming if someone rapes you.
But isn't "slut" a patriarchal word used to dismiss women who are sexually active, outspoken, or in any way not adhering to strict patriarchal guidelines?
Huh, you make it sound like a slut is the best possible thing you can be. What's that you say? It makes James Dobson uncomfortable? Keep talking.
No, really, be serious.
I'm bored with that. "Serious" is increasingly used as a cover for not bringing all your brain cells to the table.
Just for a minute.
Aren't you obligated to rein it in, drop your hemlines, and act like ladies so that other women don't feel pressured to have sex with anyone who asks?
But that's Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy's argument in the Guardian when they say: "Encouraging women to be even more "sluttish" will not change this ugly reality.As teachers who travel around the country speaking about sexual violence, pornography and feminism, we hear stories from women students who feel intense pressure to be sexually available "on demand"."
First of all, they're arguing with a strawman. Slutwalk is not saying, "Everyone has to be exactly the same, and that person has to dress in nothing and have sex with everyone who asks." Slutwalk is saying, "Even if you think someone's a slut, don't rape her." Which is a much different thing.
Second of all, their argument is hinging very close to the conservative argument that women's sexuality and sexual freedom must be curtailed for the good of civilization. They argue that women need to rein it in so that other women don't feel they have to be sexual to get men's attention. That is no different than the conservative argument that the "hook-up culture" is making so easy for men to get laid they won't give women what they really want, which is marriage. If you swap out "marriage" for "respect" and "not bugging you for sex", it's functionally the same argument. Next they'll be arguing that women shouldn't show their faces in public to prevent men from using even the image of their faces for nefarious purposes.
Um…..: "The recent TubeCrush phenomenon, where young women take pictures of men they find attractive on the London tube and post them to a website, illustrates how easily women copy dominant societal norms of sexual objectification rather than exploring something new and creativeAnd it's telling that while these pictures are themselves innocent and largely free of sexual innuendo, one can only imagine the sexually aggressive language that would accompany a site dedicated to secret photos of women."
See? Clearly the only way to make sure some picture of you fully dressed standing on a street corner hailing a cab doesn't end up on the internet where some guy can just jerk off to it if he wants is to not leave the house. Or start wearing a hood over your head and a potato sack. Or you could just get over hyperventilating at the idea of a man being sexually aroused on his own terms, and focus your energies on making sure that everyone approaches partnered sex with respect and enthusiastic consent.
Well, what do you expect men to think of you when you dress a certain way or do things like call yourself a "slut"? This was a question that was asked many times by callers and in forms by Gail Dines on "World Have Your Say".
There's a pretty broad question. Depends on the circumstances. If I'm out on the town wearing a cute minidress, I expect that I'll get a lot of indifference, some men thinking I look good, some men thinking that I want to be attractive, some men thinking I enjoy feeling sexy, some men flirting, and some men thinking, "I wouldn't wear those shoes with that dress." I expect men to be happy they live in a world where people have fun and exude sexual energy, because I believe sex is pleasurable and good and that a little more sexual energy in the world tends to impact the fun we have at home. What I expect men not to think is, "Oh boy, I get to rape that one!" or "Clearly, she has forsaken her right not to be harassed when she broke the non-existent rule written by me on skirt length." I feel that these are reasonable expectations, since this is what happens to me 99% of the time when events like minidresses on my body in public occur.
I expect that when a man thinks that a woman being sexy means that she isn't smart or deserving of basic respect, that man has told you everything you need to know about him, and he is the one who has forsaken his right to be treated with respect, not the woman he claims provoked him. I think such a man doesn't actually respect any women, and he's just making excuses because he likes harassing women. I expect other people not to make excuses or consider his opinion to matter in any way. I expect instead that such men should be shunned by decent people.
I expect when I use the word "slut" in an arch, ironic way that men will find it both funny and insightful. I expect men to understand humor. I expect men to understand that even if I really do think I'm a "slut" that this doesn't mean I'm no longer a human. I expect men who believe I've had a lot of sex to know that no means no, no matter who says it. Again, these expectations have proven so far reasonable with the majority of men, and I expect that men who resist them have it in them to not be assholes.
I have one more expectation. I expect that when a man flouts the rules of morality and decency and harasses or assaults a woman, that we treat him like the raving douchebag he is, and bring criminal charges where applicable.
What about when girls make out because dudes want them to? Doesn't that piss you off? (This came upon "World Have Your Say".)
Sure, but I believe strongly that we should lay blame on people who are hurting or exploiting others. I don't blame girls who succumb to this ritual even when they feel humiliated by it. What precisely did they do wrong? Is it that they wanted to be liked? That they wanted to be adventurous? That they wanted to be sexually exciting? These are all either understandable or even good desires to have.
I blame those who exploit the goodness in young women to get them to do things those women don't want to do. So I blame the guys exerting this pressure for being evil fuckwits.
But shouldn't women stand up for themselves?
Sure, but I fail to see how you get them to stand up to guys when you reserve your judgment for women. When we blame the men who coerce, that is a way of saying, "The bad person is the guy." That gives women space to say, "You're in the wrong, and I'm standing up to you." When we don't blame men and men coerce, women are far more likely to think, "Well, I guess he's not doing anything wrong….. So why do I feel so bad going along with it?" By blaming men who coerce, we give women the space to stand up. Blaming women just perpetuates the cycle.
But some women really do feel pressure not to be "prudes" and when you run around making jokes about "sluts" and saying women shouldn't get raped even if they do have a lot of sex or wear miniskirts, you make the women who don't like having a lot of sex or wearing miniskirts feel bad. Isn't that a problem?
I reject the notion that the mere existence of women who dress differently or have different expectations of sex than you automatically means you aren't as valued a person. And if that's true—if one person's choices invalidate another's—then why do the "prudes" automatically win? Or the people who want to be "in-between"? Wouldn't their preferences oppress the "sluts"? If my having sex makes you feel like you can't say no, then you're saying I have to say no so you can so no, but if I don't want to say no, your choice really is oppressing mine. See? It turns into a rabbit hole of bullshit. How about we not make an arms race out of this and instead have a wide range of what are acceptable personal choices for women to make? Or even better? How about we start trying to view our politics as pro-liberation and not just swapping one form of sexual control for another?
But with all the porn saturation and pop culture pressuring women to be sexually submissive objects, isn't a Slutwalk just adding to the pressure?
If you really think that a bunch of goofy feminists marching about anything is something anyone can interpret as evidence that women are naturally submissive and there to be abused, I don't know what to make of you. Even if a bunch of bona fide porn actresses marched dressed half naked but waving signs, sexist men would be threatened as hell, and probably would think they were unionizing or something.
If you continue to be confused by this, I suggest you ask yourself if one of the many celebrities used to exert this pressure—think Paris Hilton—were asked to join a Slutwalk what do you think the reaction would be? Yeah, I thought so. So quit fucking conflating the two.
Did you laugh out loud when Gail Dines worked herself up to the verge of hyperventilation when describing girls in low-cut jeans with belly button piercings on "World Have Your Say"?
Not only did I laugh, but I had an urge to put on a tube top and a miniskirt, take a picture of myself flipping off the camera, and send it to her. But I don't think she'd get the joke.