Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Slut Walking

A Toronto police constable who made an off-the-cuff remark about women who "dressed like sluts" must be mortified by the global notoriety he inspired, not to mention a whole new movement, Slut Walking.

He's doubtless not the only cop to have said "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised" but unfortunately for PC Michael Sanguinetti his remarks were publicised by the law school students he was addressing and a worldwide furore broke out.

Angry women held a Slut Walk in Toronto, in which they dressed like "sluts" and said they were reclaiming the word as something jokey and inoffensive rather than a term of abuse and contempt.

They also criticised Sanguinetti for suggesting yet again that if women are attacked by men it's their fault, that the way some women dress or behave is supposedly "asking for it".

Now there have been similar rallies across Canada and the US, and others are planned in cities around the world.

I'm all in favour of the protests, and the idea of cleaning up the word "slut". But a surprising number of journalists and feminists are opposed, saying the word has such universally scathing and vicious overtones that it's beyond redemption and shouldn't be used at all.

That seems rather defeatist to me. Surely if enough people decontaminate the word, then it has to lose some of its negativity, in the same way that the word "gay" has been turned into a simple description (even though some people are trying hard to turn it back into an insult).

And the implications of the word "slut" are a great focus for debate on why women are attacked and why the victims are blamed rather than the attackers. Why does having a lot of sex or dressing in skimpy clothes make you a "slut"?

And why are women referred to in such aggressive terms as sluts, slags, slappers and tarts, when men who bed every woman in town are affectionately known as womanisers, seducers, or libertines?

Michael Sanguinetti has inadvertently done a great service to feminism by sparking such a passionate argument about this toxic word.

British Justice Minister Ken Clarke has started a similar furore by referring to "serious rape" as opposed to other types of rape. Not surprisingly, there was an immediate outcry that rape is serious whatever the circumstances.

23 comments:

Rummuser said...

Nick, supposing he had said, "inappropriately, or, provocatively dressed", what do you think would have happened? I suspect that it would still have generated the same reaction. It would still mean that the blame is shifted on to the woman.

Nick said...

Ramana - It would indeed. Inappropriate according to whom? A man looking for an excuse? And provocative implies exactly that, that the woman is "provoking" the man by whatever she happens to be wearing.

blackwatertown said...

Anyone trying to shift the blame on to the victim is clearly wrong. Shame it's still happening.
Not sure about reclaiming slut though. Some people - men or women - are proud of or not bothered about behaving in a sluttish way. But that doesn't stop it being edgy at best or derogatory at worst. I can imagine friends of mine being annoyed if the term was neutralised.
And anyway - being a slut or not is beside the point - no justification for being attacked.
Naturally I'd advise anyone to weight up their options whenever they go out into the world. They be cautious or throw it to the wind, or somewhere in between. A bit like stepping out in front of a speeding car on a zebra crossing. The car should stop. The law, decency, morality all say the car should stop. You have the right of way. But if it hits you - you'll be dead or hurt - as well as in the right.

Wisewebwoman said...

A family member was instrumental in setting up the original march and the backlash has been extreme from other feminists and from men who jumped aboard the word but not in a good way.
The victim blaming has got to stop and feminists are tearing themselves apart from within.
I would rather see more unity. As I keep saying, they are worse off now than when I was marching in the seventies. Regression. Yes.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Blackwater - Not quite the same as a pedestrian crossing. The car driver's not going to say you were "asking for it". And they'd be horrified by what happened.

The thing is that a woman really can't win over this. Whatever she wears, however she behaves, some man is always going to say she's gagging for sex. Even women in dowdy, unflattering clothes get raped.

Interesting that you have friends who would be annoyed if the word slut was more neutral!

Nick said...

W3 - Great that a family member helped set up the original march. Yes, I think feminists who're attacking other feminists over whether the word slut is reclaimable or not are just being pointlessly obstructive.

nursemyra said...

"And why are women referred to in such aggressive terms as sluts, slags, slappers and tarts, when men who bed every woman in town are affectionately known as womanisers, seducers, or libertines?"

The age old question.....

Nick said...

Myra - Which you've cunningly ducked! Well, it's obvious really, isn't it. Men are of course in thrall to rampant, uncontrollable sexual urges so their promiscuity is natural and excusable....

secret agent woman said...

Slags? Slappers? Everytime I come here, there are words I don't know the meaning of.

I'm very much in favor of protesting blaming victims for their attacks. Obviously when a man rapes a woman, it is 100% his fault. But I don't think every word can be neutralized just by using it. I do not want to own the word slut or bitch or the c-word that makes me cringe. I think women can empower themselves without accepting hate words.

wendy house said...

People should be able to choose how they dress.

Why is there a strong promotion of dress styles that emphasize female, even child, sexual objectificitation?

It's this promotion I'd like to see tackled, 'slut' is just a word that describes its symptons. Treating a sympton doesn't cure the disease

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Ditto Americanese! I was baffled by the word "ho" for a while.

I dislike the words bitch and c*** as well, but I think maybe slut is more malleable. What's really detestable is when women use the word slut against other women.

Wendy - Intriguing point. Do female dress styles stress sexiness or is that just what other people read into them? Does a miniskirt make you a sex object or just a woman in a miniskirt?

But you're right about "slut" being a symptom of something much deeper - i.e. misogyny.

Baino said...

Ok I'm going to be a little 'old fashioned' here despite my feminist leanings. My daughter once dressed to go to a club and frankly, looked like a woman of the streets (not that I have anything against sex workers but they dress that way for a reason). I made her change before she left. Now, Nick, you know me. I'm as liberal as they come but a 'slut' is by definition a dirty, unmethodical person and celebrating that as a woman? Not on my agenda. There is no excuse for the sexual exploitation of women based on dress, or appearance, or a number of other things but taking it to the streets? I think women have bigger issues to tackle frankly . .the glass ceiling, equal pay, battling misogyny, access to abortion, . . Today's feminists seem to have lost the plot (Jenny's gonna kill me I suspect!)

Nick said...

Baino - Even if a woman is dressed like a prostitute (supposedly), it still isn't an invitation to sexual attack. But I can understand you being a bit nervous about Clare seeming to invite too much undesirable attention.

Why pick and choose which issues to pursue? Why not pursue them all? It's called multi-tasking, lol. Asking men to accept rape as their responsibility not the woman's seems like a big issue to me.

wendy house said...

Nick - if you can wade through the turgid, if precise, academic style of this article, some social psychologists have tried to answer your exact question

A quick web search shows a diversity of different research methods and descriptions tackling your question. I suspect there's a PhD thesis in the answering it!

Nick said...

Wendy - I won't try to plough through all the research on the subject, but how predictable that in that particular study men rated the women as more sexy and seductive than women did.

But the real problem is that so many men imagine a sexual invitation where none exists.

Macy said...

Sigh... as ususal I'm in the minority here. I don't see the word slut as being particularly bad. Roundabout here it usually means a woman who's a bit loose on housekeeping rather than morals. It's a jokey word.
The word's not the problem. Attitudes to "dirty" women, of whatever variety, are.

Macy said...

Oh and whilst I'm at it, I'm with Baino.
We send out messages with the way we dress. Isn't that the point of clothes?
Obviously nobody should get raped because of how they dress, not least because tarts do not give it away for free.... but anyone wearing provocative clothes is asking to be noticed, and judged. That's the point of wearing those clothes....

Nick said...

Macy - As usual? Surely not? As you say, the real problem is attitudes to women and what's read into their behaviour, not any particular word. And yes, I think there are far worse words than slut.

Nick said...

Macy - Indeed, clothes send out all sorts of messages. But eye-catching clothes aren't the same as "provocative" clothes. The word provocative immediately implies that she's up for it. It's a loaded word with a very male meaning.

secret agent woman said...

Macy's first comment makes me think that there me some cultural differences in the word. Slut never means a poor housekeeper in the states - it is used the way whore is used - a woman is is extremely promiscuous. Actually, a patient said to me last week when talking about her son's many girlfriends, "My son's a slut."

Nick said...

Secret Agent - I think in most of the UK slut has both meanings. Interesting that a woman used the word about her son.

blackwatertown said...

Yes - suppose you're right - zebra crossing analogy not exact.
Re those mates - yes, really.Uninhibited but in the context of moral disapproval - i.e. that's what they're used to and it adds spice - while at the same time resenting the disapproval or restrictions on women's behaviour.
(Or something... You'd have to ask them.)

Nick said...

Blackwater - It's the old double standard, isn't it? Men want women to be promiscuous and available, but then when they are, they're dimissed as sluts.