slutwalk thinking

[edit: I’m going to add links and thinks to this as I go. I won’t edit the content up the top, but will add stuff to the bottom. This is going to make this a poo post to read, but it’ll help me keep all my links in one place.]

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about slutwalk. Part of me doesn’t understand why Reclaim the Night isn’t enough. The sensible part of me reminds the rest of me that we definitely shouldn’t be restricting ourselves to one act of civil action. And that RTN obviously doesn’t capture younger feminists’ attention the way it did mine years ago.

We’re still talking about women taking to the streets to raise the profile of bullshit attitudes towards sexual violence, and to make it clear that women are not responsible for the violence of men, no matter what they’re wearing.

But I’m not convinced ‘slut’ is a word that can be reclaimed. I’m also not ok with identifying myself as a slut. My sexuality is part of who I am, but it is not all that I am, and I like to use words that reflect that. I am more than the sex that I have or do not have. But this is, of course, to miss the point that these feminists are making.

I’m going to keep thinking about this. I would ordinarily leap at the chance to protest on an issue like this. So I need to find out why I’m not leaping now. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting post at Godard’s Letterbox, and a speech by Jaclyn Friedman.

Incidentally, I have had some problems with the hollaback mission. Or rather, I remember reading a newspaper story recently (buggered if I can remember the article, though) where a wealthy white woman living in a large American city chased down a young white man who’d groped her in a public place, then loudly told him off and went to the police. As I read this article, my heart rate elevated, I got sweaty and felt really really afraid. Ordinarily, I’m in favour of talking back. But in a situation like that… well, as a woman with social power, she wasn’t in the most dangerous situations. But I think of the times when it can go terribly wrong. If you’re not physically strong or able. If you’re somewhere isolated. If he decides to ramp it up. That newspaper article declared that all women should do this sort of backtalk, or responding. Me, I think that women should think very carefully about their safety before they do. In that situation… well, maybe. But I’ve had that go wrong on me, and I’m sure I won’t be pulling that stunt any time soon. I think there are other ways of fucking their shit up. Direct confrontation is only one of those tools.

…I can’t believe that I’m taking such a moderate stance on this. But then, I am a woman who is out on her own at night, during the day, all over the place, on foot, on bike, on public transport. And I know that being safe is about how you act. While I hate it that I have to moderate my behaviour to accommodate the fucked up behaviour of others (men or women), I’m not about to start putting myself at risk to make a political point.

I will be aware of my surroundings at all time. I will not make eye contact with strange men out at night. I will walk with other women if I can. I will ride my bike where possible, I will assist other women when they need me, and I will learn how to defend myself.

More importantly, because most assaults on women happen in their homes, I will think about safety in my house, I will maintain relationships with my neighbours (many of whom are also women), I’ll take care who comes into my home.

I’m also committed to safety at dance events, and I strongly advocate women refusing to act in a way that accepts bullying or manipulation from anyone. I’m also going to continue to keep shouting about the way women represent themselves and are represented in dance talk and on the dance floor. We are more than sexualised bodies. We don’t need to decide whether we are sluts or not, or to reclaim the term.

We can just decide not to accept the premise of the question. I choose to dance in a way that assumes that I have more options for the way I present myself. This is why I like to use male dancers as role models, and seek out historical women dancers who do more than simper at men while tottering about on high heels in diaphanous gowns as they tipper tap across the stage. Someone else can fuck about with girlesque or suspender belts declaring that they are sluts. I’m going to be busy fucking up shit on the dance floor, demonstrating that there are other ways to be a woman that do not exist in a virgin/slut dichotomy.

[edit]tigtog has drawn my attention to “Sex, lies and slutwalking” by Lauren Rosewarne (9 May 2011)[/]

[edit: 15/5/11 8pm] I liked Reclaim The Night because it was for all women. Special effort was always made to make it accessible for everyone, no matter what their age, physical ability, etc. So you’d be walking along next to nannas and little babbies and kids and teenagers and all sorts of women. But slutwalk really doesn’t feel like the type of place I’d feel ok taking kids. I mean, I’m ok grownups talking about sex with kids (their own kids, mind you), but an angry, confrontational protest centred on sex… not really a happy place.[/]

2 Replies to “slutwalk thinking”

  1. One issue that I have about Slutwalk is that it does implicitly play into the framing of sexual assault as being about women’s attractiveness, clothing, presentation etc.

    Of course I agree that women should be able to wear what they want and not be harassed or assaulted, but in my experience, the harassment & attempted assaults & sadly the two actual assaults I’ve been a victim of in my life had nothing to do with what I was wearing or doing.

    On the two occasions I have been assaulted I was simply the victim of opportunity, the female body which was there and accessible, and both were assaults by people known to me in supposedly “safe” spaces. I had no way of knowing these would occur or protecting myself against either incident.

    As for street harassment, again, I get harassed all the time when I’m out walking my dog. I wear tracksuit pants and baseball caps. I’m guilty of simply being female in public. It’s got nothing to do with me, or my sexuality, or how I dress, and everything to do with the men who harass me.

    So yeah, that’s why I’m ambivalent about the whole Slutwalk thing. I support the aims, but as you said, as usual it’s all about what women do and not the actions of the male abusers, harassers, rapists, etc.

  2. Anti-Kate, you make excellent points. Firstly, your discussion of your own assaults suddenly gives me perspective. And reminds me that these are not academic matters. I was doing some reading yesterday about the relationships between sexual violence acted upon women, and women’s own responses via violence, when I suddenly thought, “Hey, you. These things are happening to women every day, everywhere, by all sorts of men, in all sorts of places. This is _real_.” It also reminds me that _I_ am one of the women who’s being discussed in all this. I need to get engaged and to be active, because these are issues concerning me and my friends. Really, sisterhood is a useful term. For me, it’s about caring about other people, empathy and stepping up, bringing it for other people as well as myself.

    Most of the talk about slutwalk and surrounding this whole thing in the more mainstream media has been focussing on the women who want to protest, what they’ll wear, and what they think about sex, and whether they have it. Again, it’s deflecting attention from the people who perpetrate acts of sexual violence upon women. And children. And the vulnerable.

    Somehow slutwalk is becoming a discussion about women having sex. When rape is _violence_ and assaults are _assaults_, not sex.

    Why aren’t we just out on the street being angry about violence acted upon women? Why do we need to bring up what we’re wearing? I feel as though we’re still working with terms set out for us by a culture which assumes that a woman’s body is to be acted _upon_, and that sex is something that happens _to_ women. That sort of thinking somehow manages to make rape disappear. It also assumes that we are, our bodies are, always determined by sex (whether we’re having it or we’re not having it). And that ‘sex’ involves a man and a penis.

    I understand that this is exactly the point that slutwalk is trying to make: what we wear does not make us responsible for the things that are done to us. But I worry that it means we are restricting ourselves to the language and critical tools set out for us by patriarchy.

    I sort of feel as though we’re not really moving on to the point where we can talk about clothing as symbols and signs, and the role of clothing and the ‘beauty industry’ as tied up with capitalism and patriarchy.

    I don’t want the right to wear a short skirt if I want to. I want a judicial system that persecutes sexual assaults effectively. I want to see mainstream media that present images of women _other than_ sexualised objects to be consumed by male audiences.

    …but then, perhaps this is what needs to happen. Perhaps young women need to ask these fundamental questions again. My mother’s generation was interested in sexual liberation and the pill. My generation was interested in equal pay, child care and political representation. Perhaps this new generation of women needs to return to those earlier concerns. Maybe this should remind us that we haven’t actually achieved as much as we’d like.

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