Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

In Praise of SlutWalk

Ladies, do we have a problem? We kind of… do. Rebecca Traister weighs in on SlutWalk.

I wanted to love SlutWalks, the viral protest movement that began this spring after a Toronto police officer told a group of college women that if they hoped to escape sexual assault, they should avoid dressing like “sluts.” In angry response, young women (and men) have marched in more than 70 cities around the world, often dressed in bras, halter tops and garter belts.

But at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.

You're allowed to feel/think however you like about these demonstrations! But the last thing I want from the New York Times magazine is this kind of criticism—the "I support this thing but it makes me uncomfortable and here's why but well I guess it's necessary except, eesh" thing. And also? Are there really marches composed of mainly women, often dressed in underwear?

And… so what if they were? Traister's real concern is this:

To object to these ugly characterizations is right and righteous. But to do so while dressed in what look like sexy stewardess Halloween costumes seems less like victory than capitulation (linguistic and sartorial) to what society already expects of its young women. Scantily clad marching seems weirdly blind to the race, class and body-image issues that usually (rightly) obsess young feminists and seems inhospitable to scads of women who, for various reasons, might not feel it logical or comfortable to express their revulsion at victim-blaming by donning bustiers. So while the mission of SlutWalks is crucial, the package is confusing and leaves young feminists open to the very kinds of attacks they are battling.

Wait, but yes? Because the point is… people treat people who "look like sluts" badly! The point is to confront hostility at difference, not to use this occasion to enforce hostility at difference.

Anyway! This lady showed up in Seattle in tassels and a graduation cap! Some people wore some pretty crazy things!

And then…

Slutwalk Seattle

Slutwalk Manchester.

Slutwalk London

Slutwalk Ottawa

But I'd say this photo, by David Jackmanson, taken in Australia, is plenty rebuttal to those cringing.

Just a couple more things?

The web headline "Clumsy Young Feminists" is… really not working for me. And then?

[Lara] Logan was herself trashed as an attention monger and for dressing in a manner that invited assault. A young woman who pressed rape charges against two New York City police officers could not be believed, in part, because she was drunk. When an 11-year-old Texas girl was allegedly gang-raped by 19 men, The New York Times ran a story quoting neighbors saying that she habitually wore makeup and dressed in clothes more appropriate for a 20-year-old. The maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape has been discredited for being a liar, and The New York Post claimed she was a prostitute. The young French woman who is pressing charges of attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn — an event she has recounted in a novel — has been painted as an unreliable narrator, young, overdramatic and unstable.

None of us can know the veracity of any of these women’s claims.

I'm pretty sure we have videotape of the Lara Logan assault? And I'm pretty sure we don't want to get into the "veracity" of the 11-year-old's claim? But in case you really do, it's recorded on a cell phone video.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

Moff (#28)

"I don't think women should be punished for dressing like sluts, but still."

@Moff "I don't think gays should be punished for dressing like leather boys, but still."

Er, hmm… maybe that's only partially true…

saythatscool (#101)

Still not slutty enough.

cherrispryte (#444)

I have read legitimate criticisms of SlutWalk. This is not one of them.

saythatscool (#101)

@cherrispryte What are they?

riotnrrd (#840)

For one thing, there's hardly any walking at all! More like Slut Stand Around and Shout Through Megaphones. Also, holding signs is not slutty unless that sign is a picture of yourself naked or in lingerie. Come on!

mmmark (#4,458)

@cherrispryte For reals. Unless said criticisms are only in print, you should give links, please.

@cherrispryte: to judge from these photos, not nearly enough sluttiness!

abbyjean (#508)

here's some critiques that i've found, um, significantly more compelling than traister's, mainly from a race/ethnicity perspective:

cherrispryte (#444)

@cherrispryte Will find links when I get home/have time. I am oddly busy today, sorry!

@cherrispryte I fail to see the author's point of view in the second article. She seems to suggest that Slutwalks and community organizing are mutually exclusive (they aren't, and in fact I'd argue they support one another) and that somehow Slutwalk is exclusionary (which is worth discussing, as it may may be true in some scenarios, but has less to do with the marches than, I think, certain organizers and communities – the author fails, however, to raise any substantive points on this measure). Also she seems to cry "ageism" because… a 19-year-old was quoted? What about the 50+ ladies and gents who are helping to organize the Cleveland march? They don't count?

Aatom (#74)

Quoting their own newspaper's notoriously terrible coverage of that poor 11-year old girl's nightmare is making me feel very stabby. And the whole "No one can EVER know the truth about such things" bit? Seriously? Isn't that the way Tea Party wackos "think"?

@Aatom Well, and there are lots of crimes that we can never know the truth about, I guess? But for some reason robbery and assault victims and (indirect) victims of murder are more trustworthy than those hysterical wimminz who just didn't understand how to dress. Or something.

C_Webb (#855)

Rape Victim To-Do List:

1. Do not clean yourself, shower, pee, or change clothes.
2. Get to hospital without Compromising Evidence.
3. Call PR person to spin your rape into a plausible prosecution/ acceptable feminist narrative.

@C_Webb: I'm trying to think of a way your comment could be more offensive to me, but I can't.

C_Webb (#855)

@Sharilyn Neidhardt My comment relates directly to previous discussions on this website about the ridiculous demands on women in the wake of a sexual attack (i.e. preserving DNA evidence instead of caring for themselves), and my anger at the implication in the essay referenced above that women who have been attacked or harassed should be thinking about palatable narratives instead justice. If you're offended by those positions, that's your problem, not mine.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@C_Webb It's OK, she was asking for it.

C_Webb (#855)

@SidAndFinancy You should see what I wore while I wrote it.

JoshUng (#11,371)

Its just a messed up issue. While it was an extremely stupid thing to say, I imagine the Toronto cop probably thought he was doing those women a favor by "advising" them. We shouldn't attack victims of rape, but we also can't prevent an accused rapist of defending himself (and really, the only defense would be that the allegations are untrue, and there is no way to say that without calling the alleged victim a liar). I honestly do not know of a way where all affected people (actual rape victims and people falsley accused of rape) can both be served properly. Even if you punish a woman who purposely accused somebody of rape (say the Duke Lacross situation), how can you be sure that won't prevent a real rape victim from coming forward because she fears she can't prove it, and will be charged with a crime instead?

And while there are some things one can do to minimize the risk (for any situation, like being mugged or whatever) that is no guarantee. Conservatively dressed women who don't wear makeup get raped, people get mugged walking in nice areas in the daytime. Its dumb to assume a person can completely avoid all of these risks outside of having the ability to see in the future.

@JoshUng First, the fact that the Toronto cop thought he was helping is one of the worst parts of this, for me. The idea is that somehow, if women do everything exactly right, we can avoid being raped, so if we get raped, we did something wrong. I don't care how good anyone's intentions are when they tell me not to get drunk or wear certain clothes or whatever – they're blaming the victim when they need to be blaming the rapist.

Second, being a raped and being falsely accused of a crime ARE NOT EQUIVALENT. Arguing that we should weigh them equally is frankly insulting. I understand that false accusations can be problematic for the accused. I also understand that false accusations are incredibly rare, and that the myth of rampant false accusations leads people to immediately jump to the defense of anyone who is accused of rape.

JoshUng (#11,371)

@SarcasticFringehead I didn't mean to defend the cop, just saying I don't think he was trying to sound as awful as he did (not an excuse I know).

Also, I didn't mean to imply rape and false rape accusations are equal. I do apologize if it came out that way. What I'm saying, is an accused rapist still has the right to defend themselves. We can't take that away from them. I don't believe there are rampant false accusations of rape, though there are some (and in fact, I think the truest victims of false rape allegations are actual rape victims who would get scrutinized even moreso because of the false reports).

Rape is definitely worse, no argument here. They are entirely two different categories. But we can't take away a person's right to defend themselves, and all I was getting at is the conflict between the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused make this a mess of a situation where its near impossible for everybody to be served properly.

@JoshUng Thanks for clarifying :)
You do make a good point about finding a balance between victims of crime and alleged perpetrators – I just find it frustrating that it seems to come up so much more often in discussions of rape, as if rape victims are inherently less trustworthy than people who accuse others of stealing from them and as if this area of crime is the only area where it's so very important to protect the accused.

JoshUng (#11,371)

@SarcasticFringehead I definitely agree. I think it happens to rape victims more is because except for a case of mistaken identity, the only defense in most cases is "she's lying." I imagine "it wasn't me" wouldn't apply in most cases.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@JoshUng Most people seem to be far more disturbed by the idea of a man being falsely accused of rape than a woman actually being raped and the crime going unpunished. That the latter is exponentially more common than the former doesn't seem to be cogent in people's minds. There's no balance to be struck, but since we have to decide, it's bros before hos, obvs.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

Goddammit, I thought you guys started Hairpin so I wanted have to read any more of these things.

@IBentMyWookie The 'Pin is delightfully barely-political! Its very person is political. But we save our feminist outrage for right here.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@Choire Sicha Jay Rosen disapproved this message.

Pierce (#3,939)

@Choire Sicha Does that mean we're soon to see the launch of The Tie Clip or what?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Pierce I thought we agreed that tie clips are an unneeded accessory. Plus, a website for men? Take your pick from the porn pile.

E (#14,552)

I think this is pretty common 2nd/3rd wave feminism issue. The older crew are very, "well in MY DAY!" and they get pretty het up. I think there's a much better take down of this unease in "Female Chauvinist Pigs", and it looks at raunch culture and women's empowerment.

When you look at the pictures though, most people are dressed pretty normally, meanwhile, look at gay pride parade, which is a celebration of the raunchy, that in no way invalidates the serious rights movement at the core.

Aatom (#74)

@E I was making the gay connection as well. There's a lot of very explicit boundary-crossing stuff coming out of the next gen of gay culture. I won't lie some of it makes me uncomfortable, and I've seen some things. But none of it invalidates the basic gay rights message, or the basic feminist message, or the basic human message. Which is simply to treat people with respect, no matter what you're wearing or who you're fucking. It's infuriatingly simple and everyone acts like it's not for some reason.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Yeah, why do people have to do SlutWlak? Why can't everyone just write for New York Times, like Rebecca Traister does? It's more civilized!

"I support this thing but it makes me uncomfortable and here's why but well I guess it's necessary except, eesh" – When that "thing" is an expression of feminism, you get a Rebecca Traister piece.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I wonder what Daniel.CLS would say on the subject. What with victims being all victim-ish.

C_Webb (#855)

@whizzard OHMYGOD you JUST beat me to it! I had to look up the post to get his user name right! Toast to you, my friend.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@C_Webb haha cheers. Admittedly, I've been holding that card for while just waiting to throw it down in triumph. It's kind-of fun having a shared nemesis.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Shut up, guys. You'll wake him.

It's amazing that they managed to compose an article about (against?) slut-shaming that is made up almost entirely of indignation about the way women dress.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

I think "slut-shaming" may just unseat "steampunk" as my most hated term ever.

Jamie Peck (#2,018)

@IBentMyWookie We will stop saying it when people stop doing it.

HiredGoons (#603)

@IBentMyWookie: I see you share my hatred of steampunk, *call me.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Jamie Peck If you are Jamie Peck from the Gloss, I enjoy you! (although i still disagree in re: your thoughts on Kathleen Hanna in that column, you know the one). And slut-shaming isn't a thing. It really isn't. It exists as an accusation of a practice moreso than a practice. Cf "bodysnarking."

@IBentMyWookie The difference is that the first one actually happens and does harm. The second is a twee little trend.

mrschem (#1,757)

@IBentMyWookie SECONDED!

Jamie Peck (#2,018)

@IBentMyWookie Are you seriously suggesting that nobody has ever tried to make someone feel like shit for their sexual practices or the way they look? Is it nice there in Happy Rainbow Land? It sounds like it must be, perhaps I will join you there.

I will admit I felt a little uneasy about defending Katy Perry, but at base, doing things that go along with the status quo because you happen to find them pleasurable is not Bad For Women, and I stand by that. It's not a feminist act either, of course. It's neutral. The woman in question may or may not be a feminist. But to police a woman's behavior and say she can't do something she finds pleasurable because it's somehow Bad For Women, now THAT is not neutral. It's counterproductive to our goals. Who gets to decide what behavior is appropriate and what isn't? This type of thinking is incredibly subjective and based more in emotion than logic.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Jamie Peck Third-wavers are adorable.

And in re slut-shaming: not every criticism of a woman is slut-shaming, yet every criticism of a woman is labelled slut-shaming. Sometimes a woman is criticized on legitimate grounds and to yell "slut-shaming!!!!" is like yelling "racist!!!!" if someone suggests that Chris Brown has problems with women (topical references are my forte)

Jamie Peck (#2,018)

@IBentMyWookie Just because some people cry racism inappropriately doesn't mean it doesn't exist. To suggest otherwise would be absolutely absurd. So too with slut-shaming. And I'm gonna go ahead and ignore that condescending use of "adorable."

Murgatroid (#2,904)

At least the editor of Thought Catalog apologized when they published the same article.

Multiphasic (#411)

@Murgatroid He did? I wouldn't know, because that's when I stopped reading Thought Catalog.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Multiphasic Had I been so wise. However, I did stop reading when I saw that they were continuing to publish the author of that article in all of her clueless faux-contrarianism.

Murgatroid (#2,904)

@Kevin Knox As opposed to real contrarianism.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Murgatroid Well, I don't think contrarianism is necessarily a pose or inauthentic, but it has to be well argued, and supported by something resembling critical thought, two qualities that Thought Catalog essay lacked.

Murgatroid (#2,904)

@Kevin Knox "that"

lexalexander (#2,960)

See, here's the thing. Rape has one essential ingredient: a rapist. Without that, you can have entire battalions of women walking down Broadway in pasties, 6-inch heels and nothing else and you will not get one single rape. Not one.

What a rape victim was wearing when she was raped is irrelevant. What matters is that a rapist was there. That's all. Nothing else.

Jared (#1,227)

What is the Prude's take on this?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Jared put a blindfold on? Wait, too kinky.

zidaane (#373)

Everyone can agree cats are asking for it though, right?

hld6@twitter (#18,256)

Is "to confront hostility at difference" really the point? I thought the point was that women are never asking for it.

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