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May 1, 2012
Last year, I participated in SlutWalk Chicago. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and reveled in the sex-positive and female-positive atmosphere. It felt so good to feel that I was surrounded by people who wouldn’t judge me for how I express my sexuality. I felt safe, and even during the march, I realized that that shouldn’t have been a new or rare feeling. One of the things I hate most is slut-shaming, and I really wish that for the 1,000 or so people who were there with me that day, that slut-shaming would never be something we would have to worry about. Honestly, I wouldn’t label myself as a slut, but I talk and write about sex, sexuality, and gender so much that some people might label me as a slut, regardless. What I love about SlutWalk is that it provides an environment in which I am free to do, think, and feel about my body however I want- I make the rules.
We’ve reached the time of year where many cities are planning their second annual SlutWalk. In light of this, criticism of the movement has sprung up again, questioning the movement’s effectiveness and even if it ends up doing more harm than good. I follow SlutWalk Chicago on facebook, and they recently linked to an article from “Girls Gone Wise,” which listed five problems they thought made SlutWalk “bad for women.” SWC asked their supporters, “What are your thoughts on this article?”
This is my response.
1) It absolves girls of risk-management responsibility.Telling a girl to be careful about the way she dresses, where she goes, and how she behaves is about risk management, not victim blaming.
WRONG! Telling young women how to dress, where to go, and how to act is not only problematic because it is further taking control away from them, but it says that if they don’t follow some strict guideline, it is their own fault if something bad happens. The truth is that women and girls are never at fault for being harassed or assaulted, no matter what they wear, where they are, or what they’re doing- even if they’re wearing a short skit at a bar and flirting with a guy on his lap.
SlutWalk wants to send the message that even if a woman is naked, even if she’s had sex with you before, even if earlier she said that she wanted to; if she says “Stop,” and her partner doesn’t stop- it’s rape, and the fault lies with the person who didn’t stop when they were told.
2) It equates sex with power.It preaches that sex is ultimately the way a girl exerts and expresses her freedom and equality. It intimates that slutty women are powerful women. If a girl wants more power, then she’ll throw off male-defined Judeo-Christian notions about sex.
WRONG! Saying that a women’s power-source is between her legs is demeaning. That way of thinking furthers the idea that women are not much more than sex objects. It also says that a woman cannot be powerful or express her power on her own.
SlutWalk recognizes that rape is about power. It is not desire, but the power to control another human being that causes rape. While many women feel powerful in their sexual expression, that power comes from being in control of their own body and seeking consensual pleasure.
3) It teaches girls it’s cool to be crass.Since when is being ill-mannered and potty-mouthed a mark of personal empowerment? SlutWalk would have us believe it is.
WRONG! Women being able to define their sexuality in their own words is not “ill-mannered.” And using terms like “potty-mouthed” infantilizes the way these women choose to express themselves.
SlutWalk wants people to feel empowered to define their own sexuality in whatever way is most comfortable or relevant for them. If words about sex, and especially female sexuality and the female body, are deemed “bad words,” how are women supposed to express positive feelings about them? Women deserve the power to express themselves in positive, self-defined terms, without judgment.
4) It casts men as oppressors.SlutWalk blames the problem of sexual abuse on patriarchy. It buys into the feminist mindset that throughout history men have been on a misogynistic power trip, and part of a massive subversive patriarchal plot to oppress women. Men are bad. Women are good. Get rid of male privilege and you’ll get rid of the problem.
Ummm…YES and NO, but you’re completely missing the point. Patriarchy and misogyny are indeed a huge part of the problem, and getting rid of the personal and institutional structures that hold male privilege up would certainly solve a lot of problems. But you don’t seem to understand what that means.
SlutWalk is not about blaming men. It’s about addressing the mindset that men are taught, explicitly and subtly, that lead some of them toward committing, accepting, or institutionalizing rape culture. It’s a mindset that laughs at rape jokes, defunds services for survivors of rape and domestic violence, and blames the person who was raped instead of their rapist. SlutWalk is about changing this mindset.
5) It encourages sexual permissiveness.How–pray tell–does the idea that it’s healthy for women to sleep around outside of marrige detract guys from pressuring, coercing, or forcing them to do so? Surely, if it’s healthy for girls to sleep around, then it logically follows that it’s healthy for guys to expect girls to engage in that type of behavior.
WRONG! A woman being sexually active does not mean that she is engaging in unhealthy behavior. Choosing to have consensual sex means that there’s no force or pressure to participate. The simple fact of a young, unmarried woman being sexually active or wanting to be sexually active does not mean that men are permitted to act without consent. It’s also extremely problematic to suggest that unmarried women are in danger of being raped and that having a husband will rescue them from harm’s way. This makes women helpless victims and men either aggressors or white knights.
SlutWalk understands that not only is there a difference between sexual activity and sexual permissiveness, but that calling someone “permissive” is a matter of opinion. What may feel natural and comfortable for you may be different for other people, and that should be respected. SlutWalk is not about encouraging women to have more sex, but encouraging people to practice healthy, consensual relationships, and to not be ashamed of their sexuality, whether they choose to have sex or not. It’s not really about sex as much as it is about feeling good about where you are. It also welcomes men to break the stereotype of being dangerous, sexual aggressors. Men want fulfilling, healthy relationships as much as women. It would be impossible to end rape culture without involving men in the fight.