Feminist critics of SlutWalk have forgotten that language is not a commodity

SlutWalk is primarily a protest movement against victim-blaming, points out Sophie Jones. Feminist critics of the name have got the wrong end of the stick, she argues

Sophie Jones, 8 June 2011

Woman on Toronto SlutWalk holding sign"Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimised." The Toronto police officer who allegedly uttered these words probably did not expect to inspire a wave of protests against a culture that blames rape victims for their attacks.

Neither, one imagines, did he expect to ignite a fresh bout of feminist debate about the politics of linguistic subversion.

Victim blaming is hardly news and the bias against the victim in cases of sexual violence is well-documented. So why are the SlutWalk demonstrations happening now? It's not Shakespeare, but in its own way the police officer's comment managed to crystallise the bewildering mass of statistics, victim's stories, tabloid sneers and political blind spots that have preoccupied feminists for decades. This clumsy, bigoted sentence turned a depressing socio-political trend into a tangible thing: small enough to grab hold of, fragile enough to throw to the ground, clear enough to watch splinter into a thousand pieces, broken enough to stamp all over.

The women who organised the original Toronto SlutWalk understood that words are powerful weapons. But what kinds of weapons are words? Is the word 'slut' the equivalent of a gun or a bomb: a killing machine made by and for the patriarchy, impossible to redeem?

Calling yourself a feminist because you are sick of women dressing 'sluttishly' and pandering to the man is like calling yourself a vegetarian because you hate animals too much to eat them

Some feminists commentators think so, and have lost no time in criticising SlutWalk for being more interested in stealing the master's shiny tools than bringing him down. Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy wrote in The Guardian: "Women need to take to the streets - but not for the right to be called 'slut'."

Laura Woodhouse, in a balanced critique here on The F-Word, commented: "I have no interest whatsoever in reclaiming or reinventing a word that is used to attack and label women, let alone use it in reference to myself."

On one level, this is a clear case of these writers simply misinterpreting the mission of Slut Walk, which is not a protest 'for the right to be called 'slut' but a protest for the right to dress however you want free of the presumption you are 'asking for it'. I have been called a slut while wearing long sleeves and thick black tights. Besides, as Hadley Freeman recently pointed out in The Guardian, rape is not a compliment. The assumption that rapists target women who look sexually available drastically misreads the nature of the crime. I will be marching in London on June 11 not for the right to be called a slut, but for the right to be there.

But these feminist critiques of SlutWalk betray a tendency much more worrying than a simple misunderstanding. In a staggering assimilation of misogynistic language, Dines and Murphy state:

The organisers claim that celebrating the word 'slut', and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality. But the focus on 'reclaiming' the word slut fails to address the real issue. The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal 'madonna/whore' view of women's sexuality that it is beyond redemption.

chicagosigns.jpg

The writers are correct that the word 'slut' is rooted in patriarchal madonna/whore notions of female sexuality - but if they really believe this, why do they use the term uncritically? The feminist rejection of the good girl/bad girl binary acknowledges that each term is defined by its opposite. To dismantle the binary is to destabilise each definition: the madonna means nothing without the whore. Both words still exist, but their meaning now hangs in the balance and they can, effectively, be made to mean anything at all.

Reclamation is not running around shouting "I'm a slut as defined by the patriarchal capitalist tradition and I love it", but celebrating the fact that the word 'slut' is now up-for-grabs because we no longer accept the terms on which it was defined.

It is instructive to compare this model of reclamation with Dines' and Murphy's use of patriarchal language. In their Guardian article, they caution against "encouraging women to be even more 'sluttish'", chastise the organisers "for promoting sluttishness in general", and bemoan the fact that young women have been told "they must look and act like sluts". I challenge Dines and Murphy to define their terms 'slut', 'sluttish', and 'sluttishness', because as far as I am concerned these words mean nothing. For these critics, words are no more malleable than guns, but they are content to turn these guns on the women they claim to speak for.

Women in short skirts are still being called sluts, even if 'slut' now means 'betrayer of feminism' or 'victim of the patriarchy', rather than 'girl who is asking for rape'.
Some women argue that SlutWalk is just an expression of what Nina Power has called Feminism™, in which gender equality is rebranded as the right to buy whatever you want on the way to your burlesque class, whether it's a diamond-encrusted vibrator or a pair of effing shoes. But this is to confuse the feminist subversion of sexist language with the capitalist appropriation of feminist language. Calling yourself a feminist because you are sick of women dressing 'sluttishly' and pandering to the man is like calling yourself a vegetarian because you hate animals too much to eat them.

Reclaiming a word does not mean celebrating that word in its current form. It means tearing down the ideological underpinnings that give 'slut' its stability and laughing at 'slut' when it wobbles and falls

Dig deeper and another worrying trend emerges. Rosamund Urwin, writing in the Evening Standard, confesses that she will be attending the London SlutWalk in support of younger activists. Nevertheless, Urwin admits deep misgivings about the reclamation of the term 'slut':

Calling yourself a slut doesn't reduce its stigma; it is like doing business with an evil regime. You are accepting a label that is intrinsically misogynistic, one that defines women by their sexual relationships and stilettos.

redefiningslut.jpgHere, the feminist reclamation of sexist words is nothing more than a shopping experience. Forget dismantling binary oppositions and relishing the radical indeterminacy of language: a word, according to Urwin, is just another commodity. So, if I refer to a hunk of cheddar cheese as a 'slut' in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the term, all I am doing is purchasing the word 'slut' from Patriarchy Inc. and degrading the poor hunk of cheese in the process. Is consumer exchange the only conceptual frame we have for discussing the way we use language?

The SlutWalk London Facebook page is riddled with comments from trolls pointing out that drivers lock their cars to prevent theft, ergo women should (no, not lock their vaginas) dress conservatively to prevent rape. There will never be enough time to puncture this claim in all its weak spots, but the assumption that women are analogous to cars deserves our attention. Some feminists have assimilated this logic, forgetting that it is possible to think about language and sexuality without figuring either as consumer items.

Reclaiming a word does not mean celebrating that word in its current form. It means tearing down the ideological underpinnings that give 'slut' its stability and laughing at 'slut' when it wobbles and falls. Beccy Pert, a co-organiser of SlutWalk Cardiff, told The Guardian: "We want to reclaim the word 'slut' and use it in a positive, empowering way." There is a problem here too, common to much talk of 'empowerment' and 'positivity'. Reclaiming 'slut' should not be about celebrating the male-defined word as something 'positive', but celebrating the indeterminacy of the word when detached from its meaning. On 11 June, when SlutWalk comes to London, I hope we can turn 'slut' into sheer sublime noise, untethered, non-referential, absurd. We want this word in our court, but only so we can keep it in the air and over the heads of everyone who would use it against us.

  • The Feminist Library in London is holding a discussion about the issues raised by SlutWalk tomorrow, facilitated by Feminist Fightback. It will be followed by a banner-making workshop.

Photo of woman holding sign explaining that clothes don't equal consent, from the Toronto SlutWalk, by Brian Carson. Photo of signs from the Chicago SlutWalk by Gozamos. Photo of a woman on the London, Canada SlutWalk holding a sign with her redefinition of slut by Rick Carroll. All shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Comments From You

alikichapple // Posted 08 June 2011 at 12:49

This is interesting, and I'd really like to be persuaded by it, by I don't think I am.

"Some women argue that SlutWalk is just an expression of what Nina Power has called Feminism™, in which gender equality is rebranded as the right to buy whatever you want on the way to your burlesque class, whether it's a diamond-encrusted vibrator or a pair of effing shoes. "

Yes, that's my argument exactly. Or, more accurately, that's my fear. Because I also agree with Slutwalk. And then I don't. And then I do. When I don't, it's because of this.


"But this is to confuse the feminist subversion of sexist language with the capitalist appropriation of feminist language."

Okay, sure. But I don't see anything in the piece that persuades me of this. And I've seen a lot of women (and men) who explicitly reject feminism as prudish (which confuses not accepting the patriarchal terms on which sex is defined with not liking sex) embrace the Slutwalk movement. I think, in the end, that's what what bothers me most; the implicit rejection of those of us who simply don't like heels and makeup and view them as tools of oppression as 'man hating' and sex-hating. By an alliance of women and men who call themselves feminists and women and men who don't.

"Calling yourself a feminist because you are sick of women dressing 'sluttishly' and pandering to the man is like calling yourself a vegetarian because you hate animals too much to eat them."

I really don't get this statement. I don't get it in itself, and I don't get how it follows from the previous two sentences. One of the reasons I call myself a feminist is that I think that the rigid performance of gender (which for women often means the performance of ' the slut') is, on the whole, damaging to all human beings. How, exactly, is that equivalent to hatred of anything but the patriarchy?

Carothek // Posted 08 June 2011 at 13:54

Really good article!!!

Ashley // Posted 08 June 2011 at 14:19

Thank you thank you thank you for this! It's been driving me nuts that almost everyone has insisted on the problematic 'reclamation' of the word slut. I entirely agree with you on all points. Yay for eloquence!

TinyTom // Posted 08 June 2011 at 15:02

Hey all. I think a really good definition of the word "slut" that has been milling around for around a decade can be found in a book written by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy called "the Ethical Slut", it's known within the queer polyamorous and BDSM circles quite well already.

It's all about honesty and openness in relationships and sex. It's all about the right to be promiscuous without fear of being looked down on, about being able to wear and act how you like as long as consent, honesty and respect for others in in place.

To me it's a really identity affirming empowering and positive way of defining the word in a new way. Just a thought :)

See the manchester marchers on friday night!

Tom

jon // Posted 09 June 2011 at 10:21

The writer's argument seems to rest on the assumption that a group of "feminists" (who represent only one small strand of feminism), can actually cause the meaning of the word "slut" to change throughout the rest of society. In my opinion, this is a very naive assumption. The word was coined by men, and it has acquired quite a specific meaning in language. I seems disingenuous, to say the least, for the writer to claim that "... as far as I am concerned these words mean nothing."
The word "slut" is a derogatory word. Does anyone believe that, for example, Jews could ever "reclaim" the term "kike"?

Jenn // Posted 09 June 2011 at 12:13

Whilst I agree with many of the points made in this article, there are some issues we must not forget. To be able to say that the word “slut” has no meaning to us, and therefore we are able to reclaim it, means that we come from a position of relative safety and privilege. We must remember the women and girls for whom the word “slut” carries a terrible meaning and traumatic ongoing experiences (or memories of them).

For example, for a prostituted girl or woman who is enslaved in the sex trade, the word “slut” could mean abuse, sexual torture, terror and exploitation. For many, to be a “slut”, literally means to hang between life and death. Would these women really want to reclaim the word “slut” when that is what it means to them?

We all must know how the industry they are trapped in is part of the foundation of the inequality and sexism we women face every day, and prostituted women are at the frontline of this. We can’t afford to exclude them in our fight. Lets all stand together.

Beverly // Posted 09 June 2011 at 17:32

As a proud LA Slutwalker and feminist, those objecting to the word slut are missing the point, IMO. "Slut" has always had a very subjective meaning (and has often been applied by women to other women.) The point in reclaming "slut" as a term is let all the air out of it, and not allowing it as a distraction or excuse for pushing blame for sexual assault onto the victim any longer. Instead of this half-@ssed, "Well, of course rape isn't RIGHT, but really, she shouldn't have been dressed like that/drinking like that/gone into the room with..."

It's saying, okay, you want to call me a slut, fine, I'm a slut. Whatever. NOW can we move on to the MAIN point, which is that NOBODY - not virgins, not sluts, not elderly people in convalescent hospitals, not children - deserves to be sexually assaulted?

I also blogged about whether words can be reclaimed here: http://writinginflow.blogspot.com/2011/06/slut-vs-nigger-can-offensive-terms-be.html

Jess McCabe // Posted 09 June 2011 at 17:50

@jon I'm not sure it's really possible to say if one particular sex coined the word slut! Anyway, when it was coined it meant a women who didn't 'keep house' to the standards expected, a whole other kettle of sexist fish.

With all cases of reclaiming these words, the people who get to decide are the people who have had these words used against them.

Reclaiming words is not really about changing the meaning of that word for the whole of society, but it is about injecting an alternative meaning and complicating the word.

Of course, just because I might call myself slut in a positive sense, mocking the judgments that the word traditionally implies. If some douchebag calls me a slut in the traditional sense, that's still offensive. But the impact has been lessened by repeat mockery and use of slut by feminist activists.

Samuel // Posted 09 June 2011 at 17:57

Awesome article! As one of the SlutWalk Seattle leaders it's super refreshing to see a feminist writer take on some of the criticism. :]

Sue McPherson // Posted 09 June 2011 at 23:16

Sophie writes. Reclamation is not running around shouting "I'm a slut as defined by the patriarchal capitalist tradition and I love it", but celebrating the fact that the word 'slut' is now up-for-grabs because we no longer accept the terms on which it was defined.

But the word is not "up-for grabs". Feminists cannot tear apart the word's underpinnings because it is men who control that. It's one way they control women, by making them sensitive to being called a slut, sensitive to the word, and hostile towards anyne who uses slut and the word woman in the same sentence without saying It's okay, you're not really. Women get ahead in this world largely through their relationships with men. It's this they are unwilling to admit, and probably never will.

Laura // Posted 10 June 2011 at 11:36

...this is a clear case of these writers simply misinterpreting the mission of Slut Walk, which is not a protest 'for the right to be called 'slut' but a protest for the right to dress however you want free of the presumption you are 'asking for it'.

Not for me it isn't. I completely understand the motivation behind Slutwalk and fully agree with the sentiment articulated in the second half of the above sentence. I'm simply not personally comfortable marching through town under the banner "slut". It's not how I define myself and it's not how I want other people to view me - I explained my reasoning for this in my blog post.

The use of the word has brought global media attention to the issue of victim blaming, which is fantastic, and the name makes complete sense in the context of the policeman's remarks, so I'm not going to deny it was a great idea. I just don't want to go on a march myself, and the comments under my post show their are other feminists who feel the same. It's not that we don't "get it", it's that slutwalking isn't an approach that we personally favour, for a whole variety of reasons.

In addition, despite my unwillingness to get involved myself, I have done what I can to support it by blogging about it to raise awareness - prior to the mainstream press catching on. So I really don't think lumping me in with the Dines and her patriarchally-defined views is very fair.

Sophie // Posted 10 June 2011 at 11:53

@alikichapple Thanks for yr comment. I really don't think the distinction between 'lipstick' feminists and 'proper feminists' is useful at all - it's a totally false construct. As feminists, we should be standing up for all women, not recapitulating the myth that a woman is defined by her clothes.

I would be just as concerned as you if I thought SlutWalk organisers were requesting marchers to wear heels and lipstick, but the only place I get that impression is the mass media, which is inevitably going to focus on scantily clad women. The first SlutWalk urged women to wear whatever they wanted to the march, be it a boiler suit or fishnets and a bra. The point of this, for me, is to disturb the accepted definition of 'slut' through the force of solidarity: we're either all sluts, in all our diversity, or none of us are. With the emphasis on 'none of us are'.

Compare this rejection of the term 'slut' with Dines and Murphy's appropriation of the term AS DEFINED BY THE PATRIARCHY in the Guardian. I see little difference between their position and that of the police officer in Toronto: both parties accept the term 'slut' as a description of female behaviour. I don't call that feminist, I call it sexist.

Re. your comments on performance: I think all gender is performed - the idea that lipstick and heels are betraying something 'essential' or even desirable about the female gender leads us into really dangerous territory. This doesn't mean you HAVE to wear heels, it just means: please don't look down on people who do choose to express their gender in this way. We should all be railing against the compulsion to express our gender in any single way - and in fact, SlutWalk's argument that heels etc. don't mean consent is part of this battle to disturb patriarchal gender constructs. We're fighting the same battle.

I don't think everybody shares my interpretation of SlutWalk - it's a grassroots movement constituted by its participants, and it's as political as we can make it. If nobody gets involved it will just be a media circus, and I think that's a shame.

Sophie // Posted 10 June 2011 at 12:09

@Laura - I didn't mean to lump you in with Dines, and I'm really sorry if it comes across that way. I really liked your article and I think you expressed in a measured and nuanced way the conflicted feelings a lot of feminists understandably have about SlutWalk. I wanted to cite a range of articles, but you're right, I should have clearly distinguished your article from the Dines piece.

What I was trying to say - and what I should have done a better job articulating - is that, for me, SlutWalk isn't about marching under the banner of 'slut' or accepting 'slut' as a marker of identity, but about protesting against 'slut' as a meaningful description of female behaviour. I certainly don't plan to identify as a 'slut', I plan to laugh at anyone who thinks 'slut' is a meaningful descriptive term.

I don't think this a protest about identity, I think it's a protest about language. This is a point that many of the more thoughtful and balanced critiques have overlooked, I think.

Sue McPherson // Posted 11 June 2011 at 13:54

If nobody got involved with the slutwalk (see Sophie's msg, June 10), the media wouldn't be interested. But if only certain women got involved - youthful, for instance, or not yet established career women - then the msg is still limited. Women don't support all women. That's not what this is about. Sophie can say, We should be standing up for all women, and "we're either all sluts, in all our diversity, or none of us are," but these are meaningless statements. Feminism stands for the middle class, not for all women. Gail Dines has explained that the tem slut has deep-rooted meaning, and even if some women do bond over this activism, it's not going to change the way men talk about women or treat them. Men have their insecurities, and being able to demean women is one way of coping.

I don't see that women have a "complusion to express our gender in any single way." Women are truly diverse in their expressions of sexuality and gender. There's nothing new about that. I'm not keen on this use of rhetoric, and slogans such as "we're all sluts or none of us are" and which doesn't really make a useful point, except to say that we are all the same (not-sluts), but only because the word slut is simply not accepted. If we're talking about loose sexual behaviour, I would say we're not all the same at all. No matter what women do, the word slut will be used against us and not only by men. Jenn makes a point, that feminism is middle class, and that in in mor vulnerable situations might be affected more negatively by 'reclaiming' the word slut. that's true, but at the same time, we have to question who has the greater problem with loose moral (or ethical) behaviour - the woman who sells sex out of need to survive, or the middle class woman who uses sex to further her career.

Geri // Posted 11 June 2011 at 17:27

For me, the 'reclaiming' of the word 'slut' means removing the 'judgement' implicit in its use to describe both a woman's dress and behaviour. Ultimately, I hope that the Slutwalk movement will be instrumental in robbing the patriarchal court system of the Victim Blaming method it uses to uses to 'enable' sexually violent men.

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 June 2011 at 12:49

@Sue What do you classify as "loose" behaviour?!!

Sue McPherson // Posted 12 June 2011 at 14:57

The protest is mainly about sex, and the ways women express their sexuality or the way they are expected to, and the ways that fits in with men's sexuality. Thus I agree only partly with Sophie that the protest is about language. Geri, even if women change their own perceptions of the word slut, they aren't going to be able to change men's. It's a word that's used against most if not all women to remind them of their traditional purpose on earth. And that's not changed much in this world for most women.

I would use the term loose, as I did in my last comment, to mean promiscuity. And there's a great number of women between those two extremes - totally promiscuous and non-promiscuous (as in Sophie's slogan). There's a great deal more between these two extremes that might describe women's sexuality. Except that's not the term under discussion - 'slut' is. And it's such a handy word to use, with such meaning behind it that I believe it would be impossible to change the significance of the word. It's historical past cannot be let go of so easily.

And I can't see how any of this can lead to the men (or women who support their views) to changing their ways, or the court system changing in any way. Maybe court officers or cop lecturers will be more careful in the future, but one can be sure the word will continue to be used against women - by men and women for their own devious means.

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 June 2011 at 15:50

@Sue I don't think Sophie was arguing that the protest was about language, actually. The Slutwalk movement is quite clearly against victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

Frankly, I don't think there's a huge difference between calling a woman a "slut" in the patriarchal, traditional, unreclaimed sense, and calling her "loose" or "promiscuous". That seems just as judgemental to me!

Sue McPherson // Posted 12 June 2011 at 18:45

Jess, Slut is to promiscuous as whore is to prostitute, as in "You're an effing promiscuous woman!" Some words are harsher than others. That's about language. At a deeped level, it is about the control of women's sexuality (shame, buying in to male values, and so much more). Please read my earlier post.

And frankly, your remark about being 'judgemental' sounds like the feminist notion that one cannot do research on "women" because the term is an artificial construct and is degrading to . . to . . hmm. - to persons who have vaginas.

Diane S // Posted 13 June 2011 at 12:32

Really interesting critique, I haven't read anything about commodities and Slutwalk before, or not in these terms, and found it very worth reading.

However, I just can't get behind the idea that "the word 'slut' is now up-for-grabs because we no longer accept the terms on which it was defined."

I may not accept the terms on which "Slut" was defined, but I live under this kyriarchy, and am influenced by it, and this word makes me uncomfortable because of how it's been used against women for many years. I can't click my fingers and change that, much as I might want to. I could *pretend* to be OK with it, that I feel comfortable calling myself a slut, but I really don't. And I think there has to be space for women, for feminists, to be able to say that.

sian norris // Posted 13 June 2011 at 13:53

Sophie, i don't know if your mention of feminists looking at Slutwalk in terms of Feminism TM was related to my blog? http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/05/slutwalk-feminism-tm-and-daily-mail.html

But those comments were made as a response to how Slutwalk was described/defined/planned in Toronto and Washington rather than the UK. I think there were problematic statements made by marchers and organisers on those walks.

I think the debates around Slutwalk have been very interesting and valuable. It isn't for me, but i am glad that we are having so much discussion around victim blaming and rape culture.

I am curious though as to why we think Slutwalk has got so much more attention and coverage than RTN? It's fascinating. Is a lot of it to do with how the MSM has misinterpreted the aims of Slutwalk - ie. as Sophie suggests, with it being about the word Slut, rather than victim blaming and rape culture? I don't know, it has been interesting to follow.

Mica // Posted 15 June 2011 at 13:11

I understand what Slutwalk's purpose is and I am delighted to see hordes of women declaring that a woman is not asking for it if she is dressed like a 'slut' but I don't think that the word slut can ever be redeemable. It is a word used to silence, shame and intimidate women as well as control their sexuality. It is an ugly word and all us women know the contempt in a man's tone of voice whenever he says that word. it is no coincidence that the word is directed at women and not men. No one, no matter how promiscous they are or how they dress should ever be called a slut. If there was no patriarchy words like slut, whore etc simply wouldn't exist because then they would serve no purpose.

Sue McPherson // Posted 15 June 2011 at 15:18

I should think the main reason the slutwalk has received so much coverage is because it is about one of men's favourite subjects - women and sex. The reasons probably have a lot to do with what Mica and others have said - hordes of women out marching - many of them, they probably hoped, dressed sluttishly, if I may use that word to signify what I think some might be thinking, in words they might use.

In a related topic, for those who think sex has something to do with it, there was a naked bicycle ride in Toronto last saturday. I saw it. Yet later, I saw only one pic of it in the media - of the backsides of two women. I would say the majority of the riders were men. I have heard of the cycling recently, overseas, where it received better news coverage than here.

I'm not sure of the actual differences between North America and the UK, about this slut walk, but it might jsut be individual differences varying according to city and personal views of activists.

Chloe // Posted 16 June 2011 at 15:50

I don't personally define myself in terms of the word slut, but I support what I think this protest was primarily about - breaking the link (one that we desperately need to severe) between morality and promiscuity, or however you want to define sexual habits (to a point obviously, involving consent etc). A protest very important for young women who probably get called slut and similar names more than any other age group.

Attempts to reclaim language (and I don't think this was the main aim of the march) are interesting and important, even if ultimately doomed - the reclaiming of the word queer has succeeded to a point, within this group in terms of queer theory etc, though not if you're out on a Saturday night and someone shouts 'queer' at you ... language always has a context.

I couldn't go but I would have loved to, and I wouldn't have 'dressed up' in anything other than I usually wear - but the girls that did, great. I didn't see it in terms of feminismTM, I think it's aims were much more profound and laudable than this.

Excellent article btw, thank you.

Sue McPherson // Posted 16 June 2011 at 16:38

REPEAT I don't think it's accurate to say the slutwalk was about "breaking the link between morality and promiscuity". That's one argument that gets overused by people blaming religious zealots or trying to persuade young women that having meaningless (no relationship) sex with multiple partners is the norm or should be. If you haven't yet, Chloe, you might want to read Jessica Valenti' Purity Myth. I'm not endorsing it, and I don't feel quite right about mentioning it here, but it does concern this subject even though not in a positive way - not when she sees virginity and abstinence as problematic.

It would be best just to leave the term 'morality' out of the discussion, as it is such a limiting word, related mainly to religion I would think. Better to use the term ethics, as it applies to the reasons for having a sexual encounter or a relationship, even.

Thee's nothing wrong with a person wanting to be asexual, just as there is nothing wrong for a woman to want to dress sexily and enjoy a great sex life.

Sue McPherson // Posted 17 June 2011 at 13:31

I don't think it's accurate to say the slutwalk was about "breaking the link between morality and promiscuity". That's one argument that gets overused by people blaming religious zealots or trying to persuade young women that having meaningless (no relationship) sex with multiple partners is the norm or should be. If you haven't yet, Chloe, you might want to read Jessica Valenti' Purity Myth. I'm not endorsing it, and I don't feel quite right about mentioning it here, but it does concern this subject even though not in a positive way - not when she sees virginity and abstinence as problematic.

It would be best just to leave the term 'morality' out of the discussion, as it is such a limiting word, related mainly to religion I would think. Better to use the term ethics, as it applies to the reasons for having a sexual encounter or a relationship, even.

There's nothing wrong with a person wanting to be asexual, just as there is nothing wrong for a woman to want to dress sexily and enjoy a great sex life. These two postitions are also polar opposites, yet in today's society it is only one of them that is seen as normal.

Kim // Posted 18 June 2011 at 14:55

I'm not sure how word subversion or reclamation can make any real-world changes i.e. to victim-blaming in the courts. It would be great if individual judges or police officers thought twice about using that kind of language but does it really stop them thinking it? Ever since I did my gender studies class at university I've had my doubts about this post-modernist/structuralist argument that reclaiming words and dismantling their meaning can really change anything. It all seems very abstract, theoretical and high-minded but doesn't achieve much in practice. I agree with a commenter above that it comes from a very middle-class privileged standpoint. I think it's great that the debate about victim-blaming is getting a public airing outside of feminist circles but sadly I think it has backfired in that the media circus has focused on the word 'slut', the idea that the march is promoting 'sluttishness' (which it clearly isn't) and the fact that women are marching in bras and knickers (which many are not). The article above admits this when it cites articles in the Guardian as focusing on these themes. Surely the desired result would be for there to be a serious debate about the injustice of the courts and police blaming victims in rape cases. There needs to be research done on rape cases looking at how often this happens and how entrenched it is in the criminal justice system and what can be done to change this. Training for police officers might be a place to start and some kind of rule that stops juries and judges from using the way a girl was dressed as a reason why she was raped. Perhaps statistics need to be published about what kinds of people are most often raped. I bet they would be pretty shocking - as we know, rape isn't about sexual attractiveness, it's about power. And yet, slutwalk has inadvertently led to the media making the whole issue centre around sexuality and sexual attractiveness.

As with any grassroots campaign I think the message is different for different campaigners. For some activists it's about being able to express their sexuality any way they want without being called something derogatory, for others it's about the fact that many rape victims are not dressed in a so-called provocative way and could therefore not be deemed 'slutty' in any way shape or form. I hope that this grassroots activity leads to something even more productive, such as politicians taking up the issue or high-profile judges and lawyers trying to change things from the inside. We also need to do more to increase rape prosecutions and convictions. I'm not sure that the Slutwalk can achieve all that but maybe it's a start. I suspect, pessimistically, that the debate will fizzle out in a few weeks when the media get bored of the issue and I don't trust this government to make any important strides forward either.

Sue McPherson // Posted 20 June 2011 at 11:36

Nothing will stop judges or cops thinking about 'it' if 'it' is sex. And the slut encompasses all that is, in terms of sex. Kim, I'm sure many people are suspicious of postmodernism because they haven't studied it and don't understand it. It's too bad most people don't think the same way about sociology or psychology instead of using their own personal experience to come up with 'expert' views on these subjects. Nevertheless, back to pm and poststructuralism. The idea of 'dismantling' a word or a phrase would be to break it down - to 'deconstruct' it. I don't know that reclaiming anything is part of that and that is the main idea of the slutwalk. It certainly doesn't go into any depth at all. It is a political movement, and politics is rhetoric. It's not about truth at all, except on a superficial level. That's why people like Gail Dines who try to talk about the truth have their ideas put down.

You're probably right. P-m and P-s won't achieve that much. There's a lot of opposition to a theoretical approach that gives real insight into the use of language. Postmodernism is abstract, and it is theoretical, though I don't think one should call it 'high-minded' and it definitely does not reflect a
middle-class standpoint, except it probably is more likely to be scholars than ordinary people who study it, so will be labelled that. You've missed the common opposition, by the way, and that is that it is relativist.

Feminists have been doing research on rape and have actively engaged in making changes to the court system for many years now. But each new generation of men and women need to be trained. The stats you want - about rapes convictions - does get done, but they don't tell the whole story because they rely only on conviction rates and we know that many more cases of rape happen that either don't get reported or don't get a conviction. When you say rape is about power, you need to clarify that. Do you mean that women today have so much power (economic independence) that the only way men can get sex from that sexy woman they know is to rape her?

We all know that dressing provocatively is not the only or main reason a woman could be raped. That shouldn't have been a reason for this walk. We never have heard the context of the remark made by the cop. I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to imply that dressing in the manner he was implying (hot) was the only reason women get raped. But the walk being about expressing their sexuality, yes I would think so. Except that's a very superficial level of looking at sexuality - the top layer. And I don't imagine most feminists want to take it to any greater depth than that.

I know I would have felt that way, that I had the right to dress as I chose, and if anyone didn't like it, it's too bad. But life isn't like that, is it. There are consequences to the actions we take.

The Quick Throw In // Posted 22 June 2011 at 20:14

With much criticism of the Courts here, maybe you'll be interested in this :-

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/BE25EBB6-AAD2-4ACD-8115-28D3BF613164/0/benchbook_criminal_2010.pdf

It's from the Judicial Studies Board website and contains specimen directions for trial judges in their summing up for juries - it's chapter 17 you want, in particular (1) Alerting the Jury to the Danger of Assumptions

KRITIQUE // Posted 27 June 2011 at 00:38

What bothers me about slutwalking is that it seems to be unnecessarily divisive, fostering unhelpful divisions between people who mainly share the same abhorrence of misogyny, sexism and sexual violence.

Yes, the Canadian cop's asinine statement should have served as a rallying point to bring together those who detest a culture that too often excuses rape and blames victims. It could have been an excellent opportunity for folks to unite behind Reclaim the Night, Rape Crisis and other existing campaigns which take it as read what someone wears or their sexual behaviour is never an excuse for rape.

Why start a brand new movement and import a word that doesn't translate 100% to the UK context? Why focus so narrowly on the issues of clothing and sexual behaviour without firmly setting these in the wider context of gender inequality and oppression?

IMHO, it is misleading to suggest that Dines and Murphy are as sexist as the Canadian cop because they acknowledge that the term "slut" is used as a description of female behaviour. Nowhere do they suggest they agree with such use, but argue that simply "reclaiming" a slur doesn't stop the word, or more importantly the attitudes behind it from harming women.

Sadly, this has been a gift for the media and anti-feminist commentators who are loving the bald men fighting over a comb spats.

LUVM // Posted 29 June 2011 at 13:10

Whatever way you dress it up, you can't change the way the word 'slut' makes people feel in their gut, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable indeed, so therefore the slutwalk was a non-starter for me. It's a shame, as the ethos behind it was well-intentioned.

Inna Hudaya // Posted 04 September 2011 at 19:09

I enjoy the article.
soon we will have our SlutWalk satelite in Indonesia !!

Have Your say

About the author

Sophie Jones

Sophie Jones is a writer and researcher living in London

Author's Articles | Author's Website

  • The F-Word Feeds
  • #
  • #