April 4, 2011

The Funny Thing About the “Slutwalk”

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“Slutwalk” protest in Toronto, April 3, 2011

I’ve never understood feminism. I know, like ice cream, it comes in a cornucopia of flavors and melts away quickly when held in a man’s hand (just kidding, ladies!) but I never understood its more… paradoxical expressions. I’ve been accused from time to time of being a woman hating woman (occasionally here on Thought Catalog) but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is simply that, as a woman,  I am often expected to agree with general sentiments that don’t sit easily with my sense of reason, never more so than with things like this.

For those of you who haven’t heard, there was a “Slutwalk” yesterday in Toronto where women took to the street to raise awareness for their right to… dress like sluts. Apparently, a police constable made the unfortunate choice of publicly saying, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” I think we can all agree here that this was not the most delicate phrasing, but I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a good amount of truth to what he said.

We can all laugh when Dave Chappelle does his routine about women dressing like sluts at clubs getting offended when men make unwanted sexual advances, especially when he makes the apt comparison of dressing like a police officer and then getting offended when people ask for help on the street. That, to all of us, is funny and relatable. “Yeah,” we seem to think, “women shouldn’t dress like prostitutes if they don’t want to be propositioned for sex by a stranger.” Yet when a police officer makes a very similar assertion, we no longer see what he’s saying. We can only think of it in black-and-white terms. This is an officer of the law, and anyone who is victimized should immediately be 100 percent innocent and showered with sympathy and understanding.

As he does not specify in his statement what “victimized” means exactly, I’ll assume it runs the gamut from being cat called on the street to being raped. And just like a young man dressed like a gangbanger and walking through a bad neighborhood with a menacing, threatening stance could be met with verbal aggression or a gunshot wound to the chest – all things are not created equal. He does not deserve to be murdered because he walked down the street, but he (as an adult) understood the risks he was taking.

The truth of the matter is that rape, murder, battery, verbal assault, and everything in between have existed for as long as humans have. There is a constant threat, especially in concentrated urban areas, that you will be a victim at some point. I myself live in a relatively dangerous urban area where men are quite verbally forward. You learn quickly to not make eye contact, to keep your posture upright, and to keep walking. And beyond that, if you want to further increase your chances of remaining safe and flying under the radar, you do not dress like a prostitute. You do not dress like someone who is out tonight to find sex by any means necessary. You can look pretty, feminine, elegant, attractive – without stripping your appeal down to its basest, most physical level. Women know the kind of attention they attract when they dress like that. And just like the Supreme Court can’t define porn but knows it when it sees it, we know when we look into the mirror before we go out if we look like we’re trying to lay down for the first man that looks at us. Even if we don’t want to admit it.

I have, like pretty much every 22-year-old girl, gone out looking like a slut occasionally. And I got a significantly higher amount of leers, cat calls, and uncomfortable attention. I was not surprised; I had no one but myself to blame for the sudden nervous feeling that flared up in my stomach as I walked passed men checking out my shape in my revealing dress. I don’t dress like this anymore for that very reason. I want men to look at me and have thoughts other than, “I could have sex with her tonight if I wanted.”

And perhaps the most compelling reason to put at least some of the responsibility on women here is that often, dressing in an extremely suggestive manner can be the tipping point in a sexually charged situation. Not all sexually aggressive acts are perpetrated by a violent repeat offender hiding in an alley. Often times the situations that can make women the most uncomfortable, and in some ways the most vulnerable, are in situations where alcohol and socialization are involved. Women are pressured, followed, and hounded by men who, when sober and in the light of day, often would never do such a thing. And for a man, a sexually and visually driven man not in full command of his wits, having a woman tell him “no” while wearing the most provocative, arousing, blatantly sexual outfit possible is, to say the least, confusing. And while that does not give him the right to violate her, it also cannot be claimed that women are entirely innocent in this situation.

I know that the knee-jerk reaction to this kind of scenario is that women are unequivocally the victims, but they are also adults. They are also capable of assessing risks, the kind of risks that we live with every day. And if they choose to ignore these risks, to feed into them, to put themselves further into danger – they are not being the most intelligent, capable adults they could. They are being, to some degree, irresponsible. That just may not look quite as catchy on a pink sign. TC mark

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