Back in January, a constable from the Toronto Police gave a talk at a college, where he advised female students to stop being so slutty if they didn’t want to be raped. “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized,” he cautioned his audience.
And in response, SlutWalk was born.
It happened in Toronto and Chicago and LA and Boston and London, and on October 1st, it is coming to New York City. Not sure why we’re so late to the game, actually. That’s a little weird.
SlutWalk is a protest movement. It wasn’t originally supposed to involved a lot of very, very revealing clothing, but participants made their own rules, and now it seems to be expected that plenty of the people marching will be doing so in their, well, sluttiest outfits. The point being, I think: I can wear whatever I want, and that doesn’t mean you get to do anything you want to me.
In college I took a class called Women and Politics. It was my first Gender Studies class, and it was held in a huge auditorium, with about 150 students.
During the first class, the professor asked us to raise our hand if we thought that rape had nothing to do with what a woman was wearing or how she presented herself. Only fifteen people or so raised a hand. I was stunned. Really? People think like this?
They definitely do. And it definitely needs to stop.
But at the same time, there’s something about SlutWalk that makes me a little, little bit uncomfortable. Like the amazing Virginia of Beauty Schooled and iVillage (who I always find myself copying– this time accidentally), I have some qualms. And they aren’t easy to articulate. But I will try.
First of all, though: I think it sounds like a lot of fun. I want to do it. Maybe wearing the skankiest outfit you can piece together doesn’t make the right point. Maybe the point should be that women are perceived as sluts no matter what they wear. Maybe wearing the skankiest outfit you can imagine makes the right point. We should be able to wear anything, or nothing, and it shouldn’t impact our safety. Either way, it just sounds amazing to march with a whole bunch of women. And I think I’d go skanky, personally, because I feel too shy to normally, and it’d be nice to do it in, well, such a safe environment, where I could dress for fun, without worrying about getting a lot of attention. It would be pretty nice if the whole world was like that.
But it isn’t. And “slut” is still an uncomfortable word for me. It sounds a little violent. It hits my ear like a slap. It doesn’t quite work. I don’t really want to reclaim it, because I don’t hear myself in it at all. I hear someone saying something wrong about me. Something that needs to be corrected.
Slut is a word that has never made sense to me, actually. A slut is a woman who sleeps with a bunch of guys. So most women are sluts? It’s vague, and yet bitter. A slut is a woman who wants sex too much. Why is wanting sex a bad thing? “Slut” carries an old, vicious, malice. A fear and anger towards women who are comfortable with their bodies, and women who enjoy sex, and women who seem too wild and too difficult to control.
My friends ask me sometimes, “Will he think I’m a slut?”
They say, “But I’m not a slut!” defensively, when they’re talking about how many guys they’ve hooked up with.
But who would even think for a second that they were? Who can make enough sense of the vagueness of the word to apply it? When does it ever make sense?
I don’t want to proudly call myself a slut. I want to proudly insist there is no such thing.
And maybe SlutWalk does that. Look! It says. We’re ALL sluts! Therefore, none of us can be.
But at the same time, there’s a twinge of something else…That effort I feel feminists making so often to be sexy. To flip off the endlessly lingering stereotypes about ugly, man-hating feminists, and show up in the highest heels possible, with the reddest lipstick. As though we still need to prove that we are hot.
I don’t want to have to prove anything.
I want to get together with women to protest rape and unfair sexualization. But I really, really, don’t want to call myself a slut.
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Unroast: Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts.
A version of this piece is up on HuffPo here.