Thursday, May 19, 2011

You’re slutting yourself go, dear

When I heard about the Canadian demonstration SlutWalk, my first reaction was ‘How nice. Like Reclaim the Night, only more inclusive and less bitchy.’ It seemed like a festival against objectification, specifically concentrating on how women are pigeonholed by their appearance: the primary concern obviously being the slut/virgin dichotomy. Can it be subverted? I thought so. I’ll come back to this initial reaction, because it’s important.

Now SlutWalk is coming to London. After a couple of other demonstrations in the States, I have identified three main problems within the debate about SlutWalk, although I feel they are all connected. The first is the issue of reclaiming a word: can it (always) work? What about words such as ‘nigger’ and ‘bitch’? Does it depend on the word? And are there even benefits to reclaiming a word?

The second problem arises from criticism of the SlutWalk marches since their conception: that they are not inclusive. The problem revolves largely around race in American criticism, but Aura Blogando makes this point, which raises wider questions about diversity and privilege:
If SlutWalk has proven anything, it is that liberal white women are perfectly comfortable parading their privilege, absorbing every speck of airtime celebrating their audacity, and ignoring women of color.
Thus it is not merely a problem of black and white representation, but one which encompasses may social groups, divided by class, sexuality, background education as well as race.

The third problem, of course, is ‘What shall I wear?’ The media has charmingly chosen to exclusively feature pictures of young women in their early 20s, dressed in bikini tops and Tank Girl hotpants and looking devastatingly attractive in a radical, green-haired kinda way. I like wearing low-cut clothes and dressing sexy, but I’m not sure I want to strip down for a public place. Usually I like to demonstrate in jeans. Is that showing enough Slut-solidarity? And a friend has drawn my attention to the SlutWalk website’s response to this problem, which is unfortunately
Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don’t have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come.
Has the slut/virgin dichotomy become the slut/ally dichotomy?
Anyway, there’s much food for thought here, so I’ll address each of the three problems over the next three days. Meanwhile, there's a lot of food for thought here. Might probably go, though. Looks fun.


Gloria Dawson said...

Had 2 chats with not very rar but definitely feminist women; one a colleague, one a friend, who said they totally agreed that women should never be blamed for rape, sexual assault or even name calling, but felt uncomfortable with (as they saw it) going along labelling themselves as a positive 'slut'. I think the whole thing is pretty positive, and could work, but I think it's alienating to women who aren't into stripping down in public, being vocally sex-positive (awful phrase) in that particualr way and that's not cool, cos my feminism's a broad church. Anyway. rambling.

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty good summing-up of the problems around this. It's probably not fair to blame the organisers for the way the media represent these things, but it does feel a bit like it's the media-friendly Reclaim the Night with a saucy name and lots of young girls in bikinis.

Re: reclaiming. I think a word like bitch is worth reclaiming because it's so often used by sexists to condemn positive, desirable qualities like being an angry woman or an outspoken woman. But I'm really dubious about assigning negative or positive qualities to individual sex lives. Someone who sleeps with lots of men isn't better *or* worse than someone in a monogamous relationship, just different. What's required there is not celebration of a particular way of being, but acceptance and the *absence* of judgment.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds really wanky, doesn't it?