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Slutwalk or not to Slutwalk

May 19, 2011

Slutwalk started in Toronto and spread in various places, mostly in the West. It’s a campaign to end insidious victim-blaming — a tougher, edgier version of Take Back the Night. And owning slut-hood in all its glory. I suppose I could sympathize with this critique of the campaign.

Well, Slutwalk, I also ‘grapple with the word slut’. This word, as I have mentioned, has been used in a myriad of ways to hurt me. […] While some may have decided to reclaim it or redefine it for their own personal empowerment, I’m afraid that this does not change my experiences.

This is not to say that attempting to change language is not a purposeful endeavour. Or that to take away the power a word has to hurt and abuse people is impossible. But rather that this is something that we must not only agree upon, as the oppressed group who has decided to reclaim the oppressive word. [….] the intent is not to force this supposed ‘reclaimation’ on others, that, rather, anyone can volunteer to be a ‘slut or an ally’, the very uncomfortable fact that Slutwalk pressures women (and men!) into accepting this word, a violent word, as part of their empowerment discourse, it not addressed.

And at some level, I do sympathize. I mean if a word has been used to shame you, it doesn’t ever lose its hatefulness. But. Surely, it’s not simply changing the “meaning” of the word that we are fighting for, but a kind of embracing of the meaning. How this “reclamation” gets translated at the personal level is different for each person. People interact in complex ways and we each have boundaries that shift and morph according to who we are and how we have experienced our lives.

One of Murphy’s main critiques is that SlutWalk does not name itself as part of the “feminist” movement. Two things I want to say.

1). I don’t believe a handful of facebook comments is indicative of anything, except that a few people had access to the internet that day. It’s unfair to point out some random “I love sluts!” from a male commentator on facebook as proof that Slutwalk is anti-feminist. As a general rule, people write dumb things on facebook. I am not convinced (at all) that organizers and participants of “SlutWalk” does not understand the oppressive power that “slut” has for women specifically. Of course, they do. But surely, Slutwalk is also about rejecting the very oppression that “slut” implies. It just seems to me that the form of resistance that is being used is different than Murphy’s might be.

2). There is good reason to distrust mainstream feminist representation of the sex-positive movement.

I’m afraid that I can’t see how the mudflaps girl presents a challenge to sexist imagery and discourse around women and female sexuality. Why, exactly, does feminism have to be ‘sexy’ in order for it to be supported? Well, the answer, of course, is so that it is palatable to men and to people who don’t much wish to challenge dominant ideology or to look at the roots of patriarchy. So that it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable. And now a space has been created where it is not only acceptable, but progressive(!) for men to call women sluts

There is this underlying, somewhat patronizing belittling of those who do prioritize pleasure and desire as part of the feminist narrative. Sexy is not sexist. [They] are using sexy images “to make it more palatable for men”? Come on. Patriarchy is rooted in controlling and binding female sexuality, and not at all in expressing sexuality in any way women choose. And it needs to be said, that the threat of sexual violence is one of the most powerful ways in which women’s sexuality is controlled. Disrupting this narrative is deeply necessary.

And seriously, who cares what men think? It’s not about them. Surely, celebrating female sexuality does not mean making space “for men to call women sluts”. It’s a reductive and unfair. It’s not about making room for men, but to make room for women and sexualities that have historically been pushed to the side — queer women, sex workers, trans-people. It’s about breaking the rigid axiom of oppression that places all men on one end, and all women on another.

I would like to also point to the video that Murphy posts — a feel-good PSA on feminism.

I am in total agreement with Murphy when she points out that the video is, “very pleasant and doesn’t say much. The kind that reassures the public that feminists are just attractive, heterosexual, women who love penises and shaving their legs. Women who don’t threaten the status quo.” (And I would add, overwhelmingly white). But I thought odd that she builds an analogy of SlutWalk to this bland marketing of the feminist movement. SlutWalk does have something to say, that loudly challenges the status quo, our collective understanding of how women should handle our sexuality. It challenges not just men to re-think female sexuality, but also women.

Murphy suggests that we use the word, “feminist-walk” instead of “slutwalk”. Huh. Isn’t that pretty much doing what this video is doing? Making everything palatable and nice for everyone. Can you imagine this same video with the word, “slut”, instead of feminist? Now, wouldn’t that be something worth seeing?

I also totally agree that “the constant differentiating between the imaginary ‘man-hating feminist’ (radical) and the ‘sexyfun’ feminists who like to be objectified is just, well, pukey” So we should stop doing it, no?

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