Slutwalk is rearing its unfortunately-named head again, with more protests planned in the coming weeks. Whilst I would like to preface everything I am about to say by wholeheartedly agreeing with the statement that no-one ‘invites’ rape – it’s actually an oxymoron if you think about it – I have nevertheless been following this ‘movement’ with a deep sense of unease. I can’t help but feel this is a massive own goal for the girls.
To recap briefly, the theory the protest walks are meant to embody is that women should not have to accept as a given that dressing in a certain way (‘sluttily’) means some people will draw certain conclusions (they are ‘sluts’) and be more inclined to sexually assault them. The praxis is to dress sluttily, en masse, to prove that they can do it with no reference to the male gaze – to ‘reclaim’ the style for themselves.
First of all, I would question the honesty of the assertion that dressing sluttily makes any sense without reference to those for whose benefit it was ultimately invented. The adornment of the body has always been about sending out signals as to the identity of the wearer. To deny that is – as a now very unpopular Canadian Police Officer pointed out – naïve.
Secondly, I don’t understand why any woman would seriously want to ‘own’ that mode of dress – uncomfortable, chilly, and designed-by-men as it is.
Thirdly, how is this a wise strategy? What argument are they going to win? Will this actually deliver reduced instances of sexual assault? Somehow I just can’t see any rapist-in-waiting watching a slutwalk and thinking, ‘on the other hand, maybe I won’t.’ It all has the distinct feeling of having metamorphosed into an excuse for millions of women to revel in a slightly risqué activity, and assert their right – never really in question in the western world – to parade around wearing whatever they want.
But leaps-of-logic and poor strategising aside, ultimately, the most damage Slutwalk will do is to reduce feminism in popular/ media discourse to a discussion about the right to dress provocatively and not be raped. And once again, and which is only ever to the detriment of the feminist stance (shouting slogans is a crap way to win an argument) the tone is angry, defiant, and a bit whiny. How many men are on board with this, for the right reason? Tone is so important, and slutwalk is such an ugly word, and concept. No matter what the manifesto says, the shorthand is neither aspirational nor inspirational, and an unhelpful hyphen to feminism.
For a perhaps surprising moment of a woman beautifully expressing herself, witness Beyonce’s recent Glastonbury triumph. Leonine and athletic, she was pitch perfect and absolutely charmed the 180,000-strong crowd. Not because she was wearing what would quite accurately be described as a highly provocative outfit, but because she was a consummate professional, really mind-blowingly good, clearly happy in herself and delighted to be there, and genuinely doing it for the girls (rare in the male-dominated medium of pop). Although jumping around in tiny pants, the word slut didn’t come to mind: she was amazonian and golden. Watching her dance provokes the same kind of dumbfounded reaction as Jacko or Timberlake at their best. And transcending all of that hard-won skill was buckets of personality and talent. It was heartening to see and a refreshing moment for feminism. It’s not about what you look like, it’s about what you say and do.
Although the seeming popularity of Slutwalk should tell us that something – and perhaps not what is ostensibly being protested about – is amiss; by drawing our attention back to the clothes and the body, the movement does feminism a disservice. For the sake of progress, less stomping around in bras please, and more just carrying on with what most of us hopefully do anyway in our daily lives: set some kind of meaningful and helpful example to remind the world that female bodies have minds too.