With the recent controversy surrounding the Slutwalk marches, there has been a lot of talk about the word – “slut”. We all know what it means, the connotations of a woman who enjoys sex, who has a lot of sex, who might even have a lot of sex with a lot of different people…. and who doesn’t even get paid for it! I’ve been called a slut before – both by someone obviously attempting to shame me with the word, and by people I love, with voices of great admiration and adoration. Context makes all the difference, and that’s what people don’t seem to get about the Slutwalk demonstrations.
SLUT: Meaning “woman of loose character, bold hussy” (hussy meaning “mistress of the house”) is attested from mid-15c.
I am certainly bold, few could deny that…. and my place of residence may be variable, but I am quite the house-mistress, if I do say so myself. More to the point, I do indeed love sex. I love it a lot, almost as much as I love new experiences and adventure. The fact that I am in a committed, long-term, poly relationship only makes it that much more enjoyable to share love and new sexual experiences with my partner (and potential partners-to-be) in life.
So what is the Slutwalk all about? By now you probably know the origin story – at a campus safety session at York University, a police officer (after stating that he’d already been told not to utter such words) told women that if they wanted to be safe from rape, they shouldn’t “dress like sluts”. Let’s put aside the fact that studies have shown that only 4.4% of rapes have been shown to have anything to do with the victim acting or dressing provocatively, or that nearly all rapists have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what their victims were wearing at the time. Let’s forget about the fact that despite these figures, the majority of people are far more likely to blame a rape victim for her attack based on what she was wearing at the time. Let’s even dismiss the fact that the best way for women to be safer from experiencing rape is to look and act strong, confident and capable (even if that means strutting around in a wonder bra and daisy dukes), at least for this moment.
When was the last time you heard a man called a “stud” with disdain? Moreover, when was the last time you heard of a man being offended for being called a stud? Is it really any less “objectifying”? The word “stud” refers to an animal (in particular a male horse) who is pimped out for nothing but his sperm and ability to fornicate, kept around only because he is young and able to make babies, then sent off to the glue factory when he’s no longer useful. Why on earth is it perfectly acceptable that this word is considered a compliment, but to consider the word “slut” empowering is a “step back for feminism”?
I’ve heard so many people – mostly men, to be honest – ranting about how the Slutwalk takes feminism back so many years, how the “fight to be called a slut”, as they characterize these demonstrations, undoes all the work that so many women have done to stop our bodies from being objectified.
There’s one problem with that, of course – we are human. We have minds, yes, and emotions too. But being human means having a physical body – an object to which we are inextricably linked. Why is it considered such a crime for a woman to recognize that she is a sexual creature, and that this innate sexuality she bears is part of her body? It’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to “dress like a slut”, if she’s getting paid to sexualize her body on a billboard or the big screen… but Goddess forbid that she do it for herself, because it feels good to revel in one’s own sexuality, to accentuate and adorn the object-body with beautiful things and move it about to tantalizing rhythms. And that, I suppose, is what the Toronto officer meant when he uttered the now infamous words. To dress “like a slut” is to show off the parts of one’s body that are considered by mainstream society to be sexual – the breasts, the belly and hips, the legs…. any amount of skin considered to be “too revealing” for someone who isn’t getting paid to reveal herself.
Slutwalkers challenge this stigma, demonstrating that women of all shapes, sizes, and kinds of dress (and not just women – men too!) love sex, because it feels good… because it’s fun and stimulating and spiritual and ecstatic, because it promotes good health and deeper connection, self-awareness and feelings of power and desire and satisfaction! If you are one of the many out there who believes you can tell how much a woman enjoys sex, or how many sexual partners she’s had, just by looking at her clothes, you are by far a better mind-reader than me, my friend.
While statistics show that peers are by far more likely to blame a victim for rape if she is dressed in a “provocative way”, recent research is very clear – women are actually less likely to experience victimization when wearing clothing that suggests they are confident and comfortable with their own body! Rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness in their potential victims, signs which include wearing noticeably more body-concealing clothing like high necklines, long pants and sleeves, and multiple layers. Not only did the officer’s advice cause this incredible uproar and outrage about his use of the word “sluts”, but his suggestion, if taken seriously by any women out there who might feel scared to bare their bodies as a result of his slut-shaming, actually makes them more likely to become victims of sexual assault.
I wonder if it’s just our obsession with crime drama that makes “profiling the victim” such an enjoyable past-time for the every day citizen. I have had dozens of discussions in the past month about rape, and I wish just once that those conversations would be about the rapists, not the victims. I wish I didn’t have to talk about it at all, that it was a thing of ancient history. I wish that everyone could wear whatever they want, and celebrate their sexuality without being publicly shamed and denigrated. Sluts and sex-positive activists all over the world want the same things, and this is why Slutwalk exists. There is no “right path” to a sex-positive future, there are only our paths, and sometimes those paths follow the main stream, sometimes they follow the path least taken… and sometimes we blaze our own path. Which one are you on?