Over the five years I’ve been writing about politics I’ve steered clear of feminism: mostly because I don’t really know much about it. I didn’t do gender studies at high school or university and, perhaps most importantly, it was never raised as an issue at home.
My parents never told me I had a natural disadvantage in life because I was female. Not once, ever.
But I was told many, many times that if I studied diligently, did well at school and university, and worked hard at my chosen vocation, I would be successful and, by extension, happy.
Before you jump to conclusions about my privileged Tory upbringing, let me explain.
Do feminists want equality for women or not? If they do, then they need to accept that any person who holds the office of Prime Minister will sometimes be described in extremely offensive terms.
Honestly, is calling John Howard a cunt any less offensive than calling Julia Gillard a cow? Is the placard wielded at one rally depicting Gillard as Bob Brown’s bitch any more hateful than the burning of John Howard’s effigy at another?
No, they’re not. I don’t buy the line that the use of a gender-based epithet somehow magnifies the injury intended upon the recipient. As I’ve written before:
While the words of protest and criticism levelled at Julia Gillard are disrespectful and even abhorrent, they’re not the first to be used against an unpopular Prime Minister. In the battle of words and thoughts that is politics, people often throw the first epithet that comes to hand. The fact that some of this abuse is gender-based doesn’t make it sexism.
While a woman might be called a bitch, a man could be called a prick. Either could be called a fuckwit. The gender of a word does not invest it with any more hate than another. In fact, some female terms of abuse can apply equally to men or women. Either an elderly man or woman crossing the road in front of an impatient hoon might be called a “silly old cunt”. Anyone who lavishly courts the press could be called a “media whore”. “Bitch” and “bastard” are usually gender specific, but they carry about the same level of insult. Equally, “male” words can be just as readily applied to women. Dickheads and arseholes are not exclusively men.
So, instead of trying to beat up this week’s “old cow” comments about the Prime Minister as the latest blow to feminism, how about we tackle the real issue: the apparent acceptability of hate speech in public rallies, forums and online political discussions.
It’s been going on since at least the Howard years, or do we prefer not to remember that?
Women around the world are participating in #slutwalk to reclaim the “derogatory” word and the right to dress however they wish, whenever they wish.
These women are incensed by a Canadian policeman who candidly opined that women should not to dress like sluts if they want to avoid being the victims of sexual assault.
These women have accused the policeman of being a misogynist and a proponent of the victim-as-perpetrator excuse for rape.
Perhaps they are right on both counts. But in fabricating a mildly controversial PR stunt that advocates the celebration of being a “slut”, these women are grievously wrong in encouraging others to dress in a sexually provocative manner whenever they want.
To do so is a grave disservice to all women, particularly young women, who are striving to be seen and treated as equal and capable in relationships, social settings, learning places and the workforce.
Before I am misunderstood, let me say up front that there is no excuse for rape. Not ever. No woman or man, regardless of their dress, demeanour or behaviour, should be subjected to sexual activity against their will and there is no justification for doing so.
The rightful denial of “sluttishness” as an excuse for sexual assault (which more often than not is an act of dominance rather than sexuality) does not however shield a provocatively dressed woman from a litany of other negative responses from those who observe her.
Some will see her as sexually aggressive or promiscuous, while others will conclude she has no self-respect. The worst judgement of all will be that she is a bimbo with no capacity for rational or analytical thought. Perhaps these responses would be elicited regardless of the woman’s attire, but they undoubtedly would be amplified and reinforced by sexually suggestive clothing.
Is this prejudice acceptable? No of course it’s not. But it exists in pretty much every part of our society – the very places where our sisters, daughters and female friends live, learn and work.
But holding a public march to celebrate the very nature of sluttishness is simply counterproductive.
Pseudo shock tactics like this do nothing to promote an understanding and acceptance that women who choose to dress in a feminine and attractive manner are also smart and capable and must be treated with respect.
The sad truth is that a woman shouldn’t dress like a slut if she wants to be taken seriously or treated as an equal.
Protesting against unacceptable justifications for rape is one thing; teaching our daughters how to get respect in their relationships and workplaces is another thing altogether.
The #slutwalk may achieve the first but it will undermine the latter. Perhaps the sluts need to take a good long look at themselves.
If you’d like to hear a radio interview I did with @CarolDuncan on this post, just follow this link