Why I’ve changed my mind about Slutwalk

I’ve just read Amy Gray’s gut-wrenching piece about the sexual abuse she was subjected to from the age of seven. I despair that yet another warm, funny, spirited and talented woman that I barely know but admire on Twitter has brutally suffered not only from the actual violation but also society’s inept response to the real causes of sexual assault and abuse.

As Amy explains:

Unfortunately, lack of knowledge about sexual assault can actually exacerbate the pain already felt by the victim. Though they may not mean to, others can make mistakes, can’t provide support or say things which can alienate the victim further. It may be because they don’t know better, it may be because it’s easier to blame someone else than accept the senseless and cruel violence that is sexual assault. Outmoded beliefs or myths about sexual assault perpetuate the cycle of shaming and abuse. We need to start breaking these cycles.

Protection is not granted because of the clothes we wear, how much we’ve had to drink, how we may have danced in a club, if we’re allowed outside to play or any other factor presented as defence. Protection is granted for every single member of society because society works best when we are treated the same without exception. A person told to ‘lie back and enjoy it’, ‘you shouldn’t drink so much’, ‘you shouldn’t have lead them on’ or that they are ‘strays’ or ‘dressed like paedophile/rape bait’ is being told they don’t have the same rights as the criminal who attacked them.

Amy’s words made me question whether my view of victim-blaming is much more black and white than those who’ve actually experienced sexual assault. I would never, and have never, rationalised rape according to the dress or behaviour of the victim.

But in the past I’ve questioned the value of  Slutwalk, an annual event at which Amy Gray will speak this weekend. I unequivocally support the central tenets of the Slutwalk movement: that sexual assault is violence, not sex; that no behaviour or dress justifies sexual assault; and that it is unjust to blame the victims of sexual assault for their violation.

My concerns about Slutwalk were the broader implications of a campaign that not only says “my dressing like a slut is not an invitation for rape”, but also urges women to embrace their inner “slut”. Some supporters interpret this as being able to dress and behave however one wishes, wherever one wishes. For me, this ancillary message distracted from Slutwalk’s main objective and confused every woman’s right to not be sexually assaulted or blamed for her attack with the right to do whatever she pleases.

However, reading Amy’s piece today, I’ve come to realise that perhaps embracing your inner slut is more about giving oneself permission to be oneself, without fear of physical attack, societal opprobrium or torment from misdirected guilt.

Amy’s piece made me realise that victim-blaming is much more nuanced from the victim’s perspective, and that by rejecting Slutwalk, I may have inadvertently been denigrating its cause.

So this year I will support Slutwalk, probably not by walking (because I’m an introvert and don’t like crowds), but certainly in the discussions that surround it.

#Slutwalk will not show our daughters how to get respect

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