Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slutwalk

I heard about this on CBC Radio yesterday, Jian Ghomeshi hosted a pretty heated debate between two feminists about the value of the Slutwalk phenomenon.

The first Slutwalk was held in Toronto on Sunday, April 3, as a response to a cop advising some women that to avoid sexual assault they should not dress like sluts. So a group of friends decided they had had it up to here with that kind of talk and ended up organizing a 3,000-strong protest march (more info here). Wow.

The debate is, some feminists feel that it can't be done, you can't rehabilitate the word "slut". It demeans and shames women, particularly young women. But some others feel, yes you can. It's been done for "queer", why not for "slut"? A young woman should not be shamed for wanting strut her stuff, what is so awful about that?

You know, I agree. They're right.

Sometimes, as a woman of a certain age, I am rather shocked by how some young women and girls dress. I could never do that. And sometimes I have that cop's thought, they are asking for trouble dressing like that.

But on the other hand I am fed up to here with a world and a society that thinks how you dress is a reflection of your character, and if your character doesn't measure up then you deserve whatever ill treatment someone else chooses to dish out. It's OK to assault a woman because she looks like a whore.

My god! It is not even OK if she is a whore! And just because she dresses in a way that makes some guy think of whores, is no excuse for anything. First of all, it is that guy who makes himself think that way, not the woman or her clothes. Second of all, even if he makes himself think that way still does not give him any excuse to think he can jump her without her consent. Even a whore. She does it for money, a guy has to pay for that, he can't just take it.

A woman has the right to dress however nicely or badly as she wants. You can disapprove, you can criticize, you can be shocked and appalled, you can even bar her entrance into your home or dress-code space. But you can't assault her. And as long as there are people who think that you can connect the dots between lust or disgust and assault then we have a big problem.

The language we use shapes our thinking. When we use words like "slut" or "whore" we conjure up certain images and we respond viscerally. Our visceral responses are our own responsibility, no one else's. We can change the meaning of words, we can change how we respond to those words. Language is alive, we can change it, we do not have to be prisoners to words.

So when they say they want to take back the word "slut", I agree with them. It's time.

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