Part 2 of 2: These two blog posts provide two different reactions to Rebecca Traister’s New York Times piece, “Ladies We Have a Problem“, about the anti-victim-blaming rallies in Canada & the US known as SlutWalks. If you’ve heard any of the public discourse surrounding SlutWalks – from local TV stations, to blogs, personal Facebook pages and radio – you know that among people of all backgrounds, the reactions are mixed. That’s also true of two fantastic FMF activists, Caitlin Smith & Madeline Montgomery.
I cannot dispute the fact that the SlutWalk movement, particularly through the first SlutWalk in Toronto, has given a voice to the movement against victim blaming. However, I also can’t help but feel that the emphasis on the term “slut” is confusing the message. As journalist Rebecca Traister argues, “while the mission of SlutWalks is crucial, the package is confusing and leaves young feminists open to the very kinds of attacks they are battling.”
The first SlutWalk in Toronto was appropriately named as a pointed response to a Toronto cop’s comment that women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like “sluts.” The argument was clear: on the one hand, we have a man in a position of power telling other men that, if a woman dresses and acts a certain way, she is inviting violence. And on the other hand, we have a very clear display of thousands of people, many dressed in what they think is a “slutty” fashion, fighting against that slut-shaming, victim-blaming concept. I’ve seen some particularly powerful photos of women dressed in revealing Halloween costumes or lingerie and holding signs that said something like, “This is what I was wearing the night I was raped. I still didn’t deserve it.”
So I do understand the original connection between the movement and the word. But I personally am not at all interested in reclaiming the word “slut.” In fact, I wonder if having SlutWalks all over the world and making that term central to the movement is actually taking away from the original message. I feel as though this has morphed from an anti-victim-blaming movement to a “slut”-reclaiming movement.
And of course, that’s fine for people who identify as sluts and want to reclaim the term, but I think it needs to stay separate from the fight against victim-blaming. There are plenty of sexual assault survivors who don’t identify as sluts, many of whom may have been called sluts, who are being pushed out of this movement as the term becomes more and more central to the walks.
I also suspect that playing into this idea of sluttiness in our society is actually establishing the term and the image more firmly in our culture. Why can’t women be empowered without being “sluts”? Why does there need to be any label at all?
Take one look at the comments on a Facebook page for one of the events and you’ll see what I mean: “To be honest I thought this event was for the biggest walk of shame in history,” “yessss! I love sluts!” and “So I’m confused… Is there a high probability of me getting laid if I go to this thing or the opposite?” (all copied from the SlutWalk DC page, and all posted by people with traditional male names and male-presenting profile pictures). How is any of this empowering?
I understand that the idea is to reclaim the word “slut,” thus eliminating stigma around female sexual desire and empowering women sexually. But if our goal is to be equal to men in the way our sexuality is policed–or rather, isn’t–then why do we still need a label? Even if “slut” somehow becomes a de-stigmatized term for a woman who is in control of her own body (which we know is terrifying for much of our society), why do we still need a separate category? Men who like sex are still just men. We may jokingly call them “man whores” or “pimps” (problematic on a whole different level), but at the end of the day, men interested in sex are just the norm.
So, for the SlutWalkers whose goal is to achieve equal status for women– why would you want to do it under the label “slut”? Why not just be a person?