Keli Goff, one of the brightest and smartest writers out there, wrote a brilliant article about SlutWalk – a highly questionable protest event organized by women who were rightly offended by a Toronto police constable’s assertion that women who dress like “sluts” maybe responsible for being rape victims.
I agree with the walk’s organizers that what the constable said was abhorant and disgusting.
But at the same time, I question the wisdom of a SlutWalk – who are we trying to reach with this event?
For folks who don’t believe that any woman attracts rape – regardless of her attire, behavior, looks, job, etc – this comes off as silly. To the people who may harbor some deep-seated ideas that a woman who wears a too-short mini or tube top is asking to be raped, seeing a parade of women in their underwear is not going to change their minds.
Goff also makes a good point about trying to own the word “slut.” She makes corrallations to the n-word and the anti-gay f-word (lots of hyphens in that phrase) and how if the words are still being used by oppressors then trying to reappropriate them as words of empowerment ultimately fail. I won’t make a judgment on the n-word or slut – I’m not black or a woman, so I don’t feel I fully understand the impact of these words – I find them offensive and don’t allow for them to be used in my presence, but my reaction to these words is merely on the skin-level (some white men may claim that they too can feel the true ugliness of the n-word or slut and more power to them, but I feel that white male privilege makes me come up short in fully understanding the personal impact of these words).
I can, however, gage these words rhetorical, cultural and political impact which is why I find them so ugly – centuries of abuse against women and blacks have been perpetrated using these words (and more). And yes, it’s more than just language that oppresses, but language is just one tool of many in prejudice’s voluminous toolbox.
As a gay man, I feel I can speak with some authority on the use of the f-word (or “fag” for those who are still trying to grasp at what I’m referring to). Again, this is just one gay man’s opinion, not the collective experience of the whole LGBT community – but again, I have to agree with Goff (surprise, surprise) that gays using that word is pretty backward. And I cringe myself when I hear it being used – just as I cringe when I hear gay folk say “tranny” (actually I cringe whenever I hear anyone say that word).
What’s interesting about the debate on SlutWalk is that it splits off into two distinct discussions: one about the effectiveness of perpetuating stereotypes in hopes of convincing your oppressors that those stereotypes are incorrect; and the other of owning and defanging racial and sexual epiteths in hopes of some king of social progression.
I hate to criticize the organizers of SlutWalk too much because at least we’re talking about rape – a subject too often shrouded in shame and silence. We often ask victims to keep quiet or to simply “get over it.” A more holistic and eventually efficient approach would be to talk about it in the open and confront male-centered establishments like the police force or the local government to start taking these things seriously.
As a self-identified feminist, I believe that as a movement we have to definitely measure our audience and make sure that the approach and the delivery of our message will be read and not misconstruted or misunderstood – remember a lot of the folks we’re trying to reach (let’s face it, most of them) aren’t all that bright (who else but a class A dummy would believe a rape victim “asked for it”?), so trying to get at their sense of decenty with this high-wire act of supposed irony (which failed, I think) undoes any kind of possible traction we may make in changing minds and attitudes.