I had an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance the other day, upon hearing about Slutwalks. For those who haven't yet heard of them, earlier in 2011 a male cop in Toronto was apparently giving an anti-rape class to a bunch of women. During the class he mentioned one way to avoid being raped was to not dress inappropriately — you know, like a slut.

Quite rightly, there was a huge blow-up about this. Studies have shown repeatedly that rape is not about sex; it's about male insecurity over perceived female power, and consequent violence against women. Further, rapists do not target sexily dressed women — they target women who are vulnerable, that the rapist thinks he can easily overpower. This is why most women know their attackers: the rapist is taking the time to target his next victim. Therefore telling women it's their responsibility to prevent rape (by dressing dowdily) is somewhat like telling an innocent passerby killed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting that it was their responsibility to stop drive-by shootings by always wearing kevlar. (If you're interested in more horrifying statistics on rape, check out this page on rape myths and facts.)

The first Slutwalk occurred soon after this blatant gaffe by the cop, with many women and some men parading along the streets carrying anti-rape signs. What made this particular protest distinctive was that many of the women chose to dress "provocatively" or "sexily" — and consequently the media gobbled it up, plastering photos of the most dramatically dressed women in their articles on the movement. The idea spread swiftly, with Slutwalk going international soon thereafter. To my knowledge there have been walks in England, India, South Africa, Australia, and the US as well as Canada, by now.

I don't really care for the term slut; it has always been denigrating to women. If we're going to reclaim a word, why not one that used to mean something good, like bitch? That being said, I think anti-rape protests are an exceedingly good idea, and I look forward to the day when rape is as underused and unknown a word as, say, spinster.

Further, I truly agree with several of the signs carried in some of the Slutwalks: no matter how a woman dresses, it does not mean she "wants it" or "asked for it." Some of the photos were truly heart-rending, too: a young woman wearing regular cold-weather clothing and carrying a sign that said, "This is what I was wearing when I was raped. How is this 'slutty'?" I think it's high time the blame for rape was put right where it truly belongs: on the male attackers — never on their victims. I think it's even higher time for men to take up their fair share of their responsibility to end general societal permissiveness not just for rape, but all violent crimes against women.

And yet… and yet. Here's my cognitive dissonance: I'm glad these girls feel empowered by marching while dressed "sexily"; I know how nice that can feel. But at some point I hope these women will remember dressing "sexy" is supposedly powerful only because men have decided it is — and they only grant that power to the women they think are cute enough, young enough… sexually available enough. In the end I believe horny young males are incapable of granting women true, lasting power. Far better, I think, for women to find empowerment through brains or spirituality or relationship building or whatever honestly works for you — because true confidence, true power, always comes from within.

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