You can’t have missed the brouhaha about SlutWalks, the whole thing is all over the media like a viral rash. Like many feminists (from what I can see), I’m both genuinely excited about the fact that finally, victim shaming is being challenged on a scale that has the media paying attention and horribly depressed that this has only been achieved by buying into – and effectively celebrating – the Patriarchal notion that there is such a thing as a sl*t in the first place. As others have noted, Reclaim the Night marches – with their implicit rejection of that notion and explicit rejection of men (women-only! and identifiably feminist to boot!) haven’t garnered anything like the interest generated by SlutWalks.
Oh, I don’t want to be confliced about this! My life is conflicted enough without having doubts about people shouting down rape culture and telling it to fuck off even if they are wearing a short skirt. So, I’m trying – I’m really fucking trying – to find the whole thing as positive as I can.
So far, I’ve managed to convince myself to take heart from the fact that these things are even happening; that, finally, a policeman can’t just stand up and tell women not to dress like sluts if they don’t want to be raped and get away with it. I’ve also cheered myself with the thought that many of the participants are young women, many of whom probably don’t identify as ‘feminist’, but who may, by taking part in these walks, be taking the first steps to doing so. I think back to my tentative first steps towards actually owning my feminism and boy, was I clueless. I’d have been totally on board with the whole SlutWalk thing. Totally. Having taken the first steps, they too, may then learn about all the Patriarchal nuances that have passed them by and they may too come to understand why other feminists have these misgivings about how desirable it is to try and reclaim the word ‘slut’ and even, whether it’s even possible. Fuck, I can’t help it – I just want to be cheering these women on. At least I’ve no intention of turning up and counter-protesting; that wouldn’t help anything. I even toyed with the idea of taking part.
But. But. But.
Then I spoil it all by asking myself this question: would I take my daughter?
She’s been on protest marches before (start ’em young I say!), notably, in a feminist context, she’s been on the Million Women Rise. She’ll also be coming on the next RTN march now she’s old enough to stay up late. So, I don’t shield her from these issues; I involve her and explain this shit to her. But a SlutWalk?
No, I’m sorry. And not because I don’t want to explain the concept of slut to her either (I don’t, but then the feminist life is hard, get with the programme), but because I can imagine the conversation.
Boogie: Why are we here? You said there’d be ice cream. And pink elephants. And why is that woman in her underwear?
MB: Well, your questions are connected. Some people think that if a woman dresses a certain way, she likes to have sex a lot and then they take that assumption and think that that means that a man can have sex with her even if she doesn’t want to. Nobody, nobody can have sex with someone if that person doesn’t want to. It’s a crime and the police will come and take them to jail. In theory, at least. You know how when I’m tickling you and you say stop, I always stop? It’s kind of like that; I stop because it’s your body I’m tickling and it’s always your decision as to whether you want to be tickled. It’s your body and it’s always up to you to decide whether you want somebody to touch it or not.
Boogie: Is sex like tickling then? (No, I haven’t, it seems, been particularly clear about the whole sex thing – I haven’t failed miserably and opted for the ‘special cuddle’ line, but I’m not far off)
MB: For current purposes, it’s very like tickling, yes.
Boogie: But why is that woman in her underwear?
MB: She’s making the point that even if she goes out without her clothes on, she can still say no if somebody wants to have sex with her and she doesn’t want to.
Boogie: OK, but what’s that on her belly?
MB: It’s the word ‘sl*t’. Sl*t is a name horrid, horrid people use for women who like to have sex a lot.
Boogie: So she likes to have sex a lot?
MB: She may do, I don’t know. Some women like lots of sex, other women prefer less. Some women would like more than they get but don’t get the privacy in their own damn home. (seriously, she’s so used to these sotto voce asides, she won’t even hear this bit).
Boogie: Yeah, yeah, but she must because she’s written sl*t on her belly. So she must be a horrid, horrid person too, mustn’t she, cos only horrid, horrid people call people that?
Boogie: Urgh, she’s horrid, horrid, sl*tty sl*t, she is! Shall we throw stones at her, mama?
MB: Let’s go get ice cream.
Off we walk into the sunset, having firmly planted the idea in Boogie’s head that self-proclaimed sl*ts are the worst sl*ts of all. Me: 0, Patriarchy: 1.
And as she grows, she will hear this word again and again, thrown at girls and women who are even suspected of having sex. She will think back and know that it’s the worst thing a woman can be. Sl*t cannot be ‘reclaimed’ as long as it’s still the worst thing a female can be and as long as it’s still possible – policemen on public speaking assignments aside – to throw it about as an insult without censure. As long as the idea that it’s possible to be a sl*t still exists. Because until it isn’t, women and girls will still not be in charge of their own sexuality, they will still not be allowed to exist as independent, sexual beings with desires and wills of their own. The whole thing’s still too loaded and too, too common to be reclaimed.
And it won’t be long before my daughter’s exposed to it. Take this, two girls, aged 11 and 12, charged with cyberstalking a classmate, defacing her FaceBook page. The ‘worst‘ thing they did? They ‘instant-messaged “random individuals” under the alleged victim’s name to arrange sex acts.’ Even at 11 and 12, they knew the power of calling sl*t. They knew that to hurt this girl the most, all they had to do was imply that she was chasing sex.
‘They left messages on my web page calling me a sl*g or a slapper, then created online groups dedicated to calling me names.‘
posted on a 15 year old girl’s site.
‘We’re going to get you tomorrow, you look like an ugly sl*t.
‘You sl*t, no-one is going to touch you because you’re a lesbian. You are a sl*g and you look like one. You need to get some friends because you have none.’
posted on a 17 year old girl’s site by cyberbullies.
These are not isolated incidents. And I cannot in all conscience, expose my daughter to the idea, however well-intentioned, that ‘sl*t’ is a valid thing to proclaim yourself to be. If she thinks it’s OK to self-identify as one, how’s she going to object when somebody else calls her one?