Main Site         

Why the SlutWalkers are both right and wrong

2011 June 10
by Paul Vallely

It can only be a good thing that some controls are to be placed on the marketing of padded bras, toy pole-dancing kits and T-shirts with slogans like ‘Future Porn Star’ to primary school children. Whether the “guidelines” just announced by big-chain retailers will work is another matter.

It is wrong to impose visions of adult sexuality on a child who isn’t ready for them. Such images lend psychological support to the self-deluded paedophiles who insist that kids enjoy sex too. But the real problem is the cumulative impact on the children themselves. Placing restrictions on sexual imagery on billboards within 100 metres of schools will not do much in a media continuum where children can’t avoid seeing ads the bombarded at adults. It’s not how the world ought to be. But it is how it is.

Does it make any sense to kick against that? The women who took to the streets of Newcastle, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow last weekend certainly seem to think so. SlutWalks have spread around the world after a policeman in Toronto told female law students: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

“Don’t tell us how to dress. Tell men not to rape,” Toronto’s feminists riposted. “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!” Clothes are not consent, is the message.

This is an understandable corrective to cases like the recent one in which an 11-year-old girl in Texas was gang-raped, and the New York Times ran a widely-criticized story reporting that the girl dressed “older than her age” and wore makeup – as if that was mitigation for the 18 men accused of raping her. Judges, juries, police and the media all fall into the trap sometimes of blaming the victim.

But sloppy public stereotypes can offer sound private advice: don’t wear a Celtic shirt in a Rangers pub; don’t park your Porsche on a sink estate; don’t go to dodgy parts of town after dark; look before you step onto a zebra crossing – unless you want a tombstone reading: “I had the right of way”.

Of course women deserve to be safe from violence, no matter what they wear. But this isn’t some intellectual debate about what ought to be. It is about how to live in a world where being right doesn’t convey a protective moral forcefield. It is as unworldly as the ideologues in the Seventies who sent their kids to the awful local comprehensive because they believed in state education, and then had to employ private tutors.

The return of grassroots activism is to be welcomed after decades of feminist acquiescence in the dopey idea that mistook sexily-dressed pop Girl Power for genuine liberation.  In a just a few weeks, SlutWalks have become the most successful feminist action in years.

But is celebrating the pornification of women’s bodies the best way to get a feminist point across? SlutWalkers talk of “reclaiming” the word “slut” and using it “ it in a positive, empowering and respectful way”. Why should a sexually-assertive woman be a slut (derogatory) when her male counterpart is a stud (approbatory)?  Men need to take care here; after all we once protested that suffragettes wearing bloomers were vulgar, ridiculous, indecent and notoriety-seeking. If some women want to be sluts, as some gays call themselves queers, does it matter?

It does. The idea that clothes don’t affect people is disingenuous. Clothing sends out signals, as young people dressing to pull on a Saturday night well understand. If images did not influence then a lot of advertisers would be out of work.

None of us can maintain that we are insulated individuals. Humans are creatures who live in community. We have rights but we also have responsibilities, towards ourselves but also towards others – and most particularly towards those, like children, who are too young to see irony in a music video in which a credit card is swiped through the bottom of a naked woman.


from the Church Times

Comments are closed.