The XX Factor

Defending Slutwalk

I often find Germaine Greer to be a tad fluffy-brained, but her defense of Slutwalk , an anti-rape protest that started in Canada and is spreading across the globe, couldn’t be more right on. I mean, she does the usual fluffy-brained stuff I don’t like, such as arguing from etymology, but she describes the point of Slutwalk perfectly: “When it comes to sex, women are as dirty as the next man, but they don’t have the same right to act out their fantasies. If they’re to be liberated, women have to demand the right to be dirty.”  The word for a dirty girl in our culture is slut , and so it goes that you use that word because people grasp immediately what you mean by it.  Language is a beautiful thing, because it’s not a static thing.

Of course, Slutwalk is an anti-rape protest, which I think is entirely appropriate.  Our culture treats rapists not like out-and-out criminals but with the ambiguity reserved for vigilantes.  Yes, we officially condemn people who take the law into their own hands by attacking those who threaten us, but we also admire them and often refuse to convict them when we’re on juries.  Rapists are viewed as just a specific kind of vigilante—the kind that assaults women who threaten by transgressing the multitude of sexist and often contradictory rules we have for women, especially “be sexually appealing but not too sexual,” or “be fun to be around, but don’t have too much fun yourself.”  So while rape, like other forms of vigilantism, is illegal, society often sides with the rapist over the victim.  To cite a recent example , the rapist is kept on the team and the girls are forced to cheer his name, while the victim is booted off her team and fined $45,000.

Incidentally, male-on-male rape also invokes the logic of vigilantism.  In an excellent exposé about male-on-male rape in the military in Newsweek recently, this was prominently explored. Victims were usually targeted because they were viewed in their mini-communities as transgressing the social norms of the military, and because of this, just as when women are victims, justice proves elusive.

Slutwalk is basically attacking the premise of this logic, that women who act in pleasure-seeking ways are transgressive and that crimes against them aren’t so bad.  Unfortunately, there aren’t just conservative types who flip out when women lay claim to the right to equal naughtiness with men under the umbrella of feminism.  This also makes many feminists very uncomfortable.  I imagine Greer was responding primarily to Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy , who wrote a piece denouncing anyone calling herself a “slut” for whatever reason on the grounds that guys might get ideas.  Dines seems mostly out to restart the porn wars, because she kept returning to the subject of porn on “World Have Your Say,” even though Slutwalk is about rape and not porn.  You’d think, to hear Dines talk, that rape exists because of porn, even though the proliferation of hardcore porn has been accompanied by a dramatic downturn in the rape rate, at least in the United States.  (I don’t think the link is causal in any way.) While Dines does decry accusations that she’s prudish or victim-blaming, the fact that she starts to hyperventilate like a cornered animal when talking about young women wearing midriff-baring tops and belly button rings tends to undermine her claims.

It’s the same old “model minority” problem, but this time strained through feminism.  The hope is that if young women can just act right, wear knee-length skirts, and focus on grades while ignoring the boys, we’ll force that mean ol’ patriarchy to start taking us seriously.  Of course, this ends up just reaffirming the same structures that pit the good girls vs. the bad girls.  Slutwalk is about saying to hell with all that, and saying that if one of us is a “slut,” then we all are.