Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Standing with the sluts

No, that's not a character's name from a take-off of Dances With Wolves. It's a post from the blog of a Californian history and gender studies professor called Hugo Schwyzer, who writes about a great event with an unfortunate catalyst:
This past Sunday, the world’s first “Slut Walk” took place on the chilly streets of Toronto, Canada. The official site is here. The march was organized in response to the infuriating remarks of a police constable, who told a safety workshop at a Canadian university that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” (The officer has apologized, but it’s evident that his trogolodytic view of sex and responsibility remains widely held.)  
I’ve written many times in support of women’s right to wear what they want in public without fear of harassment or harm. This includes both revealing and concealing clothing; I’ve written in favor of the right to go topless in public and in opposition to bans on headscarves and burqas.  
There are so many things that trouble me about the obsession with regulating women’s bodies. But as a man, I am particularly exasperated at the assumption that lies beneath the insistence on modesty: the myth that men cannot control themselves. As feminists often point out, the real “man-haters” are those who promote modest dress for women out of the belief that men lack self-control. There is nothing more contemptuous than the suggestion that those of us with penises and Y chromosomes are prisoners of our biology, liable to rape or commit infidelity at the first sign of cleavage. The myth of male weakness sells us woefully, heartbreakingly short. 

Emphasis in the original. Read the whole thing; it's worth it.

I really like what Schwyzer does here. He flatly rejects the proposition that it's the responsibility of women to dress in ways that will not encourage men to harass or attack them, rather than the responsibility of men to control their own behavior. He supports the general right of women to wear whatever they want, for whatever reason they want, which I would call individualist feminism though I know that's not the only term for it. In this formulation, the particular reasons for why women would want to do something are always secondary or even irrelevant to the importance of their ability to decide for themselves. If they want to go naked, fine. If they want to cover themselves from head to toe, fine. It's up to them. And thirdly, he points out that this form of misogyny amounts to misandry as well, which is often the case. Men and women have different hormonal balances and to some extent we are at their mercy, but that doesn't mean that men are physically incapable of restraining themselves in the presence of an attractive woman, and it does the male sex no favors to suggest otherwise. Men like Schwyzer are right to object to that insulting characterization when it is used by others who are trying to dodge culpability by claiming weakness. If that were really the case, the fairest thing to do would be to not allow men out in public because they're incapable of behaving-- not blame women for making themselves the occasion of sin.


  1. Sanguinetti's attitude is not only repulsive but empirically wrong. If sexual assault were strongly correlated with provocative dress, one would expect it to be practically non-existent in the Middle East and omni-present in, say, Scandinavia. There's plenty of evidence that that's not the case.

    Societies with uptight, repressive attitudes are more prone to sexual and other violence than are societies which are relaxed about sexuality; the same is probably true of the relative danger presented by individuals with those attitudes.

  2. If sexual assault were strongly correlated with provocative dress, one would expect it to be practically non-existent in the Middle East and omni-present in, say, Scandinavia.

    One would also expect the rate to be much lower in the military.


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