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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sluts of the world, unite and take over

Remember the Slut Walk in Toronto? When during a talk on how to be safe from sexual attack, a police officer informed a bunch of students to "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," and that got them kind of angry, so they took to the streets waving signs?

It continues and spreads:
Fast forward three months from Sanguinetti's unfortunate remarks, and a movement that was born in riposte to his loose talk has now gone international. "SlutWalking" is attracting thousands of people to take to the streets to put an end to what they believe is a culture in which it is considered acceptable to blame the victim.  
Some 2,351 people have signed up via Facebook to attend a SlutWalk through Boston on Saturday, when they will chant "Yes means yes, no means no," and "Hey hey, ho ho, patriarchy has to go."  
Further SlutWalks are planned in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.  
And that's before you get to Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK.  
Had it been under any other circumstance, Sanguinetti might have been quite proud of his global impact. In the circumstances, facing internal discipline by the Toronto police, he has grovelled profusely.  
"I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated," he said.  
But there is no holding back the SlutWalkers now. Word spread like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter, and anger about the comments began to coalesce around the idea of taking to the streets in protest. The SlutWalk was born. The first march was held in Toronto itself last month. Organisers had expected about 100 people to turn out, and were astonished when almost 3,000 people did so.  
The participants, both female and male, carried placards saying "Met a slut today? Don't assault her," "Sluts pay taxes" and "We're here, we're sluts, get used to it."  
Another sign at the rally read: "It was Christmas Day. I was 14 and raped in a stairwell wearing snowshoes and layers. Did I deserve it too?"  
Some women attended the protest wearing jeans and T-shirts, while others took the mission of reclaiming the word "slut" – one of the stated objectives of the movement – more literally and turned out in overtly provocative fishnets and stilettos. But they were all united by the same belief: that rape is about the rapist, not his victim.     
Generally speaking, I reject the word "slut." Rarely is it used without a tone of condemnation for someone because of her (inevitably a "her") presumed sexual practices, and I think that provided someone's sexual practices are consensual and occur with adults, condemning her for them makes you an asshole. That, in addition to the suggestion that dressing a certain way means that women are "asking for it" or at least share some part of the responsibility if they are raped, is what's wrong with telling women not to dress like sluts.

I don't think that advice on how to avoid rape is inherently more about blaming the victim than advice on how to be safe in any other way, but the kind of advice offered obviously matters. Given that the vast majority of college students who are raped know their attacker, it seems that suggestions like these on how to avoid acquaintance rape would be most appropriate:
Trust your "gut" feelings. If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a situation, listen to your feelings and act on them. Get yourself out of the situation as soon as possible.  
Don't be afraid to ask for help or "make a scene" if you feel threatened. If you are being pressured or forced into sexual activity against your will, let the other person know how you feel and get out of the situation, even if it's awkward and even if you embarrass the other person or hurt his feelings.  
Be especially careful in situations involving the use of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol can make you less aware of danger signs and less able to communicate clearly. Be especially aware when you are in a new situation or with people that you don't know well. You need to be able to make good decisions to protect yourself from sexual assault.  
Go to parties or clubs with friends you can trust and agree to "look out" for one another. At parties where there is drinking or drugs, appoint a "designated sober person," one friend who won't drink and who will look out for the others in the group by regularly checking on them. Leave parties with people you know. Don't leave alone or with someone you don't know very well.
None of those blames the victim. Each is infinitely more useful than telling someone to avoid dressing "like a slut"-- whatever that means.  Never in my life has the clothing I've put on to go out at night been more important in terms of safety than the very obvious factors of a) who I'm going out with, b) how much I'm drinking and what, c) how I'm getting home, etc. What I'm wearing or, for that matter, how many people I've slept with has generally been beside the point.

So I support the sluts, if they want to call themselves that-- though inevitably, their use of the word will legitimize in the minds of many morons the notion that it's therefore okay for them to use the term un-ironically.  After all, faggots sometimes call each other faggots, don't they? Har har. And it's probably folly to imagine that these marches will reduce the incidence of stranger or acquaintance rape. But that's not really the point, from what I can tell.  The point is to give a great big middle finger to people who think that dressing in a way which creates impressions in someone's mind about your sexual preferences and activities counts as the equivalent of "fighting words." That women who dress to reveal their bodies should not be considered to be provoking anything but appreciative looks. Concepts which are still woefully absent in the minds of many people across the world.

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