This Saturday 28 May will see a 'Slutwalk' march organised by students and local women taking place in Lancaster, assembling at 1pm in The Thurnham St Carpark (note new location, across the road and a bit uphill from the Kwikfit garage) to march together through Lancaster City Centre. The Slutwalks, in which women march dressed as they choose, currently taking place in cities throughout Canada, the US and Europe, began in Toronto, where Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti had been giving a talk on health and safety to a group of students at Osgoode Hall Law School when he made the now infamous remarks.
"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," he reportedly told them. "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."
Tired of 'slut-shaming'
Sanguinetti has since apologised, but on their website, Slutwalk Toronto state:
"We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.
"We are tired of speeches filled with lip service and the apologies that accompany them. What we want is meaningful dialogue and we are doing something about it:
WE ARE COMING TOGETHER.
"With your help, SlutWalk has become a mechanism for increased dialogue on victim-blaming, slut-shaming, misogynist and oppressive ideas that need to be challenged."
Can you reclaim a term of abuse?
Dialogue has been intense in Lancaster women's circles, as getting behind a label that has invariably been experienced as abusive is not an easy choice. While words like 'hag' or 'witch' historically had positive connotations there for the reclaiming, the concept of 'sluttishness' has never been good news for women, with its implications of dirtiness, failure, lack of control and sexual exploitability.
Is it ok for a woman to dress revealingly? Are human rights down to a fashion choice? If one is tried for beating up a man in a pub carpark, could it be a defence to point out that he was dressed in trackies? Asking for it? Women's clothes in the 21st century are certainly more revealing than their great, great grandmothers' were. Does that make it their fault if someone rapes them?
Just keep smiling and bring in the pudding
Rape is the great mixed dinner party conversation-killer, filling a room with clumsy elephants of violent imagination. It probably used to be the same talking racism in the Deep South while the cook was still in the room. And which is tougher, to be denigrated by strangers as a slut, or to be denigrated by colleagues as a feminist? Too slack or too uptight? The dialogue is a challenge.
The potential inference of sluttishness is crafted by usage to shape the rape victim's shameful fear. We say 'Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!' But even so, if the chips rain down, how confident can we be that those around us will not see us as beslutted? Marked out? Then how do you deal with other people's projections of shame and still get that promotion? Make that sales presentation? Make out? Deal with any gender-related subject without being seen as 'warped'?
How does one own a rape one didn't commit? How do one's kids? Or partner?
The Ken Clarke 'men are naturally pigs' theory
The Ken Clarke theory of rape 'seriousness' boils down to a notion that the more friendly a woman is, the more she is setting herself up for rape, for women are forever understood to be a target, as men are just immutably men (ie driven by hormones to be greedy, selfish, bullying pigs) etc. The Taliban operate on similar principles.
It's fair to say that more women are raped by people that they know, and that it can be almost impossible to prove against someone one has previously treated as a friend, despite evidence of violence, which requires specialist assessment, in Preston. In the case of date-rape, one can't always tell what a new date's's little predilictions are going to be, until they begin to manifest. If they aren't compatible with yours, and he can't do else, it's reasonable to call it off and go put the kettle on. It's supposed to be a mutual pleasure, not a social service. Guys can change their minds too. It's no excuse for violent assault. So how to address it? Presumably by actually trying. Comments I have read this week include 'at school I was taught how to use a condom safely - but nobody taught me how to ensure that my partner consented - or how to cope with rejection'.
Slut: A woman who can't control men?
In recent history it was a given that men must always press for more and it was the woman's responsibility to draw the lines - and her fault if they were overstepped. It was assumed that women could skillfully address every circumstance, like a lion-tamer in a cage. Failure automatically implied sluttishness, penalised by immediate loss of credibility or value.
Given the relative size and strength of the average male and female though, this is hardly practicable. (I've fought off two violent attacks by strangers, one underwater, and managed to get through a kidnapping by a border guard, but I'm not recommending the experience.) Nor is it necessary. Men, throughout the world, control themselves very well in situations where they have to. The most ardent boyfriend is not generally so driven by hormones that he can't break off even from consensual carousing if his partner's father / brother / headmaster walks into the room. Their 'no' is reflexively understood.
For women to overcome the slut stereotype, men must liberate themselves from the pig stereotype. It's not worthy of them. I've loved a great many men and still do. Every man I care about is so much better than this.
The 'pornification' of female sexuality
Some women have expressed concern that the event might be exploited by the mainstream media in its endless pursuit of the 'pornification' of women's sexuality. Is there any 'respectable' manifestation of female sexuality to which the slut label cannot be applied? (A virgin and child?) Every display is a feast for media pigs. And there's a fear, after having resisted that for years, one could maybe end up slutwalking alongside women pole-dancing in boots and fishnets to perhaps excited non-pc companeros. Is this a liberated choice? I think that's exactly the point. Every woman has equal rights of consent or refusal, from hookers to police chiefs. A builder doesn't have to fix your wall if he doesn't want to, and a hooker doesn't have to have sex when she doesn't want to.
Q, Can women flaunt sexuality without risking the dangerous connotations of the 'slut' label?
A. When there's a few hundred of you together on an anti-rape march, so far, yes.
No means no.
Slutwalk is a declaration that rape is the responsibility of the rapist, not the victim. It doesn't matter what women wear. Collar or cleavage, suspenders or dungarees, stilletos or Docs. Smart or scruffy. Skinny or fat, big breasted or flat. If they are serious or silly. Loud or quiet. Bouncy or steady. Drunk or sober. Nice or nasty. Busy or lazy. Generous or scrounging. Neat or sloppy. Fags or omega 3. X Factor or Question Time. Lager or camomile. Good mother or bad mother. Wise or ignorant. Servile or selfish. Rich or poor, loved or alone. Student or townie, young or old, disabled or acrobat, professional or manual, common or posh. Lesbian or straight. Hooker or nun, partnered, divorced or single. No means no. Suck it up, Ken Clarke.
A great many women - and men - clearly think it's time this issue got more attention. Over 200 people have signed up to attend on the event's Facebook page.
If they do, it will be the first time in history that so many women have acted together on a women's rights issue in Lancaster. When your granchildren ask you, you can say you were there.
So I'm for it whatever its called or whatever they wear. Even if it's pink.