June
6th 2011
Material culture, feminist activism, and the future of feminism

Posted under: Gender, the body, women's history

Rational dress reform

Jessica Valenti’s discussion of the grassroots feminism on display recently in SlutWalks is pretty good–but I thought she buried one of her more interesting points at the end of the article:

In the past, clothing designed to generate controversy has served to emphasize the message that women have a right to feel safe and participate fully in society. Suffragists wore pants called “bloomers,” named for the women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer. They were meant to be more practical than the confining dresses of the times. But, echoing the criticism of SlutWalk participants today, the media did not take kindly to women wearing pants. The November 1851 issue of International Monthly called the outfits “ridiculous and indecent,” deriding the suffragists as “vulgar women whose inordinate love of notoriety is apt to display itself in ways that induce their exclusion from respectable society.”

I don’t wade into the toxic swamp of the comments sections of mainstream newspapers, but I’m sure you’ll find even uglier language condemning the SlutWalkers for (some of) their attention-seeking attire. 

Valenti also evokes the (historically untrue) spectre of “bra-burners” in her lede, but that too speaks to the symbolic power of women’s clothing in the history of feminism.  This is a history that gets overlooked or ignored because of recent debates in the West over garments-as-oppression for other women–you know, Afghani women in burkhas, or other Muslim women covered by the hijab or la voile.  As though Western women’s clothing has never been an issue in their citizenship or their feminism! 

"New women," ca. 1897

Go read the whole article–I think she’s right that the SlutWalks are a welcome display of young women’s activism.  (Just try to imagine NOW or NARAL organizing a SlutWalk!  Heh.)  They almost recall the in-your-face work of the Guerrilla Girls in the 1980s, but I think the Slut Walk initiatives are even more effective in both making their political point to a wider audience and in radicalizing other young women and men.  And if you want to get in on a discussion of modern feminism–and more specifically, what does being a feminist actually mean?–then go over to nicoleandmaggie’s blog, Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured, where they ask, “Is there anything wrong with ‘choice feminism?’”  (I think you all can guess what my answer is to that question, but what do the rest of you think?)

46 Comments »

46 Responses to “Material culture, feminist activism, and the future of feminism”

  1. wrappedupinbooks on 06 Jun 2011 at 7:12 am #

    “This is a history that gets overlooked or ignored because of recent debates in the West over garments-as-oppression for other women–you know, Afghani women in burkhas, or other Muslim women covered by the hijab or la voile. As though Western women’s clothing has never been an issue in their citizenship or their feminism!”

    Have you seen this Anita Kunz illustration (http://illustrationwatercooler.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/girls-will-be-girls-new-yorker.jpg) that graced the cover of The New Yorker several years ago? I’ve found it very useful in getting students to think critically about how discourses of “oppression” and “liberation” are mapped onto women’s clothing.

  2. Janice on 06 Jun 2011 at 7:49 am #

    It’s interesting how it always comes down to shaming women for what they wear. Not fashionable enough? She’s a slob. Too trendy? She’s trying to hard. Close-cut and attractive? She’s sexing things up when she shouldn’t.

    Spend an hour or two browsing through an archive of nineteenth and early twentieth century magazines. Illustrations, articles and ads all glorify the modest and pretty (but not too sexy!) woman while depicting the bad women as slobs or sluts in the styles of the time.

    Extra bonus points for doing this to schoolkids and throwing in caustic comments about their chubby cheeks while they do it. *facepalm*

  3. Historiann on 06 Jun 2011 at 8:32 am #

    wrappedupinbooks: thanks so much for the link to that image. I LOVED that illustration when it first came out–the only thing missing is the Hasidic woman, and it would sum up the last 500 years of Western monotheism, I think.

    Janice: it’s shocking to me to hear the comments about the schoolchildren, especially from the mouths of so-called progressives. I think there’s a lot of ressentiment and anger bundled up into that crypto-prurience that pretends to be looking for more coverage of young girls’ and women’s bodies.

  4. Kelly on 06 Jun 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Historiann, this is a great post. My poster for the Berks is about polygamist fashion and the popular critique of this fashion as a way to discuss/demonstrate that there ARE (surprise!) oppressed women in the U.S., but they *only* belong to religious movements coded as strange and un-American. Of course, this completely ignores the ways American women are dictated, defined, and derided for our sartorial choices.

    I fascinated by how clothing becomes a method to detract from women’s agency and intelligence as well as in my case as a way to be religious intolerant by discussing something “trivial” like clothing and not “serious” like religion. Bad fashion equals bad women (and bad religion).

  5. Perpetua on 06 Jun 2011 at 9:20 am #

    On the politics of dressing: Sixteenth-century (Christian) Spanish women used to veil themselves in the Moorish style, especially in Andalusia. It was fashionable. The moralists went berserk, claiming that it was lascivious (who knew what was going on behind the veil?). I love explaining to my incredulous students that covering up completely could be seen as sexual/sexualizing. (Just to clarify: all early modern European married women covered their hair; the Moorish style referred to a specific kind of veil that included a piece of fabric that went over the face, or could be held over the face.)

  6. DaisyDeadhead on 06 Jun 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I really don’t like the whole Slutwalk thing, but not enough to critically blog about it (yet)… there is the undercurrent that women who have sex, or a lot of sex, are still the cool, attractive girls. I want a Virginwalk–and if that is still too shameful to admit to (that one is a virgin), then we might ask ourselves why being a slut is therefore something to celebrate.

    Basically, we still don’t own ourselves and still define ourselves by male yardsticks and definitions of who we are. And being considered desirable by men (slut) is now more cool and worthy of celebration than being a virgin (regarded as undesirable by men, or they wouldn’t be virgins).

  7. Perpetua on 06 Jun 2011 at 10:23 am #

    @Daisy – I’m pretty sure that’s not the point at all. Did you read the piece by Valenti? The women started the walk as a response to being told that women who dress like sluts are the ones who get raped. The point isn’t about being sexy/slutty, or even about the “right” to dress sexy/slutty, it’s that no matter how a woman dresses, nothing justifies rape, and that focusing on what women wear in the context of rape (specifically) is misogynist bull$hit.

    (Also, there’s this fabulous little video on feministing by this guy singing a song to the tune of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, with the lyrics “there’s no such thing as virginity” because it’s a made-up patriarchal construct.)

  8. wini on 06 Jun 2011 at 10:32 am #

    I know the women involved in planning these in several cities, and it’s been really amazing to watch. (I’m sorry if that sounds patronizing, I just want to be clear that I have nothing to do with it.)

    Anyway, the Chronicle just posted an article about Slut Walks:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/what-to-make-of-slut-walks/35945

  9. Liz2 on 06 Jun 2011 at 11:05 am #

    In several West African societies large groups of women have stripped naked as a form of protest. There is a long tradition of this in 20th century Nigeria especially.

  10. susurro on 06 Jun 2011 at 11:11 am #

    the slut walks have also been getting push back from women of color and working class, non-college attending, women who point out that the reclamation of certain names, styles of dress, and modes of expression in public space in these and other mainstream actions are only transgressive for those with the privilege to put them on and take them off with limited threat. While every woman labors under “slut shaming” the ways organizing have mobilized have failed to take into account alternative experiences and thus alienated several groups of traditionally marginalized activist women as evidenced by the mostly homogeneous crowds they draw and I find it interesting that Valenti, who has traditionally defended mainstream strategies against the call for inclusivity by radical women of color and trans women while offering the smallest of tokens or head nods in our direction is writing a post about the glory of the event precisely at a time that woc, sex worker rights, and trans women have taken to critiquing the events on the internet.

    I’m not saying slut walk doesn’t serve a purpose. I am just saying that the tools carry some residuals with them we might want to think about more closely both within the context of slut walk itself and that of larger mainstream feminist action.

  11. LadyProf on 06 Jun 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    “Go read the whole article?” Hmmm. Jessica Valenti is right about Slutwalk, but her essay is bloated like a summertime tick. H’ann’s version–about a quarter the cubic volume–makes all the points. As they say on another blog, “Trust the shorter.”

  12. susurro on 06 Jun 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    @Liz2 – actually naked protest in certain regions of Africa predates the colonial period and saw one of its heights during the early post-colonial period when transitioning governments failed to protect women from domestic violence or rape.

    In many ways, had there been a larger historical lens to these events they might have included more women’s involvement.

    And while they did start from the police linking rape to what women wear, many of the later events failed to reference this in any of the organizing until the day of the event, turning into a much larger rhetoric about public space in general. Some have posited it as an alternative to Take Back the Night which they see as being “too mired in race and class politics and *second wave thinking*” to quote a recent mashup of tumblr quotes from a slut walk.

    Lots to unpack here IMHO

  13. Historiann on 06 Jun 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    I want a Virginwalk–and if that is still too shameful to admit to (that one is a virgin), then we might ask ourselves why being a slut is therefore something to celebrate.

    Great idea! Organize it yourself. I am unaware of the *lack* of sexual experience being regarded as “shameful” in the way that slut-shaming has operated.

    (Do you srsly think that “being a slut” is what’s going on with the SlutWalks? Really?)

  14. Claire K. on 07 Jun 2011 at 2:50 am #

    I’ve heard the Slutwalks vary from city to city, but at least some of them seem strongly heterosexist and some participants are also openly anti-feminist. Personally, I’m uncomfortable labeling myself a slut, not only because I’m skeptical of how effective reclaiming the word is as a tactic but also because to the extent that it can be reclaimed I think that’s a possibility that’s only really open to straight women. Lesbians aren’t as frequently associated with the word, and therefore don’t have much place at a Slutwalk.

    The Slutwalk also bothers me because it changes the focus from victim-blaming to slut-shaming, defending the right of “slutty” women not to be raped instead of the right of rape victims not to be called sluts. Which is all fine and good until you remember that sluttiness doesn’t cause rape anyway.

  15. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 4:04 am #

    I thought the SlutWalk was a clever and humorous way to make the point that all women can be labeled sluts after they’re raped. Where the hell do you get it that they’re about “defending the right of ‘slutty’ women not to be raped.”

    In any case, where are the marches for virgins and for non-slutty lesbians? I’d love to talk about those, but since SlutWalks seem to be the only exciting, new, young feminist activism going on, that’s what we’ll have to talk about until some of these other feminist constituencies use social media to get connected and start marching.

  16. Nikki on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:13 am #

    A judge in Toronto said that if women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t dress like sluts. The point of the walks is to make the point that women should not be raped no matter how they are dressed, what they were doing etc. They are not celebrating sluttiness. (whatever that means)

  17. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:16 am #

    N.B.: I think it was a representative of the Toronto police in a talk at York U., not a judge, who made the precipitating comment.

  18. Nikki on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:29 am #

    Whoops, my bad. Thanks for the catch.

  19. Chris on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:32 am #

    “Where the hell do you get it that they’re about ‘defending the right of ‘slutty’ women not to be raped’.”

    Many of the women associated with the SlutWalk have said as much, that’s where. (check youtube) And they’re right. If we limit ourselves to the narrow observation that nothing, and in particular any style of dress or fashion can possibly justify rape, then the SlutWalk movement (if that’s what it is) has a strong point. But I think there’s a gap between what the article you posted is saying and what’s actually being said on the ground. Vis-a-vis the article, Perpetua notes that “The point isn’t about being sexy/slutty, or even about the “right” to dress sexy/slutty.” I agree if we limit ourselves to the article. However, I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are involved in the SlutWalks, and they’re going quite a bit farther in their assertions, and are arguing that it is about the right to “dress sexy/slutty.”

    Hey, I’m a single, heterosexual guy who lives in a city, and the stuff I see women wearing when I go out brightens my day – or night, as the case may be. And no, no fashion choice justifies rape. But at the same time, even though my day is brightened by the sartorial choices I see all around me, when I step back and view it all from a cultural and political (feminist) perspective, what I see is a lot of skin and self-objectification. On the one hand, have at it – and again, no woman should fear being raped for her choices – but on the other hand, what am I supposed to do? Look away? Not notice? Sunglasses come in very handy around this time of year.

  20. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:45 am #

    From the link above to SlutWalk Toronto:

    Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

    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.

    Anyone can say anything on a YouTube, but the purpose of the movement is as I read it above destabilize the notion of slut and to reappropriate the term, not glorify Pr0n-culture sluttiness. I’m sure that if we had YouTube interviews with everyone from the March on Washington in 1963, we’d get a lot more notions about the purpose of the march than Martin Luther King’s “Dream.”

    And, Chris: SlutWalks are not against the male gaze. They’re against RAPE.

  21. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:47 am #

    Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that so many of you are down on the SlutWalks. This is something that I would certainly participate in–maybe I should look for a Denver SlutWalk? (Apparently there’s one in the making.)

    (Here’s a good article on the Chicago SlutWalk explaining the concept.)

  22. Dr. Crazy on 07 Jun 2011 at 6:10 am #

    H (off-topic) – I wish that I were surprised by the reactions, but they pretty much mirror the reactions when I teach my literature and sexuality course. Either I’m not paying enough attention to virginity/celibacy, or I’m participating in the objectification of women by teaching about representations of sexuality, or I’m making it difficult on men because they can’t control themselves when faced with titillating material. And let’s not even get into debates that happen about terminology because god forbid we don’t use euphemisms or pretend that derogatory/shaming language isn’t the language that is most frequently used to describe sexuality in our culture generally and in literary representation.

    And I’m not talking only about what happens in the classroom: I’m talking about how colleagues respond. I’ve been teaching this course for at least 4 years, so you’d think there’d be some relief from all of the above, but not so much.

  23. Chris on 07 Jun 2011 at 6:15 am #

    My only point is that there is a bit of a disconnect between the intellectual and theorizing wing of the SlutWalk, and what’s occurring on the ground.

    And Historiann, I realize SlutWalk is against rape, which is why I said repeatedly “no fashion choices justify rape.”

  24. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 6:58 am #

    Dr. Crazy: thanks! Your comments about your experiences are really helpful. (And–I’m sorry!) Your comments here also might help explain why people are so squigged out when I use Judith Bennett’s ideas to talk about celibate women (see today’s post.)

    I guess I’m just shocked that anyone who comments on this blog would think that “slut” is a salient category of womanhood rather than an insult that can be directed at any girl or woman of pretty much any age and at any time (but in particular after she’s suffered a sexual assault.)

    Oh, well: live and learn. What I’ve learned in the past week is that I can’t write about feminism w/r/t sexuality or feminism w/r/t women’s career choices without attracting comments that are deeply personal. Sometimes the personal experiences people report are helpful in making a larger point, but other times they seem reductive and accusatory: “this doesn’t reflect MY experience so therefore it’s invalid/inappropriate/judgmental/exclusive/etc.”

  25. Nicoleandmaggie on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:03 am #

    Gah, I keep coming back to this post and remembering the time our third grade teacher split up the boys and girls and then told the girls not to ever sit on boys laps– it may be fun, but sometimes they just can’t help themselves and it’s not safe because they will force themselves on you and they’re stronger. How messed up is that?

    If memory serves me correctly, I started sobbing uncontrollably and didn’t stop until bedtime. That night I even had to turn off the nature show I normally watched when it started talking about how spiders mate. The teacher pulled me aside after school and asked me to please not tell my parents. I’m not sure if I ever did or not. If I didn’t, I should have.

  26. Nicoleandmaggie on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:04 am #

    oops… should I have not shared that personal experience? ;)

  27. kimbrulée on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:18 am #

    I thought Jaclyn Friedman’s speech at the Boston SlutWalk (http://feministing.com/2011/05/09/you-can-call-us-that-name-but-we-will-not-shut-up/) discusses the issue so well, including how the term is used to divide: “And, while the people who use it to hurt may not agree on what they mean by it, they’ll all agree on one thing: a slut is NOT THEM. A slut is other. A slut is someone, usually a woman, who’s stepped outside of the very narrow lane that good girls are supposed to stay within.”

    The debates about the SlutWalk has demonstrated once again how difficult it is to combat victim-blaming culture.

  28. kimbrulée on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Oops, here’s the direct youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMicqYFVL5A&feature=player_embedded#at=43

  29. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:56 am #

    Thanks, kimbrulee–that was a good speech, with some good reminders about how the “slut” accusation has been applied to rape vicims in recent times. (And she talks about the Canadian judge who refused to sentence a convicted rapist to prison at all, so that might have been the incidient that Nikki was thinking about above.)

  30. Chris on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:10 am #

    As I read the piece that kimbrulee posted, it sounds to me as if “slut” is indeed being employed as a “salient category of womanhood.” Part of Friedman’s argument is that historically the word has been used to shame women into suppressing and denying their sexuality, (I think I’m accurately paraphrasing her here) and her response is to embrace the word – what’s unclear to me is whether I should append ‘wholeheartedly’ or ‘ironically’ to that last clause. She even greets the audience as “fellow sluts.” Is this irony? I didn’t get an ironic vibe, but hey, maybe I’m dumb. From any enlightened point of view, I think it’s obvious that we should all be fighting against those ideological codes and messages that create shame around one’s sexuality and the body. And if the word “slut” is to become the term du jour that signifies female celebration of their bodies and sexuality, then cool, fine.

    Like you said, H., “SlutWalks are not against the male gaze. They’re against RAPE.” That’s kinda’ obvious, though, isn’t it? SlutWalk seems to me to be saying both this and also something more. They seem to be saying “look but don’t touch … unless we say it’s okay to touch, but in the mean time, there is going to be a lot to look at.” Awesome! And I don’t get the impression that the SLutWalk movement is about the “male gaze.” “Gazing” has become an equal opportunity pastime. Again, awesome.

  31. Claire K. on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:29 am #

    Historiann: “I thought the SlutWalk was a clever and humorous way to make the point that all women can be labeled sluts after they’re raped.” Well, I think that’s how it started out, but as it spread the message changed a bit. I don’t think this is just a matter of a few YT commentators twisting the ideals around which the other participants are uniting. Depending on the city the leadership can be involved as well. For instance, the Washington DC Slutwalk held a fundraiser in a strip club, which probably counts as “glorify[ing] Pr0n-culture sluttiness.” I’m sorry to be a wet blanket, I do agree with you that the original idea was a good one and it’s nice that the Slutwalks got more women involved in feminist activism. I also understand that it’s counterproductive to expect one group of activists to represent the interests of all women, but the idea that the best way to attract more young women to feminism is to reassure us that feminists are all safely fun, heterosexual and into pron culture is not limited to Slutwalk, so it might deserve criticism when it pops up.

  32. Historiann on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:30 am #

    I give up! You can read it however you want, Chris, but I think you’re entirely wrong.

    I never said that anyone was using the term slut “ironically.” I think the work of the SlutWalks is much more earnest and important than anything ironic.

    But, whatever. You see a bunch of “sluts,” I see pissed off women tired of being shamed and controlled by language that enables rape culture. Enjoy that male gaze–that kind of privilege sounds totally awesome!!!

  33. Claire K. on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Er, I also hope I didn’t give the impression that I think slut is “a salient category of womanhood.” My problem with (some of) the Slutwalks was that they do exactly that, dividing women into “sluts” and non-sluts but with the twist that the sluts are the good girls and the non-sluts are uptight and repressed. The response of the DC Slutwalk’s organizers to criticism of their choice to hold a fundraiser in a strip club contained some examples of this: women who object to strip clubs are prudes, oppressing other women, etc.

  34. Chris on 07 Jun 2011 at 9:28 am #

    H. – You’re totally misreading me. I’m not saying anything different than what Claire K. is saying – though there may be a touch more snark as opposed to regret in my tone than Claire exhibits. Sue me, I’m a cynic. And as for privilege, as I noted “gazing” is now an equal opportunity pastime and not a solely male prerogative. Where I live – both generationally and geographically – women checking out other women is commonplace. And I don’t just mean ‘oooh, where did you get those shoes’.

  35. Spanish Prof on 07 Jun 2011 at 11:06 am #

    @Historiann: In some places, it is about the “male gaze”
    I assume that “Slut Walks” are being promoted and organized differently according to location. In Latin America, they are being organized mainly Hollaback, whose goal is to end “street harassment”. For this organization, that ranges from “lewd” stares to groping and sexual abuse in the street. There are interesting discussions going on regarding this organization in Buenos Aires in some feminist groups, because of their wide definition of sexual harassment. What some feminist object to is that they turn the street into a potential threat for every women, and that is not empowering at all. Hollaback Buenos Aires also has a tendency to accuse women who disagree with the organization as sharing a “patriarchal” mentality.

  36. Dr. Crazy on 07 Jun 2011 at 11:55 am #

    Chris – I think Historiann is using the phrase “the male gaze” as a theoretical term (see, for example, Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”) whereas you are using it more generally to mean “men looking.” In other words, I think that as much as you feel misread, you are misreading. Feminist theory 101: “the male gaze” is about power and about scopophilic pleasure that the subject (can be biologically male or female) accesses through objectifying the Other (in patriarchal culture, typically the figure of woman is construed as the Other, regardless of whether the gazer is biologically female or biologically male, whether the gazer is straight or gay). At the end of the day, however the female body is presented, in patriarchy it can be regarded as “a lot to look at.” In other words, if indeed some of the versions of Slutwalks are promoting a message of “look but don’t touch … unless we say it’s okay to touch, but in the mean time, there is going to be a lot to look at,” I’m not sure why that’s problematic. Unless, of course, we are going to say that there is a dress code for “respectable” women that means they aren’t objects, which gives them access to sexual subjectivity, which… um…. who exactly gets to decide that?

  37. Claire K. on 07 Jun 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Actually, Chris, I think what we’re saying is pretty different. You’re talking about “self-objectification” and how troublesome it apparently is for you as a man when women make their own choices about their clothing, I’m saying what women wear (or how many people they sleep with, or whatever) has nothing to do with rape yet some of the Slutwalks seem to accept the idea that it does. (The Slutwalk in my hometown says in its mission statement, “Women should be free to act and dress as any incarnation of the word ‘slut’—from a person who wears a tight top, or swears, or has casual sexual encounters, to a prostitute—and not be sexually assaulted,” implying that wearing tight tops really does cause sexual assault.) Anyway, I want to register my strong disagreement with everything you’re saying about the male gaze.

  38. Chris on 07 Jun 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    Troublesome? Are you serious? It’s not troublesome to me in the least. In fact, I’m utterkly in favor of the woman in the video who says she has the right to wear a thong or no underwear at all and see-through tights. Rock on, more power to her. I’m not troubled. I’m stoked! My argument is that in an age of vastly unequal distributions of wealth, in an age in which health care is denied those unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of the job market, in the age of the tea party and all of its assaults against worker’s rights, in an age in which 68% of those defined as homeless actually hold down full time jobs, the issue of what someone wears seems like politics-light. Now rape is not politics light, but it seems that the SlutWalk “movement” has expanded its reach beyond the issue of rape.

  39. Mary Catherine on 07 Jun 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    “This is something that I would certainly participate in–maybe I should look for a Denver SlutWalk?”

    If you do, you should consider adopting the costume of an 18th-century Ursuline nun. I’m (sort of) serious:

    I can imagine a walk where you had women of all ages and shapes and sizes, and from many walks of life, dressed in everything from “slutty” nightclub attire to “mom” jeans, nun’s habits and professional career-woman uniforms and everything in between. “Any woman can be called a ‘slut’”, would be the message, “and we’re here to challenge that label. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing (her night-out-on-the-town bustier or her drop-the-kids-off-at-preschool sweatshirt), it’s not okay to rape her.”

    But women marching in (conventionally-coded) “slutty” clothing and calling themselves “sluts” in order to reclaim the term? Sorry, no, but I’m not signing on for this one.

    I think I sort of get the ‘reappropriation of the oppressive label’ move in order to rob it of its power to hurt and shame. But that kind of thing is very tricky to pull off; and in many cases, imho, the expected gains are not worth the risks of backlash and of potential further losses (better to propose an alternative term, and, in this case, to demand better training for police officers).

    From what I’m seeing and reading, there certainly *is* a “defending the right to be ‘slutty’” element to these marches (maybe not in the original vision, but that’s how they’re now playing out). And I honestly don’t see how this doesn’t serve to further normalize the prOnification of women and the glorification of PrOn-culture ‘hottness’ as the new standard. “You see?! They’re ALL sluts! Hell, even the feminists are sluts! And, man, some of those little feminist cuties: hawt!” Ugh.

    If this the future of feminism, the revolution is over, for sure.

  40. Historiann on 08 Jun 2011 at 4:23 am #

    Mary Catherine–heh! Good suggestion. But, I think actually dressing up like a nun could be considered provocative in another way (blasphemy! I’m not even Catholic.) Maybe I’ll try to look extra-professory, and wear my glasses instead of contacts?

    From what I understand, dressing provocatively is NOT at all required. All of the news coverage has said that it’s all kinds of women, although the demographics skew younger (infants and teens to 40s). I wonder if some of the videos available focus on the provocatively dressed women for all of the reasons you cite.

    I don’t wear “mom jeans,” though. Girlfriend, please.

  41. Historiann on 08 Jun 2011 at 5:51 am #

    But–and I should have asked this a lot earlier: isn’t anyone here who’s critical of the SlutWalk concept a little concerned about sounding like those critics of the suffragists and rational-dress reformers? As Valenti notes (and I re-published above): “[E]choing the criticism of SlutWalk participants today, the media did not take kindly to women wearing pants. The November 1851 issue of International Monthly called the outfits ‘ridiculous and indecent,’ deriding the suffragists as ‘vulgar women whose inordinate love of notoriety is apt to display itself in ways that induce their exclusion from respectable society.’”

    (Did you miss that part of the post?)

  42. Claire K. on 08 Jun 2011 at 7:29 am #

    It’s not about looking at the Slutwalk participants and declaring their outfits, or anything else about them, indecent. The problem isn’t that I think they’re “slutty” by some objective standard, it’s that many of them think that, though they see it as something to be celebrated instead of as something shameful. Here is a blog post by one of the founders of the Toronto Slutwalk: http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/being-a-slut-and-getting-pissed-off It’s actually pretty thoughtful and encouraging, but the author does make clear that she considers herself a slut because she has a lot of sex, not because all women are at risk of being labeled sluts. She discusses the police officer’s comment as shaming of women who enjoy sex as much as she does (which she implies is unusual), not as rape apologism that retroactively labels all rape victims “sluts.” That’s a problem because it means we’re still looking at the choices of individual women when discussing rape, albeit in a more positive light, instead of at the way patriarchal violence affects all women as a class.

  43. Claire K. on 08 Jun 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Honestly I don’t think we would disagree on the politics involved if we were talking about it in abstract terms. The question is just which evidence to look at when evaluating the particular example of Slutwalk. Your giving-them-the-benefit-of-the-doubt approach probably makes a lot of sense given the rarity of popular feminist activism (though, again, plenty of the people involved in the Slutwalks would object to the label ‘feminist’) but I think there’s enough ickiness floating around in there to call for some criticism as well.

  44. DaisyDeadhead on 08 Jun 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Perpetua, I understand what activists say the event is about, I am talking about the way it is read by the majority. In this area, very negatively. The word “slut” doesn’t stand up too well in the south…

    (Also, there’s this fabulous little video on feministing by this guy singing a song to the tune of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, with the lyrics “there’s no such thing as virginity” because it’s a made-up patriarchal construct.)

    Actually a lot of lesbian separatists are very proud of virginity… ever heard of Bev Jo? (Mary Daly?) To them, it means one is untainted by patriarchy and is therefore considered a positive good.

  45. DaisyDeadhead on 08 Jun 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Do you srsly think that “being a slut” is what’s going on with the SlutWalks? Really?

    I have no idea. I am saying I have profound issues with the word, which prevents any participation by me or others who feel like me. Probably an age thing. I hate the word slut, which was used against me for the first few decades of my life, and I don’t want anything to do with that word. The women I have talked to feel the same way. Are we just weird? Well, maybe we are. This is the south, and the word just rankles among us rednecks, many of whom get called sluts because of the way we look or act.

    But I must second these comments:

    susurro: the slut walks have also been getting push back from women of color and working class, non-college attending, women who point out that the reclamation of certain names, styles of dress, and modes of expression in public space in these and other mainstream actions are only transgressive for those with the privilege to put them on and take them off with limited threat.

    Good point. This goes to the heart of my hatred of the term and the whole gestalt around it. Where I come from, once you’re a slut, well, you’re a slut. (when you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way)

    And what Claire said.

    It’s probably an age thing, as I said… in my day, slut was fightin words. Get ready to throw down!

  46. Claire K. on 08 Jun 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    I don’t think it’s an age thing, or not just an age thing. The idea that young women want a ‘fun,’ pornified feminism probably comes at least in part from a lot of people really wishing that’s the way things were. In reality there’s a lot of diversity, especially along the lines susurro pointed out. Also, fun feminism in its current incarnation has been around for decades now, so I wonder if there might actually be a bit of push-back and re-radicalization going on among the youngest feminist set (women in their twenties, as opposed to the women in their thirties who are often in charge of these sorts of projects). That’s the way it is for me and my friends, anyway.