Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Praise of SlutWalks

When I was in college, there would be a Take Back the Night March every year. Simple idea -- women walking together to protest sexual violence, and to assert their right to go where they choose and when they choose.

Now, a similar action is being done: SlutWalks

It started in Toronto, in response to a police officer's comment: "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." And women responded by marching together against both sexual violence and the flippant victim-blaming attitudes which hinder real efforts at dealing with the problem.

Since then, there have been SlutWalks all over Canada and the United States -- and more to come, including London, UK. It's also prompted commentary, both print and online. Unfortunately, some of that commentary has consisted of old-school feminists decrying the reclamation of the word "slut." The most noted of these is an opinion piece by Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy, in which they tsk-tsk the women leading this effort. Their rote ideological justification is that the word is so beyond redemption "that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources."

With all due respect to Dr. Dines and Ms. Murphy ... Balderdash!

Words are what we make them to be. Otherwise, a whole host of words would remain off-limits. And let's not forget that, just as language and culture are complex realities, so is the definition of words. Just open any dictionary and see how many have multiple, nuanced meanings.

Besides which, you are ignoring the core message of this movement: It does not matter how a woman dresses, or what she chooses to call herself, or even how many sex partners she's had. What matters is her right to say yes or no at any given moment -- and the responsibility of men to hear and respect that.

Keep marching, women. Keep getting the message out, even when some continue to try to silence or dismiss you. Even if Dines, Murphy and others don't get what you're saying, there are those of us who do -- and who will stand with you every time you don your fishnets and stilettos to take to the streets.

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