I love how mass movements seem to appear from nowhere in the Internet age, and SlutWalk is my latest favourite. It began predictably enough – a Toronto policeman called Michael Sanguinetti expressed his opinion that if women want to avoid sexual assault, they should avoid dressing as sluts. It’s a nasty view, but hardly an original one. The idea that women are responsible for male sexual violence against them goes back to the dawn of history, and is the basis of dress rules for Orthodox Jews, nuns and Muslim women in burqas.
This idea is often self-fulfilling – in Catholic Southern Italy or Islamic Morocco, local women dress conservatively, and when more scantily-dressed tourists appear, local men take this as an invitation to touch without permission – or worse. The more conservative a society, the more women are likely to be branded as “sluts”, and treated as if they have already given consent to whatever may follow. In Bible-belt America, the same branding can be achieved by the use of “chastity rings”, the Southern equivalent of the burqa. If enough young women wear these rings, those who choose to opt out may be assumed to be “up for it” and face sexual harassment, thus “proving” that wearing a ring is the right thing to do.
Thanks to the power of social networking, Sanguinetti’s comments were quickly disseminated, and a new movement was born: the SlutWalk, with the stated aim of standing up against rape culture and slut-shaming. Probably for the first time in history, people took to the streets worldwide to oppose the idea that being a “slut” is somehow wrong.
Promuiscuity by women has been feared and hated since Biblical times, some examples include:
Kill people who commit adultery:
If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
Kill a priest’s daughter if she’s promiscuous:
A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9)
Kill a girl who isn’t a virgin when she marries:
…if [on her wedding night] evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
So it’s hardly surprising that modern-day Christians, Jews and Muslims have a problem with “sluttish” behaviour”. But the religious brigade aren’t the only ones trying to “protect” women from the “pressure” to engage in casual sexual behaviour: a puritanical brand of feminism has emerged that seems to believe exactly the same thing: sex is something men do to women, and therefore the best thing for women to do is resist the pressure of “sexualisation”. Strangely, these so-called “feminist” ideas are the exact opposite of those held by the early feminist movement of the 60s and 70s; this was a movement to liberate women, from male control, including the liberation to enjoy sex whenever and however they wanted.
One of the flag-bearers of puritanical “feminism” is Gail Dines, a campaigner against “sexualisation” and “objectification” (whatever those might be). While SlutWalks aim to reclaim the word Slut, and use it in a positive context, Dines wrote in the Guardian that:
While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.
In other words: being a Slut is a bad thing. It can never be a good thing, so stop trying to make it a good thing. Given that Slut is a synonym for “promiscuous female” (or sometimes male), Dines is saying (wrapped up in feminist language) that promiscuity is wrong, and women shouldn’t be encouraging men, because they’ll only take advantage… which is pretty much what Officer Sanguinetti said in the first place.
I should note that (despite some popular misconceptions), not all feminists are anti-sex or pro-censorship like Gail Dines. But Dines and others like her have hijacked the feminist mantle, with help from the supposedly liberal media, including The Guardian. It should be noted that Dines makes her living from selling books and lectures about the menace of sexualisation – and she clearly knows that fear sells.
Helped by the mass media, along with Facebook and Twitter, The SlutWalk phenomenon has spread globally, with walks planned in many cities, including London on 4th June (UPDATE – the London SlutWalk is now on 11th June). I’d encourage proud sluts of all genders and sexualities to get out on the streets to show the religious and the feminist moralisers that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a healthy, consensual sex life whenever, wherever and with whomever we like.