Wednesday, May 11, 2011


You may have heard the news. A policeman in Toronto declared one day that women could avoid sexual assault if they stopped dressing like “sluts.”

The outcry was immediate. The officer apologized. A new social movement was born.

It began with SlutWalk Toronto but it has spawned imitators in other cities around the world.

If you find something jarring about the usage of the word “slut” you have gotten to the heart of the tactic that the organizers have chosen to stop sexual violence against women. It involves declaring war on the English language.

In SlutWalks women proudly proclaim themselves to be “sluts.“ They believe that they are then talking back the word, modifying its its meaning and its usage, making it less pejorative.

By making “slut” a term of pride, they believe that they are going to stop rape. Apparently, they believe that the reason men rape is that they believe women are asking for it. What would happen if it could be shown that men rape because they believe women are not asking for it? What if rapists are so perverse that they are excited by No?

As SlutWalk Toronto says: “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.” Link here.

Time Magazine reports it thusly: “SlutWalk's goal is to 'take back' the word and reduce its power. ‘The word 'slut' is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn't have to lift a finger,’ said Jaclyn Friedman, a feminist activist who led the most recent SlutWalk event in Boston on May 7. ‘It sends a signal: this one is fair game. Have at her. No one will blame you‘." Link here.

I hope you find this as strange as I do. A sex-positive feminist believes that the fault for rape lies in a pejorative “word.”

How does a word gain meaning? It gains meaning by being used in countless conversations by countless people over an extended period of time. Language usage is perhaps the ultimate free market.

To imagine that a group of women can band together and change the meaning of the word feels like a mass delusion.

No single individual or group of individuals or government agency decides what words mean.

So said the highly estimable Kirsten Powers. But, when Powers recommended that women not dress up and proclaim pride in their sluthood, she was widely accused of condoning rape.

More than anything, this movement suffers from intellectual incoherence.

How intelligent do you have to be, how much humility do you need to have before you know that words do not mean what you want them to mean? How much brainpower do you have to expend to grasp the fact that your appearance conveys a meaning, whether you like it or not?

Women do have the right to dress as they please, but, unless they have the right to control everyone else’s mind, they cannot stop you from thinking what you want to think about their appearance.

In the largest sense, it’s not about rape. No sensible individual believes that a rape victim was asking for it because she was wearing a mini-skirt.

On the other hand, telling women that they can dress as they please, and that they have a right to control how others see them, is idiotic.

Women must know that their decisions are a statement to the world. Once they have put their expression into the ambient discourse, they no longer control how it is being interpreted.

The issue here is much larger than that the extreme situation of rape. When you tell young women that no one has a right to draw any conclusions about them from their appearance or their behavior you are going to make them angry and defiant.

I would even say that while a women has a right to live her sexuality as she pleases, she does not have the right to define how it is going to be seen by other people.

As everyone but the SlutWalkers knows, the best way to be respected is to dress and to act as though you respect yourself.

I regret having to inform people of this. It surely allows women and men the freedom to present themselves as they wish in public. If they do not like the way people are reacting, then they have the right to present themselves differently, not obscuring the issue by connecting it to sexual crimes and accusing anyone who disagrees of condoning rape.

That charge was directed at Kirsten Powers. It was absurd and ignorant.

Are these SlutWalkers suggesting that all terms that insult or demean women on the basis of their sexuality must be banned from the language? Or that all of the terms that demean women be made into badges of pride? Would that mean that no one should ever be allowed to judge a woman's character poorly, thus, that women are exempt from ethical standards?

Naturally, sex positive feminist Jaclyn Friedman, author of a famous column entitled, “My Sluthood; My Self,” is leading this charge. See my remarks here. The linked post contains links to the posts I wrote about her getting in touch with her inner slut. .

In her article, Friedman explained how, after a painful relationship failure, she found solace in the beds of a number of men she had found on Craigslist Casual Encounters.

While the culture at large might have labeled her a slut, in the pejorative sense, she did not feel all that bad about her experiences. Thus she found the term inapposite, and decided that if it was going to be used it would henceforth have to be used in a non-pejorative sense.

Rather than being a character flaw, “slut” should now be used to label women who are free and happy with their sexuality.

Of course, the term is not normally used to justify sexual violence against women. It is used by women to refer to other women in order to compete for male relationship attention.

When a woman calls another woman a slut, she is saying that men should stay away from her, that they should avoid getting involved with her.

Now, let’s try to shed some clarity on this absurd and highly misleading debate.

Let’s begin by offering some context. It is not an accident that these SlutWalks were set off by a remark made by a police officer. The concept that a rape victim was asking for it comes down to us from criminal court. It is the kind of charge that will be leveled against her when she is testifying against her rapist.

Since rape is a crime that hinges on consent, an attorney defending someone accused of rape is going to attack the victim’s credibility and her character.

If you find that to be problematical, and if you find that it encourages rape, then your problem is with the criminal justice system, with the right of the accuser to have the most vigorous defense.

We are rightfully appalled about the way rape victims are treated in court, but, finding a way to protect them without infringing on the rights of the accused is not very easy. Given my very limited knowledge of criminal law, I will not make recommendations here.

Let’s be clear: the “blame-the-victim” mentality comes to us from the criminal justice system. This is not what is happening when one high school girl accuses another of being a slut.

In that case, the purpose is not to exculpate a rapist, but to demean a girl’s reputation based on her own behavior.

And, yes, I am aware that there are cultures where rape victims are blamed, even punished. Thankfully, ours is not among them. It might be useful for the SlutWalkers to utter some words of protest against the abysmally bad treatment that women endure in certain Muslim countries where rape victims are treated like criminals.

As for the American tendency to ignore rape, one recent and flagrant example involves our own Peace Corps. Link here.

Perhaps some of the political energy that is being dissipated in these SlutWalks could be directed against an agency of the U.S. government that has systematically refused to concern itself with the rape of its female volunteers.

Apparently, the liberal supporters of the Peace Corps want to cover up the rape of its female volunteers because it does not to tarnish the record of John F. Kennedy.

What do the SlutWalkers have to say about that?

I am sure that liberal feminists believe that if female Peace Corps volunteers are seen to be especially vulnerable to rape, that might lead the agency to differentiate between male and female volunteers, thus, to introduce gender into its considerations about placing volunteers.

In a gender neutral culture, such distinctions would be prejudicial. Thus feminists seem to believe that it is better to expose women to dangers that men would not be exposed to if that allows them to advance their ideological agenda.

What do the SlutWalkers have to say about that?

This leads us to a crucial point, one that the SlutWalkers have conveniently ignored. We, as a society and a culture, have decided that women no longer need the protection of men.

Feminists have militated long and hard against the notion that women are somehow weaker than men, more vulnerable than men, and thus in serious need of male protection.

To some people, this means that it’s open season on American women, because the only thing that anyone has to fear is a criminal trial. In foreign countries, when Peace Corps volunteers are raped, most often the rapists do not even have to fear that.

Under these conditions, you understand why women would want to march and demonstrate and protest. And you would understand that they feel that they cannot count on anyone but themselves.

If the SlutWalkers are saying that the criminal justice system is a weak deterrent to rape, then perhaps they are correct. The unfortunate reality is that the criminal justice system is all that we have left, thanks to the feminists who decided that women did not need male protection.


Malcolm said...

I thought this was also a good article re:"SlutWalkers"

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