On Saturday, I am going to SlutWalk. I have decided to attend the rally, where some of the walkers will give speeches explaining why they’re there, but not the march.
As someone worried that the feminist movement is losing steam, I am thrilled to see that feminist causes can still get people, especially young people, on the streets. And while I welcome the intention to combat a culture that feeds violence against women – that is a noble feminist cause if ever there was one – I am deeply uncomfortable with the way SlutWalk has framed that cause. Attending the rally allows me to be a friendly observer, to listen and try to understand, whereas marching felt like something I should do only if I felt, truly, that SlutWalk’s message was mine.
SlutWalk began as a response to the callous comments of a Toronto cop who told women that they could avoid sexual violence by covering up. He was voicing the idea, still common in some quarters, that a woman who dresses scantily or has sex often or with many partners has ceded her sexuality to the public sphere – it is now out there for anyone to use. She’s asked for it. Implied is the notion that most women don’t like sex, and therefore that affirmative consent – of a woman asking for sex explicitly when she wants it and not being forced to participate in it when she doesn’t – is impossible.
Affirmative consent was framed quite neatly in the 1970s with the slogan, “Whatever I wear and wherever I go, ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no,’ ” Because it requires people to understand female sexuality, affirmative consent has gotten a big boost from shows like Sex and the City, which, despite its flaws, helped mainstream the idea that women like sex too, and not just the vanilla kind you see written up in Cosmo‘s advice pages. In gender studies departments, this is often referred to as ‘sex-positivity.’ And it’s great.
What distinguishes SlutWalk is a decision to affirm female sexuality by appropriating the word so often used to degrade it: slut.