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Monday, July 18, 2011

Get Ready for SlutWalk: Women Strip Down the Tired Old Rape Defense of "She Asked for It"

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM

"Sluts say Yes," reads one sign displayed at an antirape demonstration in Toronto called SlutWalk. The sign speaks to the issue that even though a lady may enjoy wearing a short skirt and displaying her cleavage -- and that sometimes she says "yes" -- that "no" still means "no" when it comes to unwanted sexual attention.

And this is exactly what SlutWalk, an international march coming to San Francisco on Aug. 6, is all about. Slutwalk began in Toronto, and since marches have occurred in the U.K., Australia, other cities in the U.S and are being planned for South Africa, India, and Malaysia/Singapore. The movement is dedicated to fighting "the stereotypes and myths of sexual assault and supporting a better understanding of why sexual assault happens, putting the blame where it belongs: on those who perpetrate it."

No one, however trampish, slutty, or provocative they dress, deserves to be raped. But the debate still rages as to whether these behaviors contribute to being assaulted. "She asked for it," is still an argument for some folks who think that women need to be constantly vigilant about what kind of sexual image they present in public. Chelsea Fagan, a writer for the blog Thought Catalogue, believes that women need to be careful.

"There is a constant threat, especially in concentrated urban areas, that you will be a victim at some point," Fagan writes. "I myself live in a relatively dangerous urban area where men are quite verbally forward. You learn quickly to not make eye contact, to keep your posture upright, and to keep walking. And beyond that, if you want to further increase your chances of remaining safe and flying under the radar, you do not dress like a prostitute. You do not dress like someone who is out tonight to find sex by any means necessary. You can look pretty, feminine, elegant, attractive -- without stripping your appeal down to its basest, most physical level."

What I find interesting about Fagan's argument (read her whole post here) is her idea that it is possible to look "like someone who is out to find sex by any means necessary." I am not exactly sure how you can look like that except for being naked and holding a sign that says, "I want sex -- now!" Sexiness, in any form, it seems, leaves you open to the accusation of looking "like a prostitute." According to Fagan, we are allowed to be elegant. I enjoy elegance, but damn it, I have a great ass and occasionally I like to show it off.

Artist Kate Bowman says, "When I go out in my miniskirt, I am doing it because it makes me feel good. It's one of the many ways I express myself and exude female confidence and power." Bowman also says that she finds she is less harassed when she is "all dolled up" than when she is in casual clothes. She thinks that is because it sends the message to people on the street that "I'm not into you, I'm into myself and I am holding my head up proud."

I am also a fan of the high heel, the pencil skirt, and a fat glass of whiskey, and I regularly -- unabashedly -- go about town alone. Catcalls, harassment, and unwanted advances have all been a part of my city experience. That said, I have been equally harassed while when wearing a dumpy coat and boots. The fact that I have not been physically assaulted is not proof of anything, but I have not let the threat of potential violence dictate my lifestyle.

Fagan goes on to say that a "sexually and visually driven man, not in full command of his wits, having a woman tell him 'no' while wearing the most provocative, arousing, blatantly sexual outfit possible is, to say the least, confusing. And while that does not give him the right to violate her, it also cannot be claimed that women are entirely innocent in this situation."

Obviously, it is wise to always have our wits about us. But the belief that desire turns males into irrational sex hounds and that it is foolish to expose ourselves to their slobbering hunger is not only retrograde but absurd.

Creatrix Tiara at SlutWalk Brisbane
  • Creatrix Tiara at SlutWalk Brisbane
Creatrix Tiara, one of the organizers of the Brisbane SlutWalk and currently doing an artist residency at CELLspace, was raped. But not by a man. She was at ladies-only play party and was assaulted by another woman. In the aftermath, she struggled with finding support.
Creatrix Tiara
  • Creatrix Tiara
"I couldn't find anything that spoke to my experiences; I didn't feel like I was the perfect victim. I went to a slutty place, in slutty gear, to be a slut -- and while I never asked to be raped or assaulted, I spent ages thinking, 'How much of this was my responsibility?' It didn't help that my family got so caught up over the circumstances, and while rape support places were useful, they still had limited frameworks to deal with. SlutWalk was the first thing I saw that validated my experience."

And a male perspective? Local filmmaker Jeff Devereaux says he believes "it is unconscionable for a woman to expect me to not to notice a woman clad in slutty attire." But he also says he can "choose to not look any further."

And it is precisely the fight for that profound issue of choice that makes SlutWalk so important and inspiring to so many. Marchers are free to wear whatever they wish, be it fishnets or overalls. The group advocates no behavior other than that of solidarity. As one blogger for the march writes, "We want to restore our faith in our justice system and our society. We want to feel safe. We want to be able to trust each other. We want society to recognize that we deserve to live without fear. That's why I support SlutWalk."

SlutWalk comes to San Francisco on Aug. 6, launching with festivities beginning at Dolores Park at 2 p.m.

Header photo by Anton Bielousov

The Sweet Spot is a weekly blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray. Check back next Monday for more.

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