Occupy Wall Street? Not even close—this was SlutWalk. Last May, Stanford held its very own SlutWalk, co-sponsored by the Program in Feminist Studies, the Women’s Coalition, Students Advocating Gender Equality, QuAD, La Familia, SSQL, SHPRC, and other student groups.
Ignited by a flippant comment made by Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti in January, in which he told a group of Osgoode Hall law students that women should take care not to “dress like sluts” so as to avoid being sexually assaulted, SlutWalk protests the harmful attitude which seeks to blame the victims of rape and sexual assault for their misfortunes, instead of their perpetrators.
From holding signs with messages like “Even if I dress for your attention doesn’t mean I dress for your aggression” to parading around in attire resembling a cross between a Victoria’s Secret runway show and a Halloween party, thousands of people all over the world have marched in the preceding months to counteract the widely held belief that barely-there apparel or higher levels of sexual activity make certain women more prone to rape and sexual assault. Regardless of whether or not a woman engages “in sex for pleasure or for work,” the SlutWalk Toronto website states, she is by no means “opening herself to an expectation of violence.”
The website continues, “historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation…the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. ‘Slut’ is being re-appropriated”—a message which has resounded with women all over the world, including those on campus. Last May, Stanford held its very own SlutWalk, co-sponsored by the Program in Feminist Studies, the Women’s Coalition, Students Advocating Gender Equality, QuAD, La Familia, SSQL, SHPRC, and other student groups.
But what SlutWalk activists fail to realize is the paradoxical nature of their argument and methods against “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming.” First of all, it is difficult to understand why they would want to “re-claim” the word “slut” at all, a word which, historically, was used to refer to “a dirty or slovenly woman” and which has also been used as a racial slur. If by “re-claiming” the word they seek to restore its original connotation—let us simply acknowledge that they are doing a great disservice to their cause.
And if by “re-claim” they mean to provide the term “slut” with a positive connotation—by embracing, instead of looking down upon, the behavior and manner of dress typical of what society views is a “slut,” they are no longer protesting the injustice done to rape/assault victims—they are making an argument in favor of a harmful societal attitude towards women which furthers the injustice done to the victims.
How so? Precisely because rape and sexual assault result from the objectification of women—a widespread cultural phenomenon that seems altogether ignored by SlutWalk advocates. A man who rapes a woman does not see her as a woman, but as a sexual entity which can momentarily satisfy a disordered urge.
Do not misunderstand me: barely-there skirts, plunging necklines, corsets, fishnets, thongs, and six-inch glitter heels—whatever one may think of them—do not cause rape, nor do they excuse the perpetrator of sexual assault or rape from the guilt of committing a horrendous offense. But such dress and behavior do lead others to focus more on the sexuality of a woman dressed as such, than the woman herself. A woman’s audacious display of her sexuality through her dress and behavior, therefore, as championed by SlutWalk, by no means mitigates this problem of objectification.
This is especially true of men, whose biology typically leads them to be aroused more strongly by sexual visual images. An article published in the April 2004 edition of Nature Neuorscience details a study done by Turhan Canli of SUNY Stony Brook and John Gabrieli of MIT (previously a Stanford professor), compares gender differences in sexual arousal. Among their various conclusions, they discovered that the amygdala and hypothalamus of men (regions of the brain responsible for emotional arousal and reproduction, respectively), are more activated by sexual visual stimuli than those of women.
Again, these biological and physiological responses do not excuse a rapist’s or sex offender’s actions. But a woman cannot be indifferent to the basic idea that if she behaves and dresses in a sexually explicit way, it is generally difficult for the men around her not to be aroused and/or absorbed by her sexuality—precisely because they are biologically wired to do so!
And this is why I say that SlutWalk’s arguments and methods are paradoxical—flaunting your sexuality logically leads others to focus more on your sexuality, rather than your entire person (which we can easily assume is not solely sexual). And if society is ever going to overcome its problem of viewing women as purely sexual entities and not, well, persons, the women of the world will have to do so much better than protest in the streets, topless, asking the rest of society to stop calling them sluts.
Judith Romea is a Sophomore at Stanford University. Please contact her with any queries or comments at [email protected]