The Sunday Times

May 15th, 2011

With every step SlutWalkers betray the liberty of women

Reclaim your inner slut! That is the message of the London SlutWalk planned for June 11, starting in Trafalgar Square. The organisers hope that masses of people of “all genders, races and sexualities” will be “marching, stamping, rolling, shouting and hollering through the streets of London” in support of sluttishness and the freedom to walk about dressed like a bit of a slag.

This impassioned movement began not in London, but in Toronto, where an unfortunate police constable made a sensible but wholly unacceptable remark recently, while addressing a group of students. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this,” said PC Michael Sanguinetti. “However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

The outrage caused by this remark was so great that Sanguinetti has been disciplined and made to apologise. The Toronto police chief said there might be “training issues” here, in case there were other officers who needed sensitising (sic) to such “archaic thinking”.

Three thousand people took to the streets in a SlutWalk in Toronto, quickly followed by others in American cities. Amsterdam will be next. SlutWalking is “rooted in ‘riot grrrl’ attitude”, apparently.

Their charge is that advising women in their own interests to avoid dressing like streetwalkers is to blame the victim. The wretched policeman did not use the word rape, but he has been understood to mean it. And that is what has provoked the outrage — the idea that women who dress like sluts or get drunk are partly responsible if they are sexually harassed or raped. This idea, according to feminists, diverts attention from the real cause of rape — the rapist. In the words of London’s SlutWalkers, “it creates a culture where rape is okay”.

It is hard to know where to begin with the absurd muddles in all this. For a start, nobody in the UK thinks rape is okay. At least, everyone within the mainstream culture thinks that rape is always wrong; it is a serious criminal offence in English and Scottish law. Even if one did think that a particular woman had put herself in harm’s way, by dressing suggestively, getting drunk and hanging about late at night, that would not alter the fact that raping her is, rightly, a serious crime that must be punished. It simply means her obviously risky behaviour makes her partly responsible, morally, for what has happened to her.

There is no universal human right to dress and behave like a sluttish, half-naked, drunken streetwalker touting for sex, without occasionally being taken for one.

“My short skirt and cleavage have nothing to do with you,” was the banner one girl carried on the Toronto SlutWalk. Within limits (and in private) that’s true in an open society. But what you wear in public sends out messages about who you are, how you see yourself and how you are likely to behave.

Nuns’ habits, and burqas, are meant to send powerful messages about a woman’s seclusion and status. And sluttish dressing is all about sending sexual signals. Sluts are displaying and emphasising their sexual characteristics, from reddened lips to visible thongs. In the case of rubber kit, tottering heels and nipple piercings they are flaunting their sexual inclinations.

All this makes, and is designed to make, the onlooker think of sex and of sex with that person. Provocative behaviour provokes. There’s something childish about showing off in public and then getting cross because people pay attention. In sexual terms such behaviour is not only childish but wrong and sometimes dangerous. The idea that it concerns nobody but the slut is a wilful misunderstanding of social interaction and public spaces.

When I was of demonstrating age, feminists were angry that women were seen as nothing more than sex objects. Some took this resentment (which I shared) to the point of refusing to wear make-up or shave their legs and armpits (although I didn’t), as to do so would be colluding with a patriarchal society in attempting to please the demeaning tastes of men.

Now it seems that women passionately want to dress up as sex objects, and see that as liberating. This is a deep confusion in feminist thinking.

The same applies to the SlutWalkers’ idea of reclaiming the word “slut”: feminists always seem to be reclaiming impossible things, like the night or the streets or even their own breasts. It is all daft. The word slut has purely negative, abusive connotations.

Its ultimate etymology is not certain although it had become an English term by the 15th century. It has almost always meant someone with filthy habits, sexual or otherwise, and is not a name even the most liberated of women ought to want.

When women are victimised by rape it is indeed wrong to blame the victim, but it is foolish to imitate the victim if she has put herself in harm’s way by behaving like a slut.

There is something equally unrealistic about taking the line that men ought not to be aroused by provocative behaviour: the fact is, it is provoking. Men ought not to let themselves be provoked into sexual attacks of any kind. But not all men are sensible and rational, or in much control of themselves. They may, like sluts, be drunk.

There is increasing evidence of large numbers of troubled, neglected males with poor impulse control and lack of empathy — in other words, dangerous men. To insist sanctimoniously that women have the right to ignore such dangers, and that someone ought miraculously to prevent them, is not to live in the real world of an open society.

What’s more, our society is now mixed and multicultural, and what says saucy to one man says slapper to another and low-class sex worker to yet another. Given all this, what is so precious about the “right” to expose one’s skimpy gusset on public transport when drunk? The SlutWalkers see their demonstrations as a protest against rape. But they are a symptom of something quite different. They are part of society’s growing obsession with sex — with what is becoming its hypersexualisation and its inability to leave sexual feelings and concerns out of any situation, which seems to me the opposite of liberation.

There is nothing emancipated about being a slut or pretending to be: the SlutWalkers are betraying the struggles of genuine liberationists from the best of the feminist past.

The danger of deshabille, Message Board, page 27