Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Slutwalk 2011: Taking Back the Right (to dress sexy)

Good Morning, my Darling Readers.
Have you been pissed off yet, today? Would you like some spite and vinegar to get you going this morning?
Needless to say if you don't feel like being uncomfortably angry all day, you should perhaps come back to this post when you have an hour to stew and rage.

When I had first read about a controversy where a Toronto Police Officer was being criticised for his advice to University students, I did not make a post about it, mostly because the controversy raging was something I was struggling with internally. The officer had suggested that to avoid being raped, the female students should not dress "like sluts".

On one hand, it seemed like sage advice; if I don't want to get frostbite, I dress warmly. The whole issue is about cause and effect, personal responsibility, it seemed to suggest.

But after focusing on the evidence, my own personal philosophy, and spurred by the sexist, misogynistic, disgusting comments on this website, I realized not only is this complete bullshit, but it is a 'gateway belief' to more disgusting beliefs that tend to manifest once the focus has been "properly centered" on the victim, rather than the rapist.

First off, the principle relies on the notion of "victim-blaming" whereby people think the woman could have "prevented" the rape, or that she "had it coming", ignoring the fact that only 2% of reported rapes are committed by strangers, which is, of course, what proponents of this theory think of when they think of rape: some young woman in a short skirt and low shirt walking around in high heels, when some seedy man catches sight and become so aroused that he assaults her. Not that a woman dressed attractively to go on a date where sex might even be a possibility, but when she decides it is not a possibility her date forces himself on her. The woman on Slutwalk (the response to the officer's comments - women marched in "slutty" clothes to reinforce sex-positive notions) had a saying, "A woman isn't raped because of what she is wearing, a woman is raped because a man raped her!" (True females occasionally rape, but 99% of cases are a male perpetrator)
When we focus on the victim and how they can 'prevent' rape, we encourage circumstances like the fact that a survey on date rape showed that 60% of Canadian college-aged males indicated that they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would not get caught. (Helen Lenskyj, "An Analysis of Violence Against Women: A Manual for Educators and Administrators," Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1992)

This leads us to the next fallacy, that rape is about sexual gratification. If one takes a little while to peruse the avenues for various sexual outlets, it becomes obvious after only a short while that there are systems in place to acquire sex or sexual gratification. What rape is about, rather than the sex that could be obtained elsewhere, is about the power trip. The control over another person. The release of the frustration that comes when men believe that woman should 'give it up' or that woman are withholding sex because the man won't say/do the right thing,  which eventually leads to the idea that the man should just 'take it'.

I won't even get started on the effects of the 'sex negative' culture we have propagated on the notion that prostitutes are "dirty", "cheap", or "less than human" that often leads men to believe they "shouldn't have to resort" to hiring a professional - this tends to lead to the notion that sexual woman are 'not worthy', that woman shouldn't want sex. People that believe woman should dress conservatively to avoid being raped tend to ignore that a woman can want sex, and dress to entice that from someone, while not wanting it from every/anyone.

Continuing this ridiculous notion, if we are to assume that rape is committed because someone is dressed sluttily (I don't think that's a word, but deal with it) we run into problems when we consider child or elder sexual assault. Not to say the elderly can't dress attractively (Another aspect of sex-negative culture is that once you hit a certain age you no longer have the 'right' to have sex or be sexually aroused), but it certainly calls into question what exactly could be considered 'provocative' when we consider all these other victims, and saying the motivation was the person's appearance can cause us to throw our hands up and wonder what the hell we should look like, then, if anything can be considered sexually attractive.

Another ideal that seems to come hand-in-hand with this set of beliefs is that woman should feel lucky, or flattered that someone wants them. (I cannot make this up) Some comments from the website particularly reflects this:
"These women say they dress like that because it makes them feel good. Crap. They dress like that so that they will be noticed.. and hoping that ‘something’ might come out of it...Oh and by looking at the picture .. honestly who would want them anyway."

"WOW!!! somebody should have been throwing dollar bills at them to but their clothes back ON. Good lord that’s a scary crowd!

" some of those women could walk down the street stark naked and be in no danger of being raped whatsoever. This is because some women are ugly cunts and not all men are rapists." 

This notion then causes us to wonder, while we dress in the morning, what is considered "slutty"; what is too low, too plunging, too tight etc. It causes woman to wonder if they should wear shorts to the gym. If men 'can't' control themselves when they see short shorts, why would the gym make a difference? Worse, this focus then leads to the 'retroactive' set of criteria for clothing; if a woman was raped, it is obvious that what she was wearing was too slutty.When we focus on this aspect, we ignore must more useful, better advice: Tell someone where you are going and with whom when on a date, don't drink or do drugs to excess without a responsible sober buddy, and trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, get out of that situations. The only effect your clothes should have is how fast you can get away in your heels.

The final argument against this type of 'advice' is the fact that rape is tragically under-reported in Canada, and when pressed, 64% of woman stated that they felt fear and shame . If we continue to tell woman that they can prevent rape, if it ever occurs, they will be less likely to get help because they think they could have prevented it. It is strange that people could put forth this notion, but we do not automatically assume that if one's car is the victim of a hit and run, one must have parked like a douche, and thus, "had it coming".

A good website, a movement against rape that I can actually support is available here:, and it focuses on teaching men not to rape, rather than trying to teach woman not to be raped. My favorite poster is the one that says, "My strength is not for hurting so when I wasn't sure how she felt, I asked", since it reminds me of the "Yes means yes" movement.


Andy said...

I have a Musilm friend that is very open to my curious questions. One day, the talk came to the Hijab. I asked what it's purpose was and she said there were several, but the biggest one was to be modest so you didn't bring unwelcome advances on you because "men can't help themselves".

Back in the day, it was very naughty to show your ankles because they were always covered up. Men who saw a glimpse of ankle would also be "unable to help themselves".

The more we cover up, the more taboo our body becomes, the more men "can't help themselves" when they see parts of it. How does that make sense at all? Are men truly that weak?

Keep it up, fellows, and soon you wont catch a glimpse of a woman until your mother marries you off to some girl with pockmarks and no figure (because if there's no one to see, why should we care what it looks like?).


Anonymous said...

Rape is NOT about sex. Michelle is completely correct that there are plenty of other outlets that involve less effort, and people are lazy.

While it is certainly a good idea to "teach men not to rape" and to teach women to defend themselves, creative sentencing may also be a tool to examine.

You use your reproductive anatomy as a weapon to injure? Treat it the same way any other weapon wielded that way is treated. Remove it.

Anonymous said...

Huh. I started to write a comment but kept teetering between two thoughts:
1. You cannot blame the victim for the rape.
2. Women shouldn't be cavalier about the situations they put themselves in.

Both those things said, though, I completely agree that the clothes you wear shouldn't make a difference. They do say something about the person you are though, so I'd hate to see anyone dressing "like a slut". And that's a whole different thing from dressing sexy, with confidence and self-respect being the biggest defining factors.

What really bothers me, though, is the "survey" that you sited about 60% of college men being willing to be a rapist if they knew they wouldn't get caught. That doesn't make sense to me and so my first reaction is to think that either the methodology was flawed and so it doesn't actually say what it seems to, or that the respondents were lying.

I tried to google info on it but couldn't find anything other than websites that made reference to it in their "rape myths" or similar pages, etc.
Sorry to focus on it, but that's a huge slap in the face to men. To say that the majority of men are willing to commit violence just because they wouldn't get caught? I just don't believe it.

lol, mapa

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of portions of "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She talks about how it is the Muslim woman's responsibility to go out in public completely covered because if the men were to catch a glimpse of an inappropriate body part, they would be unable to control their urges. Part of the problem comes when she started giving details of "inappropriate" body parts: elbows, ankles, the mouth, eyes, chin...and so on. Where do you draw the line between sexy and confident, and slutty? Who decides where to draw it? Personally, tank tops make me feel sexy. I like wearing them. But in some countries I would be assaulted if I walked down the street in a tank top. Or a t-shirt; shoulders are much too risque. How is it one man can control his "urges" when he sees a woman in a tank top, but another man loses all self control at the sight of a girl in a t-shirt? Or a woman in a dress during the day in a mall is ok, but the same woman in the same dress in the same mall at night is "asking for it"? From all I've read, it seems that people in general are much better at controlling their actions when they know control is expected of them, and that if they step out of line they will be punished, not excused. There's also no way of knowing for sure what outfit will set someone off because it winds up being such a shady grey area. "Is this sweater too tight? Do I need to cover my wrists and forearms too, or are elbows enough? What about actions? If I drop something, can I bend over to pick it up or is that inviting assault? Can I lick my lips or is that too provocative? Cross my legs or not?" And if you guess wrong it's your fault. This attitude makes me sick. You can do everything right, and it still might not be enough. It's time for a change. People need to realize that sexual assault is the attacker's fault and only the attacker's fault, and what the defender was-or wasn't-wearing has nothing to do with it. I am so glad you wrote this article, the more people talking about this the better.

Anonymous said...

How you dress can also be a reflection of how you feel about yourself. See the show What Not to Wear; the change some people go through is amazing!
I agree with you that people shouldn't be treated differently depending on what they wear (and assault NEVER, I don't care if you're walking down the street naked) but I still don't like to see girls dressed "sluttily" and, again, I say it comes down to how you feel about yourself. I think lots of girls think that's the only way they'll get attention.
lol, mapa

Anonymous said...

Arguably, if the difference between dressing "slutty" and "sexy" is a question of confidence and self-respect, then the real problem is the aforementioned sex-negative social environment; which I absolutely agree that we live in. It isn't necessarily that someone who dresses "slutty" lacks confidence and self-respect, it's that we assume they lack those qualities based on what they wear, i.e. clothes that 'we' already consider "slutty". It isn't (again, necessarily) that they feel that is the only way to get attention, it could be that they want to feel like healthy, sexual adults, and dressing a certain way fulfills that desire. If that means a skimpy dress, then fill your boots (or stripper heels). If it means dressing up like Big Bird, then fill your comically large talon-footed boots. And if it means baggy sweats, then that's fine too. None of those choices requires a mental environment of low self-esteem.


Anonymous said...

One law for the rich and another for the poor.