The double standards of prudish Slutwalkers

Who’d want to live in a world where women can wear what they want but men are never allowed to woo or whistle?

Abigail Ross-Jackson

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On Saturday, 4,000 women (and some men) took to the streets of London in response to a Toronto police officer’s comment that women should ‘avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. The Slutwalk phenomenon has gained momentum around the world, with marches materialising in numerous countries. Yet this movement is underpinned by a deep contradiction: Slutwalkers invite the world to focus on what they are wearing, yet they simultaneously call for a world in which whatever women wear – no matter how provocative it is – it should never provoke a response.

Of course there is absolutely no justification for rape. Whether a woman is wearing jeans and a t-shirt or a corset and a miniskirt, her clothing should never be seen as an invitation to sexual assault. But to suggest that clothing is not an invitation to anything is bizarre. The way we dress and express ourselves is, to a large extent, about attracting attention – whether that of potential partners when dressing up for a night out or of potential employers when smartening up for a job interview. The idea put forward by some Slutwalkers, namely that women should never be judged or looked at because of what they wear, is crazy. What kind of bubble do these ‘sluts’ think they live in?

I wouldn’t want to live in a world defined by Slutwalkers, one in which women can wear whatever they want but men are not allowed to react. Some Slutwalkers have said that they are not only declaring war against rape but also against clothing-related wolf-whistling, ‘come-ons’ and even ‘judgement’. Yet isn’t it rather belittling of women, and our ability to negotiate sexual relations, to suggest that we are incapable of rebuffing unwanted advances or encouraging desirable ones? Once again, feminists are displaying a real disdain not only for men, but for human beings in general.


Placard from the SlutWalk
demonstration in London

Why should men be demonised for wolf-whistling or for attempting to chat up a woman whom they think is attractive? The Slutwalkers’ demand of the right not to be judged is profoundly backward and anti-social. Several of the banners on Saturday’s protest seemed to suggest that men are more like animals than rational human beings. One said: ‘Why am I dressed like a slut? Why are you thinking like a rapist?’ This is worrying, because it points to another serious problem with the Slutwalk phenomenon: its embrace of the widening definition of ‘harassment’. While most people would agree that stalking, groping and so on is unacceptable, amounting to harassment, the idea that looking, thinking, flirting and chatting someone up is also no longer acceptable, and that it amounts to ‘thinking like a rapist’, shows that everyday human interaction is now increasingly being labelled ‘harassment’. What next: no eye contact without written permission?

One woman who took part in the London Slutwalk later tweeted: ‘Thirty-seven people have taken my photo so far on #slutwalk. Just one sought consent first. (Of those I challenged, it’d not occurred to them to ask.)’ This just about sums up the preciousness, and the social aloofness, of Slutwalkers: they seem to imagine that even on a public demonstration at which they have dressed in the most attention-grabbing way, it is somehow a violation of their person for someone to take a photo. Feminists are warping the word ‘consent’, taking it from the realm of rape and applying it to such everyday actions as chatting and taking photos in public. But if we had to seek consent for every form of human interplay, nothing would ever happen; it would be a boring world indeed.

Another banner on the march said: ‘A kiss is not a contract.’ For me, this really gets to the heart of the problem with Slutwalk and its attitude towards sex more generally. Sex, it seems, has been reduced to a kind of contract between two people. Yet, by its very nature, sex is a murky, inexact business, and both men and women have to work it out for themselves in an informal, sometimes ad hoc fashion (even if that sometimes means doing something we later regret). There is never an excuse for rape, which can have devastating consequences on people’s lives. But to try to guard against rape by formalising every aspect of human interaction can also do a lot of damage.

Many millions of us negotiate our relationships, sexual or otherwise, on a day-to-day basis; we don’t need contracts or written consent or any clearly established boundaries. In trying to formalise human relationships, the Slutwalkers’ attitude is actually quite arrogant: they seem to want to reshape the public sphere, and even parts of the private sphere, according to their own tastes and desires, with no regard for the rest of us. One Slutwalker said: ‘I wear what I want. Because I dress this way it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I get upset if a girl gets dressed up for male attention.’ This really gets to the heart of the double-standard in the Slutwalk phenomenon: they can wear what they like because they are apparently empowered and strong women, but if other women chose to dress in order to attract attention then they should be pitied and looked down upon. Meanwhile men can’t look, pass judgement or flirt for fear of being branded sexist and vile, while women apparently exist in a bubble where they are elevated and protected from the prying eyes and judgements of society.

That is not a world I would ever want to live in. The Slutwalkers should have more faith in men: they are not all animals waiting to pounce at the first sight of flesh. And they should have more faith in women too, because even when men do behave badly, we are quite capable of dealing with their unwanted advances.

Abigail Ross-Jackson is national administrator and judges coordinator for the sixth-form debating competition, Debating Matters.

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