In January, when a Toronto police officer suggested that women invited violence against themselves by dressing like sluts, he must have had little clue of the international sensation his words would inaugurate.
The SlutWalk, which has made its rounds through Canada and the United States, has finally arrived in Britain. Movements in Newcastle, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow have begun and the movement will make it to London this Saturday. Its participants’ central aim is to reverse society’s latent acceptance of the notion that women attract violence based on the way they dress.
Women have every right to wear what they want, never mind the attention it attracts. It might even be that a woman’s ultimate aim is to attract sexual attention from a male or female at a club with the expressed intent of following it up with a sexual dalliance. However, she is not doing it with the intent to attract violence, and there is little evidence to suggest that a woman who dresses promiscuously is more prone to violence than someone who is not. There is no set uniform for rape victims: they may be joggers, businesspeople, students, homeworkers and house wives. Their attackers do not discriminate on the grounds of attire.
It is inevitable, in discussions such as these, to bring up issues of gender inequality. Would a man attract the same violence if he were to dress publicly in a similarly provocative way? Yes. It may be a different type of violence and along more discriminatory lines, but would be violence nonetheless. As the participants in the SlutWalk would attest, one rarely dresses with the intention to incite violence against him or her. And, while one might say that the image of a man dressed similarly is a rare sight, one could argue on equal grounds that most women are not dressed as such either. Rape is a universal concern; it is not simply an affliction of the sexually liberated.
There are some compelling arguments against the SlutWalk, and they are certainly worth considering. Some feel that the event simply offers women the opportunity to have a bit of fun and ‘get it all out’ publicly without the usual social stigma associated with cruising the streets half naked. There is also some concern that the event might be contorted into a women’s liberation movement rather than addressing its intended cause: ending the practice of attributing blame to the victims of rape.
These concerns are valid. Some of the women marching the streets of the UK wearing nothing but modern society’s variant of the fig leaf may be doing it for a laugh. It may also be the case that others have forgotten that this is a march, not simply for the empowerment of women, but for reversing dangerous, insidious attitudes toward non-consensual sex. However, the percentage of women who have “missed the point” will be extremely small.
Rape is a silent hunter, affecting a greater proportion of the population than most politicians seem willing to admit. The amount of women (and men) who have suffered some form of sexual abuse is staggeringly high, which would leave one to believe that many of the women participating in the SlutWalk will likely bear similar emotional trauma to the faceless women their march is meant to represent. We must not forget the indelible agony rape causes a person. The emotional strain is unlike most other forms of attack. The spectre of one violent event can haunt its victim through even the minutiae of her or his daily activities. It is a gripping, arresting pain that never ceases and may never be assuaged. We only live once, and to have to carry such a burden is to have the happiness of life wrestled violently away; it’s wholly unfair.
As women and men take to the streets and expose varying degrees of their epidermal layers, we must remember that this is no joke. It is certainly a spectacle, but one intended to remind us that we should all be free from fear, no matter how we present ourselves to society.