SlutWalk And Taking A Stand

Slut Walk

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There’s been a lot of debate over SlutWalk – is it the right way to protest or is it a misguided attempt that actually ends up trivialising the issue. First things first, if you don’t know what it is, in a nutshell:

It began in Toronto, when a police constable suggested in a lecture where he was speaking about crime prevention & safety that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” so that they are not victimised/ assaulted/ raped. This sparked off a protest by women where they marched wearing what is considered provocative clothing & called it SlutWalk – saying that women “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.”, “SlutWalk has become a mechanism for increased dialogue on victim-blaming, slut-shaming, misogynist and oppressive ideas that need to be challenged. These damaging ideas affect all of us and play into racist, ableist, homophobic discussions, discussions about status, class, sex work, indigenous rights and more that need to be challenged.”

This spread to Chicago, Glasgow, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, Brasilia & is scheduled in 12 other cities including New Delhi. (Source: Wikipedia)

Have read many opinions about this for e.g.:

  • I don’t want to take pride in the word “slut” and make it mainstream
  • This just gives men further license to ogle at you on the street
  • Why is it happening in Delhi, where women are unsafe anyway, the only people who will pay attention to them are the same men who treat women as sexual objects
  • Women shouldn’t take to the street for the right to be called “sluts”

These are natural reactions from men and women alike, understandable because its a protest aimed at provoking a reaction & the word “slut” is so ingrained in our language as being universally bad that having it used in any way would make a self-respecting person cringe (including myself).

Seema Goswami’s column in today’s HT Brunch says “So, no one is denying women the right to dress any way they feel like. But if you dress to be noticed, then don’t complain when you are noticed. If you dress to attract attention, then you must be reconciled to the fact that you can’t control what kind of attention you will attract. None of this can be used as a justification for rape – but yes, freedom does come with responsibility.” She likens this to leaving a door unlocked at home & someone stealing from you – its your responsibility too. I won’t go into the whole other connotation of leaving something unlocked (think chastity belt).

To me this is over-simplifying the issue. If you dress to be noticed, then don’t complain when you are noticed… as a woman who has been stared at, groped, had lewd things said to, been followed when walking down the street, when traveling in a regular bus/ AC bus, at music concerts etc & multiple times over, I can say that I don’t dress to be “noticed” except in as much as any woman who takes pride in grooming & appearance does. But that doesn’t mean I am not “noticed”. Am I the most beautiful woman in the world or the one with the most sexy figure? No. Nevertheless, I am noticed & treated with disrespect as a matter of course by complete strangers. I know how helpless it has made me feel and on not one of those occasions did I “ask for it”. I cannot imagine how horrific rape would be.

In fact, if you fight back, you get either a blank stare “I don’t know what you are talking about” or a “Who do you think you are, why would I do that considering how you look” (yes, some guy said that to me).

Frankly, I was so disgusted that I stopped using public transport altogether because I was lucky enough to have that option. (And this in Mumbai, the safest city for women in India – that’s definitely my belief). Most women don’t. I have had male friends who say, why do you get bothered by it, just let it go. Why should I let it go? I have a right to express displeasure at being disrespected. I can’t just go on saying this just happens & I should deal with it. That’s exactly why societal change is not taking place.

Sure, all the articles criticising SlutWalk state upfront that a woman has a right to refuse sex & no forced sex can be condoned however they have an issue with the “Slut” in the protest. But that’s exactly the point. The woman who is raped IS labelled a “slut” & it is assumed that she did something wrong by provoking the guy or by being alone with a guy in an enclosed space or in a deserted area,  therefore asking for it.  Time & again, we (men & women both) blame the person who is being victimised – not the person who is the oppressor. The worldwide protest shows that women in all kinds of countries – developed or developing – face this issue. It has struck a raw nerve.

What women are fighting for is the right to not be treated as sexual object whether its because of what they wear or what their character is assumed to be like. If you show cleavage or show bare legs, does that mean a guy has the right to grope you and say something dirty and attack you? When a guy walks down the street bare chested, do women whistle and rub their hands over his body? This doesn’t mean women do not see men in a sexual way. But what is in the mind and what translates into action are two different things.

So how would one protest about something like that? You could just do a standard march down the street or you could dress exactly as people assume you do when you are “asking for it” to make the point. Which would make for more attention thereby translating into awareness? If this wasn’t called SlutWalk, none of us would even be talking about it. Rather than trivialising the issue, it has ensured that the core message is understood by anyone who gets to know about it.

Will some men turn up just to ogle at the women? Maybe. But these kind of men would ogle in public anyway even if the women were fully clothed! What’s new about it? For that matter, its not just men. I have heard women criticising other women even in professional environments talking about a dominating or strong personality and saying “she needs to get laid”. So sex is the answer to making a woman softer & less aggressive? This is exactly what has been ingrained in our minds by patriarchal “values” of what women should be like & that it will take a man to make them like that.

There are too many deep seated notions about what women should and should not do that will take centuries to change. Its already taken many centuries to get here – though we all know that women are still discriminated against from birth on many counts. There are many factors for change such as examining the role of the woman in the house, the woman reinforcing the discriminatory attitude with her children, how media portrays women etc but all that would need a separate blogpost, in fact, a book.

Will SlutWalk change the attitude towards women who are sexually assaulted overnight? No. But its a legitimate form of protest & I believe in the end message – women “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.”

I am not a “feminist” or a “man-hater” or a “frustrated” woman. I have no doubt that some of those who read this post will think that of me. Nor do I believe that all men think this way about women. Some of my best friends are male & they are amazing human beings, husbands, fathers, sons, brothers. What I believe is that women have an equal place in society. I don’t believe in traditional role-playing & I don’t believe that being a woman automatically makes me a sex object or a man’s property.

What SlutWalk says to me is not that I am defending my right to be called a slut. I am defending my right NOT to be called one in disparaging terms and implying I am at fault.

    • venkatreddyblogs
    • June 20th, 2011

    I understand what you are on about. And I don’t buy this argument about women “asking for it”. But, don’t tell us not to ogle. I think that is impossible for a man. And I know of a lot of girls who do ogle at men as well. But yes, I don’t think any man has a right to violate a girl no matter what the provocation.

      • Namrata B
      • June 21st, 2011

      Hi, thanks for reading this. There is a difference between a glance of appreciation & an openly lecherous stare and physical touching/ brushing. Sure, women look at men too. After all the two genders are (for the most part) attracted to each other. However continually staring at a woman in a way that obviously shows sexual intent is not right. That’s all I meant.

  1. You are AWESOME. You said this so much better and more coherently than I have been able to these past few days. Thank you, thank you for writing this.

      • Namrata B
      • June 21st, 2011

      Thanks for appreciating, April! I read your post & its very moving. Aghast that people are telling you that there is something about you! Always fight back, like you are!

    • Vijay Anand
    • June 26th, 2011

    Well said. I do blink at the usage and association of the word, but i can hear what the message is, and respect it.

  2. This is quite well written. I agree completely.

      • Namrata B
      • August 2nd, 2011

      Thanks so much for appreciating!

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