Whoopeedoo! On 4th June, London’s streets will be full of provocatively dressed girls. There’s nothing new in that you jest but fear not, you’ll be able to tell this is a special day by all the placards and banners the girlies will be carrying.
What will it be? A protest against our involvement in Libya? Another march condemning the scandal of tuition fees? Perhaps an expression of outrage against the banking system and the willingness of the politicians to give them all our money?
No, the hypersensitive little souls will be protesting the latest offence in our burgeoning pantheon of politically incorrect speech crimes by staging the first British SlutWalk. As far as I can gather, the purpose of the rally is to reappropriate the word ‘slut’ and protest a remark made by Police Constable Michael Sanguetti in Toronto last month when – in a “shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault“, apparently – he is alleged to have said to a group of students,
“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”
Now that he’s in the process of being immortalised, I bet Sanguetti is wishing that he’d said something a little more inspiring. “I’ve had a dream“, say or “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Hell, even “I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully“* will likely be found in any 25th century coffee table anthology of significant philosophies. But “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised“? That will prove to be just a little humdrum in the long term, don’t you think?
It has an ordinariness about it – even I might aspire to say it. Come to think of it, I have said it to the Time Traveller Girls – not in those precise terms perhaps; more like “Don’t you think you should wear a skirt with that belt?” or “You’ve dyed your hair a nice shade of prostitute black, I see”. When I’ve said those things, I hadn’t realised that I was perpetrating some hideous crime against the feminist psyche – I merely thought that my duty as a parent was to alert my daughters to generally held perceptions of social dress codes and to how they – in turn – may be perceived: I most definitely wasn’t excusing any potential rapist.
According to Slutwalk Toronto’s website, though:
“.. the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.”
Firstly, let’s dispense with the idea that Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and sterotype of the slut. That has been the prerogative of the fashion world (moving into your territory Style Brief..!) and its faithful followers.
Secondly, “.. but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim“… Where on earth has that been conjured from? The slut is not a sterotype: the word is an intentionally perjorative term that according to most accounts has always been used as a descriptor of somebody with moral values that are seen to be at odds with majority-held social norms. If we didn’t have the word ‘slut’ we’d coin another: changing the meaning of a word after several hundred years seems a rather pointless exercise and quite how you ‘reappropriate’ a word that has always had the same connotations, I have no idea – although it could always be taken back from the gay community, I suppose.
Like it or not, society works (sort of) by agreeing sets of values. There is often a tension in many of those values – particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned – with the result that the boundaries may shift but some, like those pertaining to prostitution, remain fairly immutable in our culture. By and large, prostitutes are considered to be outside western social norms and will be regarded as sluts by those who adhere to those norms: I’ve always assumed that the street-walker’s dress sense (surely, their only crime) is driven by the need to adopt a form of uniform designed to readily advertise their services. It seems a perfectly logical step to suggest that emulating that particular form of dress will cause observers to make connections that are not necessarily there. It’s an unfortunate fact that some of those observers will be less than decent human beings who do not subscribe to the social norms – or even laws that enshrine them – that prohibit rape and sexual assault: all that Sanguetti seems to have been saying is that a woman can reduce the likelihood of assault by dressing in a way that avoids ambiguity. I cannot see anything in his remark that suggests he was prescribing a dress code, proscribing individual choice in women’s sexual behaviour or seeking to ‘blame the victim’.
Such inferences appear to have been entirely invented by the sisters in order to stir up yet another essentially meanless example of faux victimhood at the hands of a male ‘oppressor’ while generating fame, funds and publicity for the opportunists involved . Dare I suggest, the real victim here is poor Sanguetti who has been vilified, bullied and forced to apologise for saying what he and many women believe to be true. In a report last year, more than a half the women surveyed believed that women should take some responsibility for their assault arguing, amongst other things, that “wearing revealing clothing made them partly to blame“. And interestingly, Elizabeth Harrison, manager of the Whitechapel Haven, one of three Havens centres for victims of sexual assault in London, said:
“.. But rape can happen to anyone in any circumstances. It’s particularly worrying that younger women are more likely to hold people responsible for what happens to them”.
As a mere male, I’m not as hard-nosed as the average woman – so like most men brought up to care about and respect women, I blame the attacker – whatever the circumstances.
I think there’s a more than evens chance that Police Constable Michael Sanguetti feels exactly the same way.
* George Dubya, of course.