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Slut

by Linda Stupart / 07.07.2011

‎”They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. ”
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985.

If you’ve been trawling through Facebook lately you may well have seen something about a “Slutwalk” in Joburg or Cape Town. These events mark the South African leg of an international protest against victim blaming in rape cases, sparked, rather obscurely, by an incident in Canada where a representative of the Toronto police told a university assembly, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The comment, which is understood as hugely problematic in its conception of sexual violence, agency and assumed complicity (or blaming of women), has caused ‘slutwalks’ around the world in protest.

Internationally and locally, writers, bloggers and tweeters (who are often women) are mostly treating the slutwalks with derision, a lot of which seems based on a set of knee jerk responses that can be summarized as such:

“Slut” is a derogatory term, one that oppresses women, and is not something to march for the right to be labeled as. (But, I ask, what about the right to be promiscuous, without being labeled unclean?)

Women dressing “as sluts” continue to define themselves in terms of male definitions of desire and desirability.

Women are objectifying themselves here, reducing themselves to the realm of object, which undermines sexual rights and subjectivity.

Women, particularly in South Africa, put themselves in danger by dressing “provocatively” and walking in public. (And surely this in itself is profoundly distressing and worth protesting?)

I mention these criticisms because they are easy to make; and also because, in part, many of them have an element of validity. I myself am extremely wary of this slut walk action, particularly in South Africa. However, my reasons are more complex; and more context specific.

Yes, South Africa is the rape capital of the world, so, yes, any action that protests sexual violence seems relevant, and important. However, while this kind of protest is completely at home in New York and Toronto, somewhere where women might engage, theoretically, in what it means to reclaim the word “slut”, in South Africa is this really our issue when it comes to gender inequality and sexual violence? When sexism is so entrenched in government policy, where rape fantasies are published in the UCT newspaper (thanks Anton Taylor), where a man may legally have as many wives as he wants, where women are raped by policeman, parents, brothers every minute of every day and lesbian women living in townships across the country live in fear of “corrective rape”, and fear reporting this violence lest they be ridiculed by their community and the police?


Tracey Emin, Psycho Slut, 1999

Perhaps it’s this last bit that somehow makes me, a white middle class academic feminist, feel a bit uneasy. In the same way that black American women started to question the issues of the early Feminist movements, which claimed to speak for all women, I cannot help but feel apprehensive that many women who risk rape daily, and the majority of women in South Africa, women of colour, seem at present to be absent from this event. Is it, perhaps, then, a misguided, privileged white feminist academic cause? Is a group of women in skimpy clothes in the face of real violence against real women maybe a bit irrelevant, a bit silly even?

Then again, it should be pointed out that I also know what it is to fear rape. And many of my privileged feminist friends have been victims of male sexual violence, of rape. So this, then, is certainly the issue of every South African woman.

One might also argue that in South Africa, after Zuma’s rape trial in which he famously used the “short skirt” excuse, the Slutwalk is particularly powerful. Zuma claimed that his accuser wearing a short skirt indicated that she was “ready” and that, “in the Zulu culture, you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready” and that “to deny her sex, that would have been tantamount to rape.”

So the women’s-choice-of-clothing-is-to-blame –for-rape argument is important in South Africa, but how can this protest move beyond a fun, if angry, gathering of a few hundred young white women? How do we move beyond spectacle into something powerful, how can we be taken seriously within these very parameters? Perhaps what is important is to find the voice of a broader section of South African women within this cause. What do gender groups think of the Slutwalk? Will they be there? Where is Sonke, Masimanyane, Luleki Sizwe, Rape Crisis? What do actual rape victims think?

Instead of these voices, what I can share with you are selections of the multiple Facebook dissidents of this protest, and this cause. Pieter Ulrich Fischer is distressingly typical in stating:

“Women must also understand that the way they dress will influence men. I am not saying they asked for it, or am justifying it but am saying that women must dress modestly. At least 20% of rapes would not happen in my opinion if we did not have nudism and or over sexual clothing. Cover up people!”

Further arguments happening locally hinge on the idea that walking around in skimpy clothing is tempting men to rape: like putting “booze in front of an alcoholic” (thank you Annelize Rust McDermid) or that men are programmed to rape (James Watts). These suggestions not only deny women our subjectivity, our rights as human beings, but also position men as, literally, animals. Suggesting it is in their “nature” to rape, to fuck, to abuse women. Not only is this incredibly sexist towards men, it is at the center of the perceived male/female sexual dichotomy that is at the heart of the Slutwalk’s cause. Because of course, the corollary is then also true; that it’s in our nature, as women, to submit, to wait, perhaps to protest (too much) and so on.

As misguided as it may appear on the surface, Slutwalk is a very important, empowering event because it deals with the concept of freedom.

To end, as I began, I’d like to quote further from Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale in pointing out that: “There is more than one kind of freedom […]. Freedom to and freedom from.” This march is about both kinds of freedom. It says that women need to be free to have as much sex as we want to, and to dress however we please, to be empowered sexual beings, to claim agency. And most importantly women need to be free from sexual abuse, rape and violence.

We talk a lot about freedom in this country, maybe it’s time we start taking it seriously.

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RESPONSES (123)
  1. James Watts says:

    Only the worthy.. can survive the grace of my words.. without losing their mind(s)

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  2. Composter says:

    A mahala thread is like an intestine. At the top of the thread the contents still make some sort of sense, then they’re systematically broken down, and then you’re left with pure shit with some nuts in it. Perfect.

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  3. James Watts says:

    So true man. So true.

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  4. James Watts says:

    I was hoping by saying as much nonsense and irrational non-sequitur(s) you would erase this shit…. damn… Jason you have played your part well.. I needed your hatred to be real to plant seeds of chaos, forgive me for this.. I am in good health and will leave hospital soon.. O brother!! The brutality!! the evil!! tortured in the electric chair.. which incidentally was designed to my own specifications!! hahahaha

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  5. James Watts says:

    I was so out of it on magic crystal I had no idea what really transpired. Who peed in my tea my I ask..

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  6. James Watts says:

    so.. pleeeease can someone tell me who pulled off that stunt with Umeshree’s facebook account. You sounded so much like me it has to be someone who knows me.. please I’m begging you I need to know the secret

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  7. James Watts says:

    I’m lying, I;m still jolly pissed off. Embrace your cowardly ways. I suggest you stay that way. Linda not so long ago I was with your boyfriend doing some premium cocaine, and playing chess incidentally. You liberals.. I even help you synthesize your confusion into words, devoid of scruple. But I smile with joy as I leave you in execrable darkness. Also notice how you all inadvertently did shit yourselves.. you didn’t notice that little icon called ‘kak’. A trick I learnt from the Psychopath’s Bible (CS Hyatt. Phd). Use your surroundings to your advantage, as I divert your focus. I never did think the stupidity of your kind would be demonstrated.. but you have done so, only proving the inequality within nature. It is inevitable that men like me shall come in time, and when they do I hope your bling attire is torn apart as they reject this world and expound upon the wrath inherent within the Aryan Race. Hahaha..

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  8. Anonymous says:

    When I scrolled down the comments I was hoping for intelligent responses to an extremely well written article. The irrelevant rubbish I found instead was very disappointing.

    What you say about the South African context is valid with regards to it not being safe to dress like a slut. For me that makes Slutwalk more necessary than ever.

    Two issues that concern me the most are:
    1) The fact that dressing is not as much of a motivation for rape in this country as it is made out to be. I was raped in ankle length leggings and an oversized jersey (baggy and down to my knee). Also there is an unacceptable level of child molestation. Should we be forced to teach our children to hide their bodies all the time? This would lead to all kinds of further self image issues which will manifest in other abberrated behaviour in the next generation of society.
    2) The “women must dress more modestly” logic (and I stretch the use of that word to its most literal limits) followed to its natural conclusion ends in Islamic Fundamentalist dress codes. Every time we agree to cover up a little bit more, the women who show a an inch more skin will be regarded as sluts until we are walking around covered to our wrists and ankles every time we go out in public. If a Western woman wearing 3/4 length jeans and a T-shirt was raped in an Islamic country, would we justify it by saying she was asking for it by revealing her ankles and elbows and not wearing a headscarf? No there would be an international outcry. Dictating the length of a skirt or the depth of a neckline is a matter of degree. The principle remains the same.

    The choice of name for Slutwalk comes from the comment that sparked it and the ATTITUDE it represents. People have become too focussed on the word and lost sight of the bigger picture. THE FIGHT IS AGAINST SOCIETY BLAMING THE VICTIM. That is a worthy cause regardless of how you dress it up or down.

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  9. James Watts says:

    O my.. how touching. Please some one do something about this guilt and shame that’s washing over me

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  10. James Watts says:

    okay so lets start over. i don’t want it to be like this. i mean, we are all human aren’t we? hi, my name is james watts.

    and im a big fucking pose.

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  11. James Watts says:

    oops i mean to say that im a POES.

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  12. James Watts says:

    This article is nothing but the product of your average Mc Donalds burger. I couldn’t written it on Thorazine. Taking slutwalk out of context.. and seeing it through the eyes of reality… only to find that it was a mere excuse for girls to express themselves. If you doubt that sex.. is pure power, and the release an expedient to the essence of life itself.. that which flows within our very blood. Then tell me what greater things you do in your spare time because I am just so curious. While you secretly cannot for one day live without Guidance, unable to confess your desire.. so insatiable and clear as white wine… that you would so drench your flesh in holy water and inhale her breath.. of intoxicating red wine.. if only she would let you. But your absence of power.. drives you to rape. The truth is. Every little liberal hippy girls wants to get Fcuked up the @#$ by some bling hip hip nigger. This cause.. had no cause.. save for a sporadic outburst of sexual expression. Of girls admitting they just might for one second actually be desirable and attractive. Sex is everything.. it drives you to get up in the morning. It makes you go to sleep. And it reminds you that there is something to look forward to.. within the tottering form of humanity.. that walk upon the surface of this planet

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  13. James Watts says:

    O forgive me.. I should really read over my writings before I press submit. Could’ve I meant to say. Actually maybe I couldn’t ever have to begin with.. but making a mistake while speaking disrupts the momentum of speech.. and no one ever wants to falter in their word and demonstrate stupidity

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  14. James Watts says:

    Oh you back Jason? Or some other idiot? I’m on holiday.. and I’ve got plenty of free time. Hahaha.. It gives me.. so much joy to see you stumble in your execrable hatred

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  15. James Watts says:

    once again I remind you… there is so much more to life than this conflict. I know I’m just a child with no basis of knowledge. But.. I don’t need to deal with your unshaved continental face. So estranged from the Aryan race. It is so to see one deceived by trust. Disinclined by your unseen thrust. I leave now.. for here’s no peace. This bitterness shall forever cease.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    James Watts

    Maybe you should be spending your holiday in a psych ward.

    I have been raped. No girl in the world, no matter how messed up, no matter what she wears, no matter what she says ever wants that to be inflicted on her. It is a level of violation that you could not possibly begin to imagine. It takes years, decades, of love and support to recover from the horror of the experience.

    It took the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood to help me understand the essence of sex. Sex is about procreation. That is why it is so powerful. The very existence of our species depends on it. When you make love with somebody, you are generating enough energy to create a whole new human being. That is why it should only happen between CONSENTING adults who are willing to take responsibilty for the energy they create and the possibilty of a new life.
    When you have experienced the mutual enjoyment of sharing that with some who has shared every other aspect of your life for over a decade, you will understand the utter futility of meaningless physical encounters (and yes I have done that too so my comparison is based on experience).
    Just to satisfy your curiosity “the greater things” that I do with all my time is love and nurture my 2 children who are the product of making love not violence.

    Maybe one day you will grow up enough to to understand that life is about more than getting wasted to escape the crap reality of your life that you hate and makes you hate yourself so much. There is no peace to be found anywhere except within yourself.

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  17. James Watts says:

    Your words.. are too true. Did I say, for a second that I sought to defy nature? Or approve of rape. No doubt.. if you navigate up you will notice my once ‘good friend’ (Jason) turned out to be text book psychopath..,. who openly declared his want to fcuk me. Ironically enough.. I just came out of a psyche ward recently. I was discharged because I ended up falling in love with a girl patient and it came to be so. But when it comes to Slutwalk and the underlying energy behind the mob.. you cannot deny that their is so basis of morality in their expression. Or rather, let us not veil our desire in principle lest we awake from dream, only to find ourselves drowned in a nightmare. It is natural, for an organism, that is unable to breath.. to engender hatred. Do not think that my afflictions are not based on empirical reality. And this woman Linda clearly had no right to quote me with such vaunted stupidity. As I emphatically said. Modern Culture today.. is to blame for the behaviour of certain men. As you liberals stand and tolerate the intolerable. With your Eminem white gangster shit.. saying bitch this and bitch that. And your inability to confess.. your fear, that you cannot for one day live without guidance, secretly terrified of the absence of God. All of this seems unclear to you.. cos you have actually not undergone certain process of.. social deprogramming which unfortunately is only achieved via illicit substance. But there are not many men like me.. who are blessed with the genetic inherency to withstand the tension released. in the sub-conscious mind, after and during intake. I’m truly sorry if I hurt YOU in particular.. but when it comes to irrational mental cases like Jason Jardim. I will not tolerate sin or depravity

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  18. James Watts says:

    and Jason. Do not think you have pulled off anything or heroic, or your dope monosyllabic voice can lie to me. You could’ve actually have gotten away from the whole episode by admitting that you were high on green and not in your right mind. But you remain obsinate in your pride, despite the evidence before our eyes. All these years, that you stood near me, with feigned allegiance.. you have concealed such hatred which leaves us merely perplexed. I should’ve known all those times you so overtly tried to destroy my love with Katherine.. that you harboured jealousy of execrable illness. Whether you had a part to play in that Umeshree incident.. perversions smeared upon Asha Barron’s wall.. is immaterial. But know this… if indeed you sought to destroy whatever affection She may have lent towards me.. thinking it would shake my resolution. You made a grave error in judgedment. To me, she’s just another liberal and a statistic in this linear game. proving ineffectual concerning your hope to control me. And as you stumble in darkness in hope to defy this reality.. or the future to come.. O truly more glorious than I could’ve ever imagined. You only betray yourself.. unable to conceal your pernicious sickness.. which pervades through the mass. Indeed it does not stop at a single mere mutation.. my cup runneth over

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Please find a different forum for your personal issues

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  20. James Watts says:

    hahaha.. it was no longer personal when it became public. When he confessed his want to rape me on heroin. But what is even more disturbing.. is that only by my Civil Liberty do I stand resolute against this Tide of Mental sickness. Has it not occured to you, that you sit amongst these men.. who harbour these visions? And you should thank me.. for every act I betray lent from my personal ongoings.. is a vestige that may direct you to Sound Reason. I do not keep a journal for vanity.. I keep a journal to reflect and see what lies repressed within the mind. Cos nobody wants to lose control. But I like speaking. obviously, while the audience shall listen the comedian stands. But you seem to be thinking.. who am I to arrogate such a voice of resonant authority? As if I hail from a source of intelligence disparate from reality. Not at all. Truly.. the rumours and hearsay concerning me are simply hysterical. But I am nothing more than the result of long term drug use. Note the absence of ‘abuse’. Yet.. whether you believe drugs may further facilitate evolution or unleash intellignece hitherto unaware.. is another subtext of discourse. Thank you for reading

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  21. James Watts says:

    Once again I remind, everytime you click on that ‘kak’ icon, you only proceed later to relieve yourself, shitting alone reflecting through your @#%$. For now, I do not deny I long to share with the world my experience.. as it did eventuate with me being admitted to hospital as a result of others, who provoked me to fall apart. But before, I did encounter that despicable individual Jason Jardim. He arrived at my house, unprecedented along with Kavish Chetty who incidentally once was a writer for Mahala. Though I had not even realized or read his open declaration of rape and his ‘Johnny Mongrel’ antics.. that transpired upon this forum.. Then and there on that day.. as I read his mind and body.. through NLP. I perceived a being standing there that wished to literally kill me. The irrational mentality of the psychopath is one that believes when they murder someone they assimilate their power and virtue into their being. And after being my ‘friend’ for a long time.. a parasitic relationship which has now been severed – thank the christ – Jason knows that what I secretly fear or killers unscrupulous unto what means they use.. to achieve their ends

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  22. True says:

    The widespread public display of female nudity, and exhibitionism, has brought out the animal instincts in some men, and, with that, has come a rise in the number of rapes, and cases of child molesting.
    MY RAPE STORY
    http://truefeminismnaphtali.blogspot.com/2013/01/feminism-causes-rape.html

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Many South African men and women are abusers. Brent Joseph Kirstein ,Lee Roy Retief, Charlene Dawn Hope, Renee Hope, Stephen Hope, etc, etc.

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