These Boobs Are Made For Walkingby Mahala High Five Brigade / 26.08.2011
Every now and again, the opportunity presents itself for the well-meaning among us to come together under the banner of The Greater Good and do something really fucking stupid. Like those Heaven’s Gate cult people. Just everyday folk so concerned with saving our souls, that they thought it essential to go off into the desert and kill themselves en masse …instead of waiting around patiently with the Mormons.
A recent example of well intentioned idiocy, would be the Slutwalk. Now before I get sent a bag of burning bras and a note with a frowny face, let me make it explicitly clear that I think the cause is a good one. I agree: the way a woman dresses does not entitle anyone to violate her in ways beyond her consent. Rather, I take issue with the way the support for, and understanding of the cause is articulated and expressed.
Firstly, one feels compelled to criticise the general tone. Call me old fashioned, but like punishment and crime, I generally like the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of what we say to go hand-in-hand. We abstain from fish for a month in protest of unsustainable fishing practice. We throw blood on a fur coat to highlight the brutal treatment of the fuzzy wuzzies. We sit vigil by candlelight for peace. And just as we wouldn’t attend a June 16th commemoration in fake bullet-wounds, so shouldn’t we slut it up in a bra and a pantie to combat the war waged on women’s bodies. What is this? Book club after 3 bottles of cheap wine? I’m not saying we can’t have fun when we rally together, but in my books the humour should be revealing of wit or insight, not make light (or mockery) of the cause which we highlighting.
Second to consider would be this whole nonsense about ‘reclaiming’ the word ‘slut’. Hmmmm. Slut is in and of itself a gendered and misogynist word – so why we would feel any desire to ‘celebrate’ it is beyond me. Last time I checked, being promiscuous and using one’s sexuality to get attention are not exactly the building blocks of true empowerment. It’s not like taking back a word like nigger, which sought to take something widely perceived as shameful (being black) and turn it into something worth celebrating. And where being black is an identity worthy of pride, what exactly is so great about identifying with being a slut? That’s to say that this whole idea around reclaiming words is even laudable. One could question just how “empowering” this reclaiming of “nigger” was, when popular definition now pegs nigga as the rough sum of guns + bitches + swag + yo.
Another issue with the way in which Slutwalk articulates its take on activism is the matter of exclusion. The whole “put your bra and walk the streets” thing smacks of educated white, middle class privilege. It only makes sense in an environment where both women’s rights and showing skin are generally accepted practice. What about women in communities where promiscuity is stigmatised? Or the areas where corrective rape happens? What effects would it have there? And even among the urban and educated, what about the shy and conservative among us? Or those whose religious beliefs make them feel uncomfortable parading about with their – or others – bodies on show? What room for participation does Slutwalk give them?
Finally, there is the issue of the slightly confused comment Slutwalk makes on the relationship between sex and rape. As we all know, rape is not about sex or sexiness. It’s not about how short your skirt is or how much boob you can see. Men get raped, as do children, grannies and babies. The psychological insight into those who rape, teaches us that rape isn’t something that is invited or provoked. Rapists rape for power and dominance over their victims. Hence the outrage that a cop would ask a woman what she was wearing when her assault occurred. So one hand Slutwalk is saying that sexual provocation is not something that can invite rape, but yet it uses sexual provocation to make its point, thereby still acknowledging a relationship between the two. If Slutwalk is truly for all things women’s lib, why must it use cheap Hiltonian tactics to get and hold our attention? It’s simply not enough to sex up stereotype. Surely, there’s a better way to make that point? A way that challenges prejudice instead of putting it on proud parade? It’s like having an anti-semitism rally where everyone wears a shirt that says “I’m gonna take y’all money LOL”. In short, just because we acknowledge stereotype, doesn’t mean we necessarily combat it.
And if you don’t believe me ask Public Enterprises Minister, Malusi Gigaba. Upon hearing about Slutwalk, he tweeted:
“@Derek_Hanekom No, let’s talk about the slut walk. Now, I wanna attend as an observer. Might get lucky.”
His spokesperson, Makhosini Nkhosi, later admitted that the comment was made “in jest” and “as a result of a misunderstanding”. Which, I guess, says it all.
*Opening image hack by Danni Diana and Bryan Little.