The Slutwalk: A Feminist Calls Bullshit
There’s a great song in the musical Gypsy called “Gotta Get a Gimmick”, where the flouziest dancers and ditziest dilettantes tell Louise (soon to be legendary striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee) that she needs to find a little something shiny and special to perk up her stage routine. Glitter, butterflies, neon lights, a Geisha costume, whatever makes your routine special they say, whatever makes you stand out. We watch these women in ridiculous costumes, dangling from tightropes, desperate to be noticed, remembered, and yet the audience also knows that when Louise tugs off one simple glove, it is sexier and more memorable than all the bells and whistles belonging to the chorus of painted Vaudeville ladies. I ask you, when did contemporary feminists become these painted ladies?
With women steadily occupying more and more powerful jobs, balancing motherhood and careers, becoming breadwinners, and mobilizing to change attitudes on a global scale, why do American feminists feel the need to “cute it up”? I see underwear with BITCH emblazoned across the ass, girlfriends reading the pseudo-historical Cunt Book with a big pink daisy on the cover, and now we have…The Slutwalk. A worldwide event where women dress sexy and parade around to send the message to men to stop objectifying women. Their banners say, “I’m not asking to be raped”. Did anyone actually think that they were? What should have been a slap on the wrist to a numskull Canadian cop became one of the biggest feminist gimmicks in recent memory and has proved to be a sensational soapbox for women to climb up on and cry out inequality. The inequality is real but the way these women are mobilizing to express it seems counter-productive to me.
People seem eager to label The Slutwalk as the most important feminist event in decades but let’s think about our definition of Feminism for a moment. In the 60’s women were fighting to change discriminatory laws about marriage and most importantly in their careers. Back then, it was all about women being seen- women moving out of the kitchen and into the workplace. Women wanted to be more. But now, we aren’t aspiring to be greater than, we’re being shocking or a joke or something. We are not talking about the powerful roles of women, we are once more trapped in a sexual context. We are using a man’s cruel word, SLUT, and dressing up the part and parading around and that’s supposed to evoke change. I think it’s a confusing and dangerous message.
At the heart of the issue there is a disturbing truth: women aren’t safe, whether wearing pleated chinos or a playboy bunny bustier. But to claim that a random policeman is implying that dressing in less than church attire means that women are ASKING to be raped is really taking things too far, is it not? I understand all the issues that are being given a platform by this very public event, but what exactly started the whole thing? Oh of course, a man used the word slut, and yeah, that does sting a little. Good thing Slutwalk founders decided right then and there to take back the word “slut”. Oh goody, just like we took back the word bitch and put in on cheap Victoria’s Secret baby tees and took back the word cunt by having entire episodes devoted to it on Sex and The City and 30 Rock. Sure we may be able to laugh at these words, we may even find them benign or ironic, but when someone gets upset and hurls one of these insults out there for real, it will never feel “re-appropriated”. Now we are going to redefine “slut” with a confusing activist get-together that hardly feels like Rosa Parks keeping her seat, but rather a silly, self-indulgent, extroverted spectacle that is meaningless. I’d rather watch Tina Fey than fat women in bikinis.
I live in Hollywood, where people sometimes have great success and clarity when they embrace often stereotypical truths about who they are and what is asked of them by the general public. I was in an acting class with a beautiful African-American girl who really wanted to get more acting roles. The teacher said, “I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but sometimes, for certain scripts, you are going to have to black it up. You know what I mean?” She nodded, she did. That girl didn’t start raging about racism, she quietly thought about how she could use what she knew about the way the world saw her, fair or not, to get ahead, to get on top, to have the career she wanted and worked hard for. This is what is being asked of us women, not to cry out unfair and dig our heels in at the first sign of prejudice from the opposite sex, but rather to absorb what is being said and let it make us wiser. You’re given the opportunity to have an effect on people, and then to have the effect that they didn’t see coming. The more women who are on top of the food chain, the better example will be set to a younger more impressionable girl, the kind that might actually believe that dressing slutty is a bad thing. But all the gay guys and 40-year-old women marching around in cheap bikinis and see-through tops probably already know better. Does their message reach 13 year olds and if so, they might just go out and buy sexy nurse Halloween costumes? What message are we sending here exactly?
The Slutwalkers argue that women should no longer be victims, and especially in a global context, this is a powerful statement. I very much agree. Women should not be objectified, abused, or victimized, they should be treated with equality. But crawling out of a victimized identity will take more than a parade of dressed up women to get the message across. We play the game differently, we have a different road to equality and self-realization. I wonder if yelling and screaming and starting websites with personal stories isn’t affecting the people who might need it the most… um, men? To them it must look like hysterical, unsavory, “bitchy”, and quite frankly, overblown woman stuff. I’m frustrated that it takes nine steps for a woman to get something done that a man could do with one. Maybe its because of the way women are with each other, wary, competitive, emotional, and at times, naïve. Men are slapping each other on the back and handing out promotions and cigars, why don’t women help each other? I’m embarrassed to admit that if a friend and I were to go to The Slutwalk and dress up slutty, I would be upset because she looked like a hotter slut than me. Even if I was supposed to be listening about rape, freedom, and equality, I would be concerned about flab caught in fishnets and my skinny friend. So there you go…I’m already not tuned into the bigger cause because I’m distracted.
Jaclyn Friedman, a prominent feminist and Slutwalk speaker, gave an entire speech in Germany about cyber-feminism (watch on youtube here). Unfortunately, she felt the need to use a very silly sexual metaphor: “Digital Feminist Activism is like finding the clitoris”. So what started as an interesting talk about the online resurgence of activism had a strangely cute and accusatory theme that told, I assume men, that they don’t know how to pleasure women. She stooped to the Cosmo level, and now we’re going to talk about Libya? Come on! Get serious, and get real, and stop alienating half of your audience, the men! Women assisted in the revolt against Gaddafi by cooking for soldiers, smuggling guns and messages; as women, they were able to accomplish more. What joy it was for all Libyans to celebrate freedom together. The message of equality is most clear perhaps when the larger goal is more important than a sideways remark, but also when men and women find liberation together.
Until feminists find a more important cause to rally behind, the voices of women and their stories will be lost behind a lot of useless noise. Messages travel when women take REAL action every day. Wear what you want, and tell that guy on the sidewalk to stop hissing at you. Wear what you want if you feel beautiful, go to work and enjoy having the freedom, having an effect on people. But most importantly, wear what you want not to be silly, but to be strong and powerful whether in the Alaskan Tundra or the wilds of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Dress like someone who can be sexy, concealed, revealed, intelligent, scary, punk, masculine, androgynous or whatever but remember they are just clothes after all. If you want people to treat you for what’s in your head say so. Don’t worry about whether your bra is showing. I don’t want anything to do with this movement, it doesn’t feel like what I’m fighting for.