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Slut Walks, Gender Talks, Feminism
11th May 2011Posted in: Blog 0
Slut Walks, Gender Talks, Feminism
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Recently, there has been a lot of talk about women`s rights spurred on by the foolish comments of an ontario cop. The cop apparently suggested that female victims of sexual assault must sometimes accept some responsibility for the crime because the way they were dressed sent mixed signals to the men who commited those crimes. I believe the police officer used the word slut in his comments to describe how some such women, victims of sexual assault might be dressed.  As a result  a facebook group, the most modern form of democracy has formed around the world, assembling millions of women, many of whom advance the point that women ought to be entitled to dress as they please. I don`t really have a problem with that. I mean, we should all have the right to dress as we will,  so long as our clothing is not harmful to us or dehuminizing for anyone else. Obviously, the cop was wrong and lacked socio-cultural sensitivity, but what do you want, he is most likely a lower middleclass guy who lives in a suburb and actually has very little interaction with people of differing viewpoints unless they are standing on the other end of the law. Usually, the wrong end. Can`t blame him personally because the problem of sexism is systemic. If there were no systemic or political advantages to being sexist, no one would be crazy enough to think that way, at least not publicly. Anyway, anyone talking about whether or not women should reclaim the word slut, is talking about the least interesting part of this whole brouhaha. The interesting part is the whole discussion around gender relations, sexual freedom, personal power and social identity which is born out of this cops insensitive suggestion that sluts get raped.

The word slut is an insult with rather old origin intended to police a behaviour which was thought to be innappropriate for civilized society. It was intended to point out women who were sexually promiscuous, easy to get. On an evolutionary level, we probably did not appreciate the behaviour because it was conducive to the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases and illegitimate children not to mention deathly duels between competing men. Labeling by the word "slut" was a social convention with some adaptive, evolutionary functionality. Perhaps it should have been applied to men as well back then. I guess the word has outworn it`s use but where does that leave us? Now that we have technological advances in birth control and protection we are able to take as many partners as we wish but is this freedom? Women have the right to dress in anyway they wish even if it is extremenly sexually provocative and confusing for young men and women growing up to be bombarded with constant reminders that we live in a pornographic society. A society which places appearances over substance, words over actions, constantly telling us that what god gave us is not good enough. Unfortunately, i think a slut walk just reminds us how true that is. I am not defending the use of the term "slut", only attempting to understand it at this point.

In the 20's so called first wave feminism, there was a push towards political and economic equality. Equal pay for equal work and recognition of houshold work as economically valuable were two of the bigger issues women fought for. Second Wave feminism of the 60's seemed more focused on social equality and intellectual equality. Women were tired of being left out of the classrooms and boardrooms of Canada and were tired of the more implicit lack of respect accorded them by society. They already had the vote, pay parity in some areas, matrimonial adjustments to law enabling a more equitable valuation of domestic work so what they needed then was some plain common respect. Respect from traditionally male dominated areas like politics, economics, and a multitude of professions which were mostly the domain of men. The second wave of feminism also brought about so called liberation of the female form. The groovy 60's and women's liberation. Largely, this meant sexual liberation. Pow! the mini skirt appears. Pow! birth control. Pow! Woodstock. Pow! sexual freedom. Sexual liberation had everything to do with women's liberation.  The taboo world of sex was after all, one of the primary areas where women were disenfranchised. The were at risk of being stuck with pregnancies and so had always had a vested interest in making sure that the men they had sex with could be reasonably adequate fathers and spouses. They were at higher risk of being sexually assaulted so they also had vested interest in developping screening processes to determine who was friend and who foe. The birth control pill changed everything. It freed women in bed like the washing machine freed women from housework. Sexual freedom and sexual liberation was born. Good times for men in the 60's i hear because sex was pretty easy to come by. Nowdays, you have to boil people before you can sleep with them...Anyway, women took control of their bodies and this was evidenced in less restrictive fashions of the day, a wider spectrum of social style, the begining of penetration into previously closed male milieus and an explosion on artistic and  intellectual fronts. Still, I keep coming back to the sexual aspect of women's liberation, perhaps because i am a man or perhaps because i am interested in the stuff we don't usually talk about so much.

This next part is complicated so let me think out loud for a second. See, the thing is that sex has a lot to do with power. It takes two people to have sex. Legally, the two must be willing participants. Usually, they are equal, albeit anatomically different partners. I would argue that sexual relations is one of the social areas where women actually hold more power than men. Women select who they want to sleep with and usually have at least a couple of options. Right there, by the fact that women are the "selectors" tells you that they have a particularly powerful vantage point from which to view gender relations. I heard a man the other day, comment that because he was elderly, he had no choice but to pay for prostitution because all of the women he was attracted to would not be socially available to him. Of course you can say the same of older women. Some argue that a women's sexual power declines much more dramatically than a man's does over time. I would have to agree with that but that is only because we live in a youth obssessed, beauty fascist, superficial, image based, pornographic society. Still, up to a certain age, women have the power when it comes to sex.  This is why women want to get married earlier than men do.  They make more money off the production and proceeds of pornography than men do by a landslide. They control who is mate-worthy and who is not. Only very rich men are able to reverse this power dynamic by themselves becoming "selectors". So what does all this add up to? Well, if you consider that sex is a gross domestic product, as i do. And you consider that unpaid labour is the greatest economic contributor, far surpassing paid work.  And you consider that much of the things which are sold are marketed through sex, because sex sells. If you consider all  the direct and indirect money that sex produces in an economy such as ours, i am pretty sure it is up there with alcohol or some other enconomic giant. Remember, people drink to loosen up and people go to bars to find sexual partners and people diet, shop, buy clothes, cars, makeup, drugs, perfume, all with the implicit understanding that these things boost sexual power and may facilitate sexual relations. Maybe all of this is too unconscious for you but i am aware of it and i think most men are. I mean women put makeup on every day without once stopping to think: "why would i want to boost the redness of my lips, the darness of my eyes and the longness of my lashes, the blush of my cheeks, the eveneness of my tone, the colour of my hair and nails, the brightness of my teeth, the largeness of my breasts?" The only way a woman is going under the knife to have her breasts augmented at huger personal and financial cost to herself is if she is getting something out of it. Cosmetics is huge business because it is directly tapped into sexual power. What is true in the animal kindgdom is just as true here in human world: a woman who attracts a large number of mates has better chances of finding one who is suitable. What do we men do? we compete. Competing is something we're good at. It is something you might say we were born to do. War is a competition. Capitalism is a huge competition. Surely, you can see that a system based on competition has to have incentives otherwise people don't see the point. Well, i am making the very simple point that sex is a primary incentive in getting us people to do what we do. It is more of an incentive for men than it is for women. Women are still driven towards procreation based sex, which leads to a family while men are more driven towards sensation based sex which lasts the time it takes to have sex then goes away for a few hours. Men's interest in sex makes them behave like addicts willing to do or say anything just to get some. So am i making the point that sex sells and that the one who holds the position of "selector" is in a powerful position indeed?

I could easily understand if some of what i have just said offends you. You might be interpreting that i am dehumanizing sex by providing you with a market value assessment of it. Still, i am sure you will find that i am only trying to give credit where credit is due and make sure that we provide an adequate valuation for what may  be one of the largest economic contributors we people know of. That being said, it is beyond the scope of this post to advocate legalized prostitution as has been done in Amsterdam for quite some time. I am not advocating prostitution or pornography. Just the proper socio-economic valuation of sex in our culture. So when it comes to slut walks which you can read more about here: http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/ or here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2011/05/slut-walks-are-they-helping-to-bring-about-change.html, i personally am all for it, so long as it includes all women and we can explain to 12 year old girls, struggling with their identities, why they might think of themselves as sluts and so long as it includes all men and ends in a new wave of sexual liberation where everyone puts down the barriers and lets it all hang out. Then i am for slut walks. Until then, i am apathetic, thinking only that this is another misdirected quest for power over others, falsely labeled as feminism and masquerading as women's liberation.

I am a man in a women`s field. I work as an art therapist (95% women) in a Primary school (85% women) so i am posting this as a straight man who has crossed over a couple of gender borders (barriers). I want to say that reclaiming a word  like slut can be empowering but we could also be fooling ourselves into feeling empowered when we are in fact merely becoming more tolerant of abusive terminology either sexist or racist in nature.  Unfortunately, a lot of women are going to use this issue as a photo opportunity and a chance to get on the front page in a miniskirt and fishnets for the purposes of personal advancement. Thus behaving like sluts. Let`s not forget that a women`s attractiveness in this society is worth it`s weight in gold. We live in a biological cast system through which the attractive reap all kinds of rewards which intersubjectively less attractive individuals will never know. Sex and rape are about power we are told. This is as true for women as it is for men, although we usually only hear this in relation to men. Power is not the same as freedom. I think there is a difference between those feminists who seek personal freedom from oppression and those who seek power. I am among those in the former category. After all, freedom is the only power one can truly have in this life.

 

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