‘Slutwalkers’: a lesson from Beyoncé

Slutwalk is rearing its unfortunately-named head again, with more protests planned in the coming weeks. Whilst I would like to preface everything I am about to say by wholeheartedly agreeing with the statement that no-one ‘invites’ rape – it’s actually an oxymoron if you think about it – I have nevertheless been following this ‘movement’ with a deep sense of unease. I can’t help but feel this is a massive own goal for the girls.

To recap briefly, the theory the protest walks are meant to embody is that women should not have to accept as a given that dressing in a certain way (‘sluttily’) means some people will draw certain conclusions (they are ‘sluts’) and be more inclined to sexually assault them. The praxis is to dress sluttily, en masse, to prove that they can do it with no reference to the male gaze – to ‘reclaim’ the style for themselves.

First of all, I would question the honesty of the assertion that dressing sluttily makes any sense without reference to those for whose benefit it was ultimately invented. The adornment of the body has always been about sending out signals as to the identity of the wearer. To deny that is – as a now very unpopular Canadian Police Officer pointed out – naïve.

Secondly, I don’t understand why any woman would seriously want to ‘own’ that mode of dress – uncomfortable, chilly, and designed-by-men as it is.

Thirdly, how is this a wise strategy? What argument are they going to win? Will this actually deliver reduced instances of sexual assault? Somehow I just can’t see any rapist-in-waiting watching a slutwalk and thinking, ‘on the other hand, maybe I won’t.’ It all has the distinct feeling of having metamorphosed into an excuse for millions of women to revel in a slightly risqué activity, and assert their right – never really in question in the western world – to parade around wearing whatever they want.

But leaps-of-logic and poor strategising aside, ultimately, the most damage Slutwalk will do is to reduce feminism in popular/ media discourse to a discussion about the right to dress provocatively and not be raped. And once again, and which is only ever to the detriment of the feminist stance (shouting slogans is a crap way to win an argument) the tone is angry, defiant, and a bit whiny. How many men are on board with this, for the right reason? Tone is so important, and slutwalk is such an ugly word, and concept. No matter what the manifesto says, the shorthand is neither aspirational nor inspirational, and an unhelpful hyphen to feminism.

For a perhaps surprising moment of a woman beautifully expressing herself, witness Beyonce’s recent Glastonbury triumph. Leonine and athletic, she was pitch perfect and absolutely charmed the 180,000-strong crowd. Not because she was wearing what would quite accurately be described as a highly provocative outfit, but because she was a consummate professional, really mind-blowingly good, clearly happy in herself and delighted to be there, and genuinely doing it for the girls (rare in the male-dominated medium of pop). Although jumping around in tiny pants, the word slut didn’t come to mind: she was amazonian and golden. Watching her dance provokes the same kind of dumbfounded reaction as Jacko or Timberlake at their best. And transcending all of that hard-won skill was buckets of personality and talent. It was heartening to see and a refreshing moment for feminism. It’s not about what you look like, it’s about what you say and do.

Although the seeming popularity of Slutwalk should tell us that something – and perhaps not what is ostensibly being protested about – is amiss; by drawing our attention back to the clothes and the body, the movement does feminism a disservice. For the sake of progress, less stomping around in bras please, and more just carrying on with what most of us hopefully do anyway in our daily lives: set some kind of meaningful and helpful example to remind the world that female bodies have minds too.

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3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Music, Politics

3 responses to “‘Slutwalkers’: a lesson from Beyoncé

  1. catherine bailey

    Couldn’t agree more. Yes I think that was a home goal.
    Muddled thinking and misplaced assertiveness does nothing for equality.

  2. James Shanks

    I have had a chance to read this blog properly now & I think its another great piece of commentary by the very ‘un-slutty’ Miss Bailey however I take exception to some of it.

    Here’s my little take.

    I was also a bit dumbfounded by ‘slutwalk’ as a male, be it ‘not very sophisticated’ feminist. So I considered taking a trot down to Piccadilly Circus a couple of weeks ago, in the sunshine, to see what all the fuss was about & more importantly to see if I could have sex with some of these ‘sluts’ i’d been hearing so much about. Sadly I fear I may well have been successful in chatting up some of them and stoned to death by the others in the process of doing so, neither of which reaction would have been totally appropriate on the day in question. What I am getting at is the ‘Slutwalkers’ seemed to be quite a mixed bag of ladies, however whether they be man, woman (or ‘slut’) all anyone need say is a polite, or even impolite, no if they would rather not have sex with me or anyone else & this got me thinking.

    We all have the right to walk the streets without being a victim of a sex crime, that is totally obvious to most people, no matter what we happen to be wearing at the time. We already have adequate laws to protect us in this regard so I questioned what Slutwalk seeked to achieve? Initially it all reminded me of that ‘only gay in the village’ sketch on Little Britain. It also reminded me of the perhaps less well known ultra-feminist character in the comic Viz: ‘Milly Tant’ who refers to all males (including very small boys) as “potential-rapists”. The whole notion seemed unnecessary, like the politician who dresses up in a monkey suit & promises a free banana to every school child if he gets elected, sure it gets you noticed, but do you have a point?

    Rapists are by definition an ‘odd bunch’, 80 year old ladies get raped in their beds sometimes, its really hard to fathom why this happens but if that’s anything to go by some rapists might be ‘put off’ my a self-assured woman wearing hot pants – who knows – In Africa lesbian women are sometimes raped to ‘cure them’, either way I think many of the Slut walkers are missing the point if they are trying to hold an ‘anti-rape’ rally. The subject is far to complex to challenge in this manner & sadly so are the rapists themselves.

    I don’t personally think dressing like a ‘slut’ means women are more or less likely to be raped but I do think they are likely to attract more attention to themselves & if that’s what they want to do while still reserving the right to “no means no” I think that is valid point to make. Possibly that is the simple point of Slutwalk and the march itself has a deserved, if minor, role to play in the history of female emancipation. Weather I ‘get it’ fully or not & I can safely say these aren’t really ‘my kind of feminists’, maybe all they are trying to stick up for is the ‘no means no’ argument. i.e. Where that terrible middle-ground seems to exist within marriage, in certain cultures & in the case of premiership footballers.

    I don’t think in dressing ‘sluttishly’ a woman is necessarily pandering to the ‘ideals’ of men either. I don’t really think that’s true anymore, if it ever was, again I think its more about attention than attraction & in a moderate society we seek attention for all sorts of different reasons, not just to attract the opposite sex. Maybe some people just like wearing hot pants, a friend of mine wore lederhosen once and told me it was a wonderfully freeing experience. Gay people in Germany started dressing like skinheads in the 1980’s which brilliantly served to poach an identity from the very group who hated & abused them. A form of cunning, mocking pacifism based on clothing. I think the way we dress does reflect societies changing notions of sexuality & can help fight battles. That’s really cool in the case of sexuality as long as it doesn’t involve anyone too young. I worry about the young getting sexualised too early these days, we all have to work hard to keep a lid on that.

    I also don’t think you should have dragged poor Beyonce Knowels in to this. You would have been better using the character ‘Rizo’ from the film Greece as an example of an emancipated woman she was a ‘slut’ but after all she said “there are worse things I could be”. I liked her, a lot! Loads more than ‘Sandy’ who turned ‘slutty’ overnight just to get all the guys attention, where was that movie going with that? You could spend all day talking about gender stereotyping in the Greece movies. I digress however.

    Strong cultural identity is as important as gender identity in my eyes & I don’t think Beyonce “all the honnez makin moneyz” is a great example of either an empowered women or an amazon as you say, rather a clever attempt at broad appeal on the behalf of a very clever record label (owned ironically by her husband).

    She’s from Houston for goodness sake? No one good ever came from Texas and she seems to be creepily racially ambiguous these days in a kind of a corporate way, like say Jordan* or Robert Kilroy-Silk, both of whom I deeply mistrust. *the glamour model not the country.

    Am I un cool for saying that? If this was the 70’s would I have been having a go at Bowie for being androgynous? No probably not. I think I’m spot on. Betraying an ideal like “masculinity” is not the same as betraying cultural heritage to appeal to the masses, in fact it’s the opposite. Where Bowie was interesting Beyonce is boring, she’s not standing up for anything new at all & neither are the slut walkers really but at least they have a vague point, if I understand the better meaning of them correctly.

    I read a very interesting Yasmin Alibhai-Brown article recently which I kind of agree with… granted she probably knows about as much about pop music as I do & granted she writes for the daily mail, but it takes all sorts of eggs to make a custard.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1358119/Beyonce-Knowles-Why-I-believe-betraying-black-Asian-Women.html

    I always wondered why Kelly Roland failed to make it big. I always thought she was the really hot one & the one with the most talent. Id rather be her ‘boo’ any day of the week.

    X

    Shanksy

  3. James Shanks

    I was also a bit dumbfounded by ‘slutwalk’ be it as a male ‘not very sophisticated’ feminist. So I considered taking a trot down to Piccadilly Circus a couple of weeks ago, in the sunshine, to see what all the fuss was about & more importantly to see if I could have sex with some of these ‘sluts’ i’d been hearing so much about. Sadly I fear I may have been successful in chatting some of them up and stoned to death by some of the others during the attempt, neither of which reaction would have been totally appropriate on the day in question. This I feel because the ‘Slutwalkers’ seemed to be mixed bag of ladies with yes I agree “muddled thinking”, however whether they be man, woman (or ‘slut’) all anyone need say politely, or even impolitely, is “no” if they would rather not have sex with me & this got me to think.

    We all have the right to walk the streets without being a victim of a sex crime, that is totally obvious to most people, no matter what we happen to be wearing at the time. We already have adequate laws to protect us in this regard so I questioned what Slutwalk seeked to achieve? Initially it all reminded me of that ‘only gay in the village’ sketch on Little Britain. It also reminded me of the perhaps less well known ultra-feminist character in the comic Viz: ‘Milly Tant’ who refers to all males (including very small boys) as “potential-rapists”. The whole notion seemed unnecessary, like the politician who dresses up in a monkey suit & promises a free banana to every school child if he gets elected, sure it gets you noticed, but do you have a point?

    Rapists are by definition an ‘odd bunch’, 80 year old ladies get raped in their beds sometimes, its really hard to fathom why this happens but if that’s anything to go what a woman is wearing doesnt seem to matter? I think many of the Slut walkers were missing the point if they are trying to hold an ‘anti-rape’ rally. The subject is far to complex to challenge in this manner & sadly so are rapists themselves.

    I don’t personally think dressing like a ‘slut’ means women are more or less likely to be raped but I do think they are likely to attract more attention to themselves & if that’s what they want to do while still reserving the right to “no means no” I think that is valid point to make. Possibly that is the simple point of Slutwalk and the march itself has a deserved, if minor, role to play in the history of female emancipation. Weather I ‘get it’ fully or not & I can safely say these aren’t ‘my kind of feminists’, maybe all they are trying to stick up for is the ‘no means no’ argument. i.e. Where that terrible middle-ground seems to exist within marriage, in certain cultures & in the case of premiership footballers.

    I don’t think in dressing ‘sluttishly’ a woman is necessarily pandering to the ‘ideals’ of men either. I don’t really think that’s true anymore, if it ever was, again I think its more about attention than attraction & in a moderate society we seek attention for all sorts of different reasons, not just to attract the opposite sex. Maybe some people just like wearing hot pants, a friend of mine wore lederhosen once and told me it was a wonderfully freeing experience. Gay people in Germany started dressing like skinheads in the 1980’s which brilliantly served to poach an identity from the very group who hated & abused them. A form of cunning, mocking pacifism based on clothing. I think the way we dress does reflect societies changing notions of sexuality & can help fight battles.

    I also don’t think you should have dragged poor Beyonce Knowels in to this. You would have been better using the character ‘Rizo’ from the film ‘Greece’ as an example of an emancipated woman she was a ‘slut’ but after all she said “there are worse things I could be”. I liked her, a lot! Loads more than ‘Sandy’ who turned ‘slutty’ overnight just to get the guy’s attention, where was that movie going with that? You could spend all day talking about gender stereotyping in the Greece movies & I think that should, perhaps, be the subject of your next blog.

    To end I will leave you with a very interesting Yasmin Alibhai-Brown article which makes a good point… granted she probably knows very little about pop music & granted she writes for the daily mail, but it takes all sorts of eggs to make a custard.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1358119/Beyonce-Knowles-Why-I-believe-betraying-black-Asian-Women.html

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