Sunday, February 10, 2013

SlutWalks: It's about changing society

In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of changing law enforcement and how they treat rape and what SlutWalks do to make that change happen. This was, however, not what I had intended to write in the first place, but rather what SlutWalks can do to change a society and a culture that clings to (double) standards and ideals that make no sense and are harmful to people in general and women in particular. It's also why I hope that SlutWalks or similar forms of activism will continue (and I'm sure it will, because moral standards tend to upset people, once they've been pointed out).
There are two main ways in which SlutWalks work to change the world for the better: by saying that sex is not a bad thing, and by exposing the word slut as having very little to do with actual behaviour and far more to do with shaming people you don't like with the notion that liking sex is bad.

The idea behind the word "slut" is, at its essence, that women having sex is a bad thing, and that it's valid to base social hierarchy on sexual behaviour. This is, in short, complete bullshit. While it is certainly true that people can have sex in ways that are negative (wilfully hurting others, and so on), the same is true of talking, and I'm sure most people would agree with me that conversation is, on the whole, a good thing. Sex simply does not have much of a moral value in and of itself - not, however, that that means sex is necessarily directly comparable to other activities; if we ignore the emotions of ourselves and our partners when it comes to sex, we will likely make no one very happy. However, sex based on enthusiastic consent with a compatible partner is pretty great, and doing it in a safe, responsible way (though as with all physical activities some risks remain) is easy as long as you've received a decent education (or take the time to look it up).
Of course, it's important to reiterate that this is a problem that exists overwhelmingly for women. Although there are some terms for men that could be comparable (cad, player), they are much less used and often old-fashioned; it takes a certain kind of blindness to think that this is not a way to judge women specifically. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I see no reason why moral behaviour would be different between genders, so on that principle alone the idea of enjoying and having sex being bad if you're a woman is absurd.

Yet sexual terms and judgements based on women's sexual behaviour are still used to create social hierarchies and impossible double standards, and it's that absurdity that SlutWalks speak out against. By saying that enjoying sex is good, that we would all gain by moving away from the repressive and negative messages we receive about sex and ourselves, and that by letting the word "slut" have such strong negative power we are accepting the framing of people who hate women and happiness, SlutWalks and other forms of activism against double standards and to improve sexual politics make the world a better place.

Secondly, SlutWalks also do the valuable work of pointing out that "slut" is a term that doesn't really have that much to do with actual sexual activity. Instead, it's a word used against women who someone doesn't like enough to use the word and where they have an opportunity to use it. To call someone a slut is to use the language of sexual shaming against someone you don't like, and due to the often private nature of sex and tip-toeing around the subject, it can cascade through groups and communities in a powerful way and become an accepted truth (whatever the word "slut" means to the people listening). Whether the word was first uttered by a man bitter at a woman who didn't want to have sex with him, for instance, quickly becomes irrelevant. Apart from all the other negative effects, this also has an effect on law enforcement, as the usual defense put up in rape cases is that the victim consented. If "everyone knows" that someone is a "slut", then that will also affect the attitude of law enforcement and give the victim less protection of the law than we all deserve.

Embracing sex as something good, getting rid of the absurd double standards regarding women's sexuality, and no longer accepting the language of sexual shaming are all incredibly worthy goals. SlutWalks might bother some people, but it's important to confront the language used in society directly to get at the negative values that underlie it, so I hope SlutWalks and similar forms of activism will continue to see support in every place where it is needed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

SlutWalks: it's about changing law enforcement

I was originally only going to write one post about the SlutWalk, but since I started thinking about it, I need to preface my intended post with this post outlining more directly what the SlutWalk was originally about.
While I was living in Toronto, the first SlutWalk happened. This was in response to a police officer in a safety information session at York University saying that women can keep safe by not dressing like a "slut":
“One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’ He said something like, ‘I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,’ and then he uttered the words,” said Bessner, Osgoode assistant dean of the Juris Doctor Program. “I was shocked and appalled. I made contact with the police [...] and we’ve asked for a written apology and an explanation.”
 The problem with the police officer's line of thinking is that the main reason why rape happens because someone is willing to rape someone. There are certainly, as with other crimes, ways to protect yourself that are not unreasonable, and indeed most women are well aware of them, but the way you dress has very little to do with rape happening. I've been linking the Yes Means Yes blog post about Predator Theory about a million times now, and it's still true. The idea that what you wear could make, say, a man not being able to control himself is ludicrous; we don't have women being assaulted randomly on a crowded street, no matter what they wear, meaning that rapists can control themselves until they know there is less risk that they'll get caught - they are acting in a motivated and targeted manner, rape does not "just happen" based on the behaviour or dress of women. When it comes to assault rape, there is even more reason to think that the perpetrators are specifically motivated to rape someone if they get the opportunity. That means that you're dealing with people who will go after the "most vulnerable", and that being a relative term, means that someone can always be identified by a rapist as being such. To focus on what women wear or their behaviour is essentially to play a game of musical chairs and telling women to hope not to be the one left without a chair, instead of rejecting that idea and focus on perpetrators.

The police officer's comment was especially troubling since rape is a crime that is very underreported and that convictions are even more difficult to come by. By framing women's behaviour and dress as being an important point, the police are not actually helping women, but are blaming the survivors of rape for the harm they suffered and implicitly (or even explicitly) saying that certain women can't expect the full protection of law enforcement and that rape of certain women (insofar as the rape of them doesn't get punished) is tolerated. So the SlutWalk is, at its basic level, about telling law enforcement loudly and clearly to focus on perpetrators, and not be a moral tribunal against rape survivors.

In my next post I will write about the other important messages that I think SlutWalks have to communicate.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Quick hit: because you WANT to

I read this comment on the blog Love, Joy, Feminism, and it said something about sex and sex education that I find really important, which I'm not sure I wrote in my posts on sex education (my bolding):
What my mom said was that when you decide to have sex, it should be because YOU want to — period — not for any other reason — and that you should use protection, because you should also get pregnant because you want to and not because you weren’t paying attention. (Not, as it turned out, a problem I was ever going to have … but we didn’t know that when I was 14.) She didn’t tell me to wait till I was married, or even, really, to wait until I was ready — she told me to make sure I was doing it because I wanted to, and not because I felt I had to, or ought to, or didn’t have a choice, or wasn’t in control of the situation. And I think that was a really, really valuable piece of advice.
 The problem with saying something like "wait until you're ready" is to imply that there is a maturation process and when you're "mature enough" you'll want to. This ignores the existence of people who are asexual, on the one hand, and gives teens the message that sex is an adult thing to do, which at least to me sounds like a pretty irresistible framing to people who want to show themselves to be mature, and a pretty good tool for whoever wants to badger someone into sex (well, if you don't feel mature enough for it...). Better then to stress the values I've mentioned in past posts, and stress that wanting it for yourself and wanting to have sex with the person(s) you're doing it with.