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.

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