Even academics are jumping on this train of thought, Gail Dines told the Sydney Morning herald, "by having a slutwalk, you have turned the focus on to what women are wearing. The men who are responding to this message are not getting the irony at all."
Which may well be because, aside from using a hateful word in a non hateful context, there is very little irony. This protest, though performative, is literal. What SlutWalk says is this: There is no garment I can wear (or not wear) which would invite you to harass, belittle, patronize, sexualize or rape me.
Critiques which say this is a western, liberal message are probably right. I'm not involved on an organisational level but it seems to me in my reading that SlutWalk does not claim to be a radical, anti-capitalist movement. Being able to walk down the street without being blamed for violence is about living within capitalism. Most likely, some of the participants will be anti-capitalist and engaged in other actions with a broader focus. Some will not.
That the word slut is employed is, of course, strategic and the way it has garnered publicity for the event and for feminist conversations in general has given it one positive new meaning. 'Slut' is a provocative word, that it is provoking essays, debate and media attention is a vast improvement on its usual reactions of tears, shame, fear and self consciousness.
Luckily for me, my encounters with the word 'slut', have, in general, not been associated with the sex I am having, but with the sex I am not having. For example, I am not having sex with men who feel compelled to yell 'slut' at women walking down the street. I am not having sex with men who look me up and down as though I am a menu of violent hors d'oeuvres. Also, I am not having sex with patronising, middle-aged nostalgics who must have their out-of-mint, copper two-cents on everything.
Which brings me back to what journalists are saying.
Guy Rundle on Crikey made my blood boil with an exceptionally patronising and didactic analysis in which the only 'victims' he mentions are the poor, bankrupt 'porno sinemas,' victims of the ubiquity of net-porn. He goes on to argue that feminists have lost site of their historical continuity by not referencing the Reclaim the Night protests in reference to SlutWalk. He sighs his back-in-the-day sigh, lamenting that Reclaim the Night, seems to have "fallen down the memory hole that everything before the invention of the web appears to have been consigned to".
Not so, Guy. Many women still participate in RTN. Some will be at SlutWalk. Some will choose not to attend for whatever reason they hold. Young women who are not drawn to the format of RTN, might well be drawn to SlutWalk, as new generations come up, protest movements come up with them. We are allowed to have more than one protest.
This seems to be an issue in most critique I have read. That SlutWalk is a protest 'instead of' rather than in 'addition to' others. Writers focus on how SlutWalk is a simplistic conversation about one issue instead of a more complex dialogue about sexism. In my mind these kind of arguments are no more than reinforced dichotomies that seek to group all feminist concerns under one banner and then split the pole-bearers into 'good' and 'bad' or, 'silly' and 'serious'.
This is not limited to feminists. As long as I've been protesting I've been reading articles about how the left is becoming 'silly', about how theatrics and spectacle fail to be meaningful responses to oppression. I find this logic oppressive in itself. Each individual has a right to respond in whatever form they find meaningful and appropriate. If a whole bunch of folk find meaning in one way of responding then you have a movement. The presence of one movement does not nullify other modes of response. In fact movements arise in reaction to others. This is healthy, not divisive. To say 'If you can't speak for everyone, don't speak' is a very dangerous directive, especially in disenfranchised groups where there is a great deal of diversity and a complex array of different issues.
Anyhow, most feminists are having 'serious' conversations about sexism and misogyny. We can't avoid it. We talk to our friends, our lovers, our colleagues, our bosses, our parents, and, when we can be bothered with the headache, we try to talk to misogynist men. We are constantly struggling to illustrate to non-feminists of all genders the different ways that entrenched patriarchal interests affects their lives. Every feminist knows what it's like to have someone she cares about belittle her and scoff, 'that's not a gender issue'.
That's only the out-loud part of the fight, the most painful blows are swung in our own minds as we struggle to untangle the internalized oppression that censors us, makes us fearful or ashamed. The oppression that has an affect on what we eat, how we dress, who we love and everything in between. It is horrible to hear people say that this struggle is not meaningful but 'silly'.
The Crikey post also makes dubious use of Houellebecq to argue that SlutWalk is anti-woman because the way the protesters plan to dress is an attack on older women by younger women. Assuming of course, that when older women look at younger women, especially 'sluts', all they feel is envy over the male gaze, which is obviously completely sexist.
This argument brings us back to young women's clothing as a 'text' which is saying something to someone, and following this, the notion that the onus to not say something objectionable (provoking responses such as envy, hatred and sexual violence) is on the woman.
Does this means you need an advanced degree in semiotics to get dressed in the morning?
In hyper-capitalism, identity is performed and interchangeable. To say that signifiers have been stripped of their real-world referents is to rehash old news. For me, an outfit that may be perceived as 'slutty' is NEVER about letting a man know that I enjoy sex or that I want to have it with him but rather an instance of cos-play, a carefully nuanced collage of influence from the history of cinema, music and fashion.
As humans we can appreciate or not appreciate each others style, but violence and even, in most contexts, ethical condemnations are totally inappropriate responses to an outfit. So inappropriate that they verge on ridiculous highlighting the fact that clothes don't objectify women, other people do. Clothes don't cause rape, rapists do.
I don't feel as though I am denigrating myself with the clothes I wear. I feel creative. I feel attractive in a way that has nothing to do with sex. I want to be able to feel this way without being blamed or shamed.
This is probably one of the big reasons that SlutWalk is so popular, especially with women who would not necessarily attend workshops or conferences. At SlutWalk you will be dressing up with your friends and then rallying in the streets, in high spirits, stepping forward with purpose, impervious to judgement and mistreatment for at least ten minutes - Tally Ho, Sluts!
Will it change the way that men use the word to denigrate women? Probably not. Will it give individual participants a wry smile at the memory of the march when next they have 'slut' thrown at them? Perhaps. Does it mean that victim-blaming is getting the attention it deserves? Fuck yeah!
It's my hope that the dialogue surrounding SlutWalk will be extended beyond the wardrobe, beyond the events themselves, and that we can, with debate, spectacle, protest, writing and mouthing off, bring the issue of tackling misogyny, in all its guises, into the popular media.