Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Semantically speaking, the word 'slut' doesn't mean: 'I enjoy my body and sexuality; I enjoy dressing how I want to dress; I am the embodiment of Girl Power, or its Noughties equivalent'. It means, and has come to mean, a woman who sleeps with a lot of men for payment. I see the word as synonymous with whore, in terms of the profession, not the insult. Therefore, I think 'SlutWalk' is erroneously named. It should rather be called, 'Empowered Women's Walk', 'Sexually Confident Women's Walk', 'The Stride of a Woman Who Does Not Want to Elicit Remarks or Unwelcome Attention from the Opposite Sex Based on What She is Wearing'.

In fairness, that last one doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

But what I dislike about the movement, apart from being precious about linguistics, is that it's a case of Us against Them. Women against Men. Because it is entirely sensible to equate the few chauvinistic men who are actually derogatory about a woman's body, with the men who don't give two ticks.

There can't be anyone who disagrees with the basic sentiment behind the movement. No one can admit to thinking, If you dress provocatively, you deserve to get raped. That is the extreme notion that the SlutWalks are responding to. But that's almost ludicrous - it's more the grey-areas around that idea that are being explored. It's the receiving attention from a builder, from a white-van man; a wolf-whistle, a catcall. Note: just because there's a repetition of animal imagery in the names for these things, doesn't mean that we are being reduced to animals.

Obviously, there are different degrees of it. Once, I was running along the main road in the sun (never again). I was hot, sweaty, wearing a strap-top and itty-bitty shorts. I got a whistle and a honk from a car full of guys. When that happens, I just sort of roll my eyes and smile: who cares? 50 metres on, they've forgotten you. In a horribly patronising way, I think, Well, at least I've entertained them for, oh, the space of about 10 seconds. Poor  boys, they're so overwhelmed by the sight of me. Men are very simple, really, aren't they? (...And other condescending sentences).
However, on that same run, a van went past, slowing as it neared; the window rolled down and the guy inside said the most disgusting comment: something along the lines of, 'Yeah, I want to stick my cock down your throat! You'd fucking love that, wouldn't you? Or my big cock up your ass or in your wet pussy!' Typing that now makes me feel sick. And I felt objectified (I hate to use the word 'objectified': it holds such connotations of what I like to term 'big muff feminism'. And it shouldn't). I stopped in my tracks, and the van pulled away and sped up. I burst into tears, and walked home. So clearly, the difference lies in the severity of the comment. A catcall? Doesn't mean a thing. Prolonged attention? Annoying, but you can just ignore it. A deliberately foul-mouthed, perverse comment designed to provoke? That's different altogether, and that is what I personally would protest against. I was hurt, and outraged, and appalled, that these men thought they had the right to talk to me like that. As though I was something that could be commented on, without thought for my feelings. One of my personal problems - and it's slightly embarrassing sending this out into the cybersphere - is that I have been naturally endowed, and so that gets me unsolicited attention. I'm used to it. It doesn't matter. Most of the time it's harmless. But when I get comments like that, presumably because I have breasts 'like a pornstar', end quote, (but all real, baby), I realise that what I hate most is the feeling of powerlessness. If I am wearing a short skirt on a summer's day, and I get a whistle from a group of guys riding past or whatever, I can think, yeah, I instigated that because I chose to wear this, knowing that I look good (or at least, feel good in it). If I'm covered up, or if I'm not seeking attention (i.e. I'm on a run, my face is bright red and my hair is greasy 'cos I've been saving it up for a shower after the run) and I get it anyway, then there's a sense of powerlessness, because I didn't want that attention. When I'm on a run, I'm concentrating on my time, on my breathing, and god damn it, I am wearing the most supportive boulder-holder Bravissimo has to offer. I don't want attention from anyone.

Back to the SlutWalks. Marching through Newcastle in your bra and pants doesn't really make a protest. All it does is make you so cold you have nipples that could cut glass. Their message that women should be able to wear what they want without getting any attention is a bit unreasonable. If you're on a night out and you're wearing a bodycon dress and your boobs are out and your legs are out then who can blame the poor boys who can't help staring? It's hard for them, really it is (no pun intended). They're designed to love half-naked women, and you've just got to be sensible. Don't wear very little and then get on your feminist high-horse when some silly tosser makes a remark. If someone is downright rude or plain disgusting, that's when you are allowed (in my opinion) to get angry.

Personally, what I find frustrating is when it's hot outside (living in Britain, I am rarely placed in this terribly awkward situation) and for the sake of comfort, one wears a strap top and skirt, and you get a revolting comment. My response is to feel, What can I do? I can't help how I look and it's hot. I refuse to cover up in this heat simply to avoid idiotic remarks. Again, it's that sense of helplessness. I'm not ashamed of my body, because I work for it (although, admittedly, the whole breast thing is due more to divine intervention), so why should I cover it as though I were? But I am not dressed up for you, I am not seeking your approval, so please don't assume that simply because I am female, that gives you the right to comment on my body.

What's more, attitudes about this are different in different countries. Are there SlutWalks in Europe, in Asia? Or is this, as I suspect, an Anglo-American phenomenon?

We all know I'm a self-confessed Francophile, in all of the cliched wine-drinking, Sartre-expounding, little-boulangerie-in-Montmartre-you-won't-have-heard-of-darling, ways. But the reason I love the Continent?* It makes me feel good about myself. There. I've finally admitted it! The sole reason I love Paris. In Paris, men come up to you and talk to you. There's something flirtatious about it. They are actually trying to charm you into bed with them. The fact is, they know that they have the advantage of being French - of being tanned, rolling their 'r's, living in a romantic capital and being able to say, 'Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?' with the correct pronunciation. But if you tell them to leave you alone, they will. Guys have come up to me, talked to me, flirted with me for a bit, but when I've said something along the lines of, 'Okay, but go away now', they do. You don't get whistles or catcalls in Paris. If a man fancies you, he'll come up and talk to you. There's something unashamed, unabashed about the way French/Spanish/Italian men treat women on the street (maybe not French/Spanish/Italian women, probably only shy English tourist girls who are bowled over and flattered by the attention - and, oh, how cunning! of course, the men know this). A sly honk from a car full of lads on an English road has something a bit pathetic, embarrassed and pervy about it. I want to say, If you are actually interested in me, come up and talk to me. European men I have spoken to at least attempt it. Even if their mind is only on the prize, at least they're willing to endure the awkward small talk beforehand, to work for it a bit. It's brave of them. Especially because I titter, 'Oh, you're so sweet! ......but no.' (Does it ever work for them? Do they actually expect English girls to wilt and flail and blush and swoon into the nearest hotel with them?)

The important thing is not to equate a lewd comment with rape. They should not even come into the same sentence. Verbal interference is so far removed from physical interference. Touching is never, NEVER allowed. And I don't know one decent guy who actually thinks that it is. Luckily, I've rarely been prey to this.This is what strikes me the most about the SlutWalks: the aura of over-reaction that is so often associated with the feminist movement. Of course there was going to be, and quite rightly so, an outcry over that policeman who said that a woman should expect to get raped if she wears provocative clothing. But rape is a very, very different ballgame from a middle-aged scaffolder whistling at someone because he's bored and he's been on the same scaffold for three hours. The SlutWalks do not make a difference to anything, and I fail to see their aim exactly. To publicise a message of 'Rape is never acceptable' seems to be stating the obvious. And if they are preaching against catcalls and casual comments received on the street, who are they preaching to exactly? The men who would potentially be the ones making those comments? It all seems to me to be making a big fuss for the sake of media attention. Simply put, they want to be on TV. Making noises because they can, because they like the sound of their own loudspeaker.

*Tongue-in-cheek, right? Paris definitely has loads of art galleries and pretty buildings and bookstores and... stuff. And it's the most beautiful city on earth, yah?


  1. This discussion fascinated me. and I intend to pass on that a car full of guys in england cat calling is a little pervy. and Cowardly. great post. insightful, interesting and awesome. (also come on skype so I can sing Happy birthday to you)

  2. Excellent post! I would go a stage further and disagree with the walk itself, but yeah the terminology used is an insult to the real feminists out there.