Shoot me down in flames if you like, but I don’t like this. And I don’t like the comments in most of the articles about SlutWalk. Of course I agree with the reasons why they’re doing it and I admire them for getting off their arses and challenging terrible police attitudes towards rape and sexual violence experienced by women. But SlutWalk? So many problems.
First off. What’s with the consistent, constant generational divide you so often see in stories like these? “Feminism is the new F-word for many young women, who associate it with dourness, hairy legs and man-hating. Third Wave feminists, like Griffiths, say it’s important to show a sense of humour. If you can approach people with a smile, you can get them to open up more”, says Griffiths”. Yes, I’ve never met a woman over fifty who smiles. Certainly not one with a sense of humour (don’t think the older feminists will get off lightly, I’ll get started on that later). The problem is not that older feminists are ugly, hairy lesbians, but that younger women like Griffiths are unquestioningly perpetuating a (largely) media constructed stereotype. There doesn’t seem to be a questioning of how and why the ‘F-word’ is portrayed as it is. Yes, yes, I know stereotypes have to be based on something, but I bet you wouldn’t believe the myth of the rapacious black man, or the paedophilic gay man, just because some black men rape and some gay men happen to abuse children and the media told you so? Actually, I think that portraying a feminism that has come before as something undesirable, unfashionable and already done with, is part of a more sinister social, cultural and political strategy to undermine an ongoing need for feminism. Oh, look at those hairy old dykes! The Daily Mail cries gleefully, stuck in the Seventies! You pretty young ladies don’t need that sort of thing. Ok, The Daily Fail would be more likely to say ‘unhappy spinsters’, but you get the point. The point is this – we are still fighting for the same things. There is still a gender pay gap. Women are killed on a daily basis by their partners and ex partners. Rape convictions are on the floor. More women live in poverty every day. Women are chronically under-represented in Parliament, in business, in all the male-dominated workplaces they were in the Seventies. Feminism isn’t over and done with – it’s more needed than ever. So yes, we do need exactly that sort of thing, exactly the same as we needed it before. And younger women who dismiss what feminism has been working at for the last forty years play into the hands of those who seek to pretend that it is and always has been irrelevant.
Which leads me on to my second point. Third Wave feminism (as portrayed here) is a fun, ironic, playful, liberated way of doing things. We can protest about rape and rape culture in a happy, fun way, they say. Sure. But where’s the questioning? “Griffiths admits the S-word makes her feel a little squeamish, too. ‘It refers to any sort of female sexuality as dirty and deserving of criticism,’ she says. ‘I don’t think that the word matters too much. It isn’t the word, but the idea behind that word that can be reclaimed”‘. Dude! The problem is precisely the word. Instead of getting onto the streets ‘dressing as sluts’ why aren’t we questioning what it means to dress as a slut? Why is walking around with my arse hanging out and my cleavage on display dressing as slut? It’s because patriarchy is telling us that this is what it means to dress as a slut – we need to unpick all the connotations and start challenging the meanings that have been attached to different types of femininities. We need to refuse labels like ‘slut’ not challenge them within a patriarchal framework that ultimately retains control over what it means to be a woman.
Anyway, as I said, anything that gets women out on the streets to challenge institutionalised sexism can’t ultimately be a bad thing. I just think the notion of SlutWalk is problematic and needs to be questioned…What think you?
This is a guest post by SFN founding member Adele. All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the SFN, its committee or its membership.