Wednesday, May 11, 2011

a case of emPHASis on the wrong sylLABle

As a female who is adamant that sexual violence is never the fault of the victim, may I just raise a frustrated eyebrow at the “SlutWalk” movement? (Read about the now “global” effort here) A picture on CNN shows an intense young woman holding a sign that reads “We’re taking SLUT back.” Taking slut back? It is the tendency of abusers and rapists to dehumanize people. This term is just one way of dismissing somebody’s humanity to characterize them as problems. Since when was “slut” ever “our” term?

I realize the controversy stems from an incredibly tactless (witless) officer in Canada whose strategy for preparing women against sexual predators and violence involves telling them to avoid dressing like sluts. Wow. It’s a case of implying the victim somehow had control over the victimizer, instead of the other way around, and simultaneously insulting the victim. I’ve heard versions of this argument since I was a girl. (In some fundie circles, we weren’t allowed to wear sleeveless shirts because this instigated lustful thoughts in the men. Apparently they weren’t aware of the anatomy located just inches from your shoulder, unless you took off your sleeves.)

I think these young girls are trying to make a good point, but I just don’t buy into the method. One interviewee, unnamed, states they are “re-appropriating” the term slut. I agree, girls, it’s been used to wound and hurt people. I don’t think it’s a redeemable term. Its painful and hurtful connotations go too far. Thankfully, we have learned to abandon other words in our cultural and historical word bank that have no redeeming value. Other words that strip away a person’s humanity and dignity, emphasize how someone differs, and perpetuates abuse of power against them. Why are you planting your flag in this one?

Could we not focus on the wrong against women this term causes? Can’t we point out the irony of helping women avoid sexual crimes, while using a pejorative hurtful sexual term? Let’s look for more constructive ways to bring awareness. Let’s start a lexicon of words that emphasize the humanity, worth, value, the dignity of all women (and men) to use in combating sexual crimes and their aftermath. Let's stop using the words that perpetuate abuse and violence just as we are attempting to eradicate physical and sexual violence.

Now, go read this lady. I found her after I'd written all this, and discovered she'd said it more, and she'd said it better. Here's a link to her full blog:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Chesha, for the shout out. This is an important, albeit controversial issue. We are agreed on the essentials. Violence against women - in any form - is unacceptable. The rest is just details