The desensitization of pejoratives as used in the media is hardly something new. Words like ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ are commonly tossed around as an acceptable way of describing a woman, regardless of whether she is deserving of such titles. The term ‘slut’ is commonly defined as a woman who is promiscuous and overtly sexual. In January last year, a policeman told a group of students in York University, Toronto, during a ‘personal security’ class that they should ‘avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized’. Basically, if a woman falls prey to sexual harassment or rape, well, it was her fault for being such a slut and drawing unnecessary attention to her body in the first place. So now, its definition has loosened even further to encompass women who simply dress ‘sluttily’.
This quickly prompted the ‘Slutwalk’ movement, which consisted of thousands of women from Canada, America, Britain, and even Singapore, standing up, talking charge, and ‘reclaiming the word’ for women. Fed up with the unspoken assumption that it is somehow wrong for a woman to feel free to wear whatever she wants, no matter how short the hemline, Slutwalk saw all kinds of women—those in shirts and jeans, and those in lingerie and heels, marching together while wielding signs that proclaimed ‘It’s my hot body, I do what I want’ and ‘Slut Pride’. The main message of the movement is to rebuke the notion that rape victims are somehow the ones to blame, that rape is an acceptable consequence for possessing the audacity to go out in a short skirt.
The assumptions behind such sentiments are even more disturbing than the sentiment itself. For one, it suggests an inherent moral code that women are somehow obliged to comply with, one that inhibits their dress sense and decorum, and one that seemingly has no male equivalent. Secondly, it also shows how women are even now, measured against men and forced to accede to a decidedly sexist definition of what is right and wrong. In this ladder of morality, a skimpily dressed woman is decidedly the offender against a man who forcibly rapes her.
The ‘Slutwalk’ movement has endured its fair share of both praise and criticism. However, the one thing it has done is sparked public awareness of an issue that has been lying comparatively dormant in recent years— while showing that women still have much to fight for in establishing equality, and that they should be respected in their own right, and not in relation to men. These ‘sluts’ are baring not just skin, but an enthusiastic expression of their identity and sexuality. And that’s something that certainly does not deserve to be inhibited.
- Yi Shu