Friday, September 23, 2011

SlutWalking & the new, improved feminism (by Suzie)

Tampa just had its first SlutWalk, and its message is vital: Rape victims should not be blamed because of what they wore, how many partners they've had or any other factor used to define a woman as a slut. But I have qualms about how the message was delivered and received.

"Slut" in a headline and photos of young, attractive women scantily clad will attract attention. I'm guessing more men attend these events than the more traditional Take Back the Night marches and other anti-rape actions that are less sexy fun. When I read the SlutWalk story on the online Tampa Tribune, it was among the most popular, along with two articles about men who killed their wives that week.

People who have no respect for women who wear skimpy clothes and have sex with different partners are unlikely to respect the SlutWalk women. These critics are unlikely to see the irony or the effort to reclaim an epithet. (See the comments on this St. Petersburg Times story.) But I'm hoping they reached others who have never given much thought to victim-blaming, as well as victims who blame themselves.

I heard about the Tampa event on progressive radio station WMNF, when the news director interviewed Charli Solis, the SlutWalk organizer. I was disheartened to hear it being sold as the new, improved feminism.

When the news director was in college in the 1970s, he said, the women he knew "wouldn't have envisioned any of this," and Solis agreed, laughing.

Even some suffragists in the 1870s would have gotten the concept, even if they disagreed with its execution. Prominent ones such as Amelia Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decried clothing that physically harmed women and promoted designs for more comfortable clothes. Suffragists gave up as fashions loosened up a bit, and because they felt the ridicule they received drowned out their message on women's rights.

Suffragist Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president in 1872, was the first woman to do so. She could appreciate a good publicity stunt, and she believed in free love. She wrote that women should have control of their own bodies and not feel coerced to have sex when they weren't interested in it.

In 1970, Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch" became an international bestseller. In 1973, Erica Jong published "Fear of Flying," making popular the idea of the "zipless f*ck." Feminists of that decade also had witnessed the sexual revolution, the Summer of Love, love-ins, and all sorts of protests. Do the young women of today not realize that the young women of the '60s and '70s also got grief for showing too much skin? I was a teen in the '70s, and I clomped around in platform shoes and skirts short enough that boys got a flash of my colorful underwear from time to time.

In the radio interview, Solis said feminism is all about choice. On 1/3/08, Echidne wrote an excellent post on:
... the idea that feminism somehow made all choices any woman made into feminist ones or at least immune from feminist criticism. If a woman chose to stay at home, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to be employed, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to relinquish all her rights and to subject herself to her husband's authority, well, even that was a feminist choice!
Joie wrote in ProcrastinatioNation:
Too often we see discussions of how if feminism is all about choice, then why can’t women choose to wear makeup (full disclosure: I’m wearing make up RIGHT NOW), or choose to stay at home and rely on their husband for full financial support, or choose to diet and lose weight or choose, choose, choose, choose, choose to perform actions that validate the patriarchy.
Angry and militant feminists sometimes give feminism a bad name, Solis said on WMNF.

"You're a feminist in a good way," one of the shock jocks on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show said. "You're not a bitch about it.'' Bubba Clem and his sidekick Spice did the interview, and there's no way that I'm going to listen again in order to figure out which man said what. In case you're not familiar with Clem, here are a few incidents that made the news:

In 2002, he was acquitted of animal cruelty for the on-air castration and slaughter of a wild boar. Last year, he opposed earthquake aid to Haiti, saying, "Haiti ought to tap the hooker market to get things back on track ... Haiti is just in shambles ... they need a cleansing. Maybe half a million Haitians that will end up not being around tomorrow ... it's a cleanse." He later apologized.

In 2006, a young porn model sued, saying Clem coerced her into sex with another woman on his show, and let the act continue, even though she complained the dildo was hurting her. His lawyer argued that the woman knew she was expected to perform sex acts. The suit was later dismissed, but the argument is a familiar one: If a woman consents to sex initially, she has no right to change her mind.

Spice complained to Solis that he had sex with a woman in a club owned by Clem, and the woman accused him of rape. She recanted, he said, adding that false rape accusations are just as bad as rape itself. The guys also griped about women who tease men. They dismissed critics who call them rude and sexist. They said they give money to a local domestic-violence shelter. They donated $500 to SlutWalk, and a caller matched it.

"I think you guys are feminists at heart," Solis said. While one continued to promote SlutWalk, the other yelled out, "No fat chicks." In a post titled "We LOVE Bubba & Spice" on the SlutWalk Tampa blog, Solis says:
... they are a group of men who deserve the utmost respect for their generosity and ability to bring serious issues to the table in a way that makes them fun and titillating.