10 June 2011


I just succumbed to the temptation to respond to someone who said this:

I do not want anyone to assume this is anything to do with trying to excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

What I want to talk about though is that I think we should be able to acknowledge that people should try to not put themselves in bad positions. Lets be realistic. The world is not a perfect place, in fact very far from it. Should we be working to make it a better place? Absolutely. But in the mean time we also have to live in the world as it is.
What I am saying is that the “slut walk” is absolutely right to be trying to change the culture, but I think it got started for the wrong reasons. I think the police were absolutely right to suggest that people make decisions to improve their own safety in the imperfect terrible world that we have to live in.

Damn. Duty calls. I responded with this:

There's a meaningful distinction between blaming victims and talking about what behavior is wise in an imperfect world. Surely there is stuff that would be wrong to say to someone who had just been victimized that is entirely appropriate to say during a safety training.

Let's look at the incident that sparked the SlutWalk movement. It was a safety training, but it wasn't even an appropriate comment in that venue.

Constable Michael Sanguinetti made the stunning remark during a meeting about safety at Toronto's York University.

While a more senior officer was talking, Mr. Sanguinetti interrupted and reportedly said: ‘You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.’

So what's wrong with this picture?

There's the important context that we live in a culture where there is a lot of victim-blaming going around. So one should step carefully to avoid reïnforcing that pattern. Constable Sanguinetti didn't make any effort at that; in fact, he alluded to having been warned about it and dismissed that warning.

If you look at his comment, he implies that dressing differently is reliable protection against being victimized. He's not talking about improving your odds; he's implying that it's a way to be safe. Which we all know isn't true. You may protest that I'm reading the comment too closely, and that the constable meant to say only that dressing provocatively increases the risk of being raped. If we grant him that meaning — which in his position as an expert offering his expertise he should have made more clearly — then he's still wrong because there is no reliable evidence that how a woman is dressed significantly affects her risk of being raped. (Look it up.) So even if we set aside the cultural politics, this was a very irresponsible statement.

And he didn't say “dressed provocatively,” did he? He said “dressing like sluts.” Sluts. Not a neutral term, a derogatory term for women who are “too willing” to have sex. Using the term “slut” at all is using a slur; using it linked to the threat of sexual violence is even worse.

So no, the police were not absolutely right.

1 comment:

J'Carlin said...

The real thing they should be talking about is body language. As one who walked the streets of NYC at all hours of the day and night, and knew women who did so also, dress was almost irrelevant. This was the miniskirt era and two of the women dressed as provocatively as possible but gave the impression that if you even looked inappropriately you would lose some valuable body parts. Yeah, we all knew the streets you didn't walk on, but we walked everywhere else. Frequently after midnight. I have seen "bad guys" cross the street to avoid one of them.

As a recent Stanford MBA Mag article said women who know when to swagger and when to swish did better than either men or strictly feminine women in the business world. On the streets, swagger.