The symbolism of a “slutwalk” is clear: No means no

The current issue of Nation has an opinion piece by Salamishah Tillet that discusses a term of which I was only vaguely aware before: the slutwalk.

A slutwalk is an anti-rape march and street protest.  As I understand it, the women marching in a slutwalk dress in a provocative and revealing manner that shows plenty of skin and/or adorn themselves with the kind of cosmetics or hair styles often associated with women presumed to have a lot of sexual partners.

According to Tillet, the first slutwalk occurred last April in Toronto after a Toronto police officer told a group of students in a public safety class that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Tillet reports that there have now been more than 70 slutwalks all over the world, including in Chicago, Berlin, Cape Town, New Delhi and Mexico City.  New York City is holding one tomorrow, October 1.

I personally don’t care for women who don the attire and cosmetics associated with slutwalks.  No woman with whom I have ever been involved or in whom I have ever had a romantic interest has ever dressed in the slutwalk manner.  When women at my company have occasionally dressed that way, I have asked other female employees to speak with them about what constitutes a business-like appearance and why.

But I think the slutwalk is a wonderful statement of the simple fact that “no means no.” 

As we know from the news and entertainment media, defense attorneys in rape trials often accuse the rape victim of “having asked for it” by the way she dressed or presented herself or tries to establish that the woman had engaged in intimate relationships with many men, or several men in the hours preceding the rape.  I have never understood either line or reasoning:

  • So what if a woman is dressing in a sexually arousing way?  We don’t excuse a murderer because the deceased pissed him/her off by their actions.  And we don’t excuse a thief because he is poor or has lost a lot of money gambling or in the stock market.  Civilized humans are supposed to be able to curb their instincts when to act upon them would be against the law or inappropriate for the situation.  This ability to discipline one’s self is part of the essence of our humanity. Many philosophers through the ages would say it’s the primary factor that distinguishes us from other animals.

  • Why is it that a man who sleeps with a lot of women is called a stud, which has a positive connotation (unless he is married and prominent, in which case he is a “sex addict who needs treatment”), but a woman who sleeps with a lot of men is called a slut, which has a negative connotation? The stud-slut dichotomy was and is a major tenet of sexism and all right-thinking people should reject this double standard. Treat the goose and gander the same way.

Let me use the rhetorical technique called reductio ad absurdum—taking something to its most absurd conclusion—to make my point.  Let’s say a woman of her own free will and not under the influence of foreign substances has decided to have sex with 8 men in a row, with the other males watching while she is engaged with each man, what is crudely called a “gang bang” or “pulling the chain.”  She has completed her business with 7 of the men and the 8th is about to take his turn. If she says “no” and he continues, it’s rape. Period. End of story.  That police departments, prosecutors, judges and juries don’t always see it that way is a continuing travesty of justice and makes a mockery of our concepts of freedom and free will.

I salute the women marching against rape in tomorrow’s slutwalk in New York and in all the slutwalks that have taken place or will take place.  These women are not saying that women should dress or act provocatively.  They’re saying that “no” means “no,” no matter what.  They’re saying that rape is not about anything other than violently forcing a woman to engage unwillingly in a sexual act. 

“No” means “no.”

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