About-Face BlogGender InequalityOn The PulseSexualization

Who you callin’ a slut?

By October 28, 2011 4 Comments

A sign at the original SlutWalk in Toronto.

By now, you’ve probably heard that last January, a Toronto police officer told students that that they should avoid dressing like sluts in order to prevent being victimized. (Oh, yes he did.) Since then, “SlutWalks” have taken place in over 80 cities worldwide including New York, Boston, Dallas, Melbourne, and London to publicly protest the notion of victim-blaming (particularly their style of dress) when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Overall I support the message and goal of this new movement (although perhaps not some of the strategies being used. And for more on that, check out this great piece by Leora Tanenbaum, the author of SLUT: Growing Up Female With A Bad Reputation, who told the Huffington Post that reclaiming the word “slut” might not be the best idea.) What baffles me is the tone of the media coverage SlutWalk has received: every single news report I’ve read has highlighted the “scantily-clad” protesters who were “dressed in nothing more than undergarments.” In other words, the reports focus on the most titillating detail (that’s funny, that pun) and play it up as shocking and scandalous.

Of course, these are the same media outlets that publicize ad nauseum the ads, TV shows, videos, etc. that promote and condone undergarments and sexy outfits as appropriate for young girls, teens, and other women.

Thongs and push-up bras for pre-teens? Your messaging is a little mixed...

Our culture unmistakably sexualizes girls from childhood onward with padded push-up bikinis for eight-year-olds and undies decorated with slogans like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink.” And then there are the Toddlers-and-Tiaras girls—children being prepped from the earliest age to seek affirmation and success by adhering to and achieving a specific, narrow definition of beauty. We even give our daughters birthday gift certificates for future plastic surgeries.

When Megan Fox dresses like this, she’s voted Sexiest Woman Alive. But when a woman who looks/dresses like this is raped or sexually assaulted, she’s labeled as “slutty,” “promiscuous.” Yeah. Cause that makes sense.

So we encourage—help! insist!—our girls to dress in an overtly sexual way by celebrating women who do. The sexier, the better. The “hotter” a woman is, the more desirable and worthy she’s deemed. And then, ooops–someone is sexually attacked, and we suddenly start blaming girls for looking exactly how we school them to. We don’t fault the attackers (how could they stand a chance with all these sexy young thangs around?) and we don’t fault the companies who design, manufacture, and market these items and lifestyle to girls and women (hey, they’re just giving us what sells… so we must want it). Instead, we tell our girls to “stop dressing like sluts.”

Well, maybe as we work toward an end of victim-blaming, we could also investigate our own cultural contradictions surrounding provocative, sexualizing clothing—especially when it comes to girls and tweens. Because pointing fingers while wink-winking is getting us nowhere.

Audrey D. Brashich is the author of the teen body image guide All Made Up: A Girls Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty