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Who you callin’ a slut?

Date: October 28, 2011 | Posted By:

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




What Do You Think?

4 Responses to Who you callin’ a slut?

  1. Amy Harman, LMFT on 10-28-2011

    Great article, Audrey! I agree with all your points. The sexualization of young girls is a vicious cycle, and blaming the victim is definitely not ok. And...yeah...I'm not ready to reclaim the word "slut".
  2. Autumn on 10-28-2011

    See, this is actually where I have to question SlutWalk. I had some serious problems with the emphasis on exactly this AT SLUTWALK--emphasis on the clothes, on the bodies, which is where we're trying to turn attention AWAY from. I genuinely don't grasp how dressing in a sexualized manner is meant to get us to see that women's bodies and clothing are not the problem. I'm a proud feminist, and I wear short skirts, and I don't think the victim is ever to blame for assault. Ever. But frankly, I can't blame the media for focusing on that aspect of it. It was far more than a handful of marchers who were dressed that way at SlutWalk NYC--I was surprised, thinking that surely the media reports had exaggerated that aspect of it. They haven't.
  3. Deyan Ranko Brahich on 10-28-2011

    As the father of three daughters, one being the author, I could not agree more. Wish that someone had brought the issue to my attention at a time when it mattered. Get the message out to the fathers out there as well.
  4. Ashley on 10-28-2011

    I agree that there are a lot of contradictions. If I were a little girl and I saw these slut walks saying it's ok to dress scantily clad and women should be able to do so and be free of unwanted negative attention while being slapped on the band for wanting to wear a push up bra or makeup, I would be very confused.

    This is one thing I don't understand about feminism. One side says, "Dress scantily clad if you want and rage against anyone who criticizes you!" The other side thinks those women are only putting themselves on display for being nothing else than sex objects. So which is it???