There were 2 events in London on June 11th 2011 which in different ways made some comment on the subject of how to dress in public, or not as the case may be. Having spent most of the day watching many people in various levels of undress, I came away not entirely sure what the real point was.
The first demonstration was the “Slut walk” which is one of many around the world. This was in response to a an ill-judged comment by a Canadian police officer who said ” women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victmised”. There have been a number of worthy articles about women reclaiming the right to be a “slut” and arguing a point from a historical derivation of the word – this is fatuous. This is similar to arguing for the right of men to reclaim being called “gay” – meaning “happy” and “jolly”, not its current 2011 usage. This may have some linguistic, and academic, validity but is just being deliberately obtuse. I doubt that most sensible women would welcome being referred to as a slut.
So, not wishing to disappear into an intellectual debate on the word it is a matter of opinion as to what constitutes slutty dress-wear. One persons slut, is another persons, unique dress sense – but there will be commonly understood boundaries, and context plays a big part. A simple example of the importance of context would be that a bikini, is perfectly acceptable wear on the beach, but would be considered unusual on the high street…albeit still not slutty. Slutty, is a difficult term – I sense the intent was about being overly provocative, in a sexual way with little indication of self-respect.
The majority of the banners on the march were around the premise that, regardless of what a woman wears there is never a justification for rape. Apart from men who are rapists, then everyone would agree with this – I didn’t sense much of a debate. So, I’m not quite sure who they were trying to address – they were “preaching to the converted”. Most demonstrations tend to have some level of debate or controversy surrounding them, which prompts many sides to the discussion, with the intent of getting something changed. That was not the case here – so its not entirely clear what the objective was.
There is an underlying concern I have which is the suggestion that somehow it is being addressed at the wider male population. This is where the debate becomes very difficult. There were some signs that stated that “I dress for me, not for you” – implying that dress is merely personal and there should be no expectation that a third party has a right to react to how anyone is dressed – this is naive.
There is the full range of people from those who dress purely functionally for carryng out the day’s tasks, through those who are trying to be noticed, to attract a partner, to those who are being provocative ( not necessarily sexually) or trying to make a statement – who specifically want a reaction. The scale is very subjective, but it would be disingenous of people who, in the eyes of the mainstream, are in the zone of trying to capture attention, and who maintain that they are dressing purely functionally. This is where some of the debate stems from. This is still not a rationale for rape, in the slightest – but would be the subject of a separate debate on why the individual is attracting unexpected attention.
It is a fact of life that we are sexual beings, we are not just some higher animals, who operate solely on some meta-intellectual level where sex is part of a separate domain. This is a culturally suppressed condition. For the majority of people, the thought of sex, being sexually attractive, looking for sex, underpins a large part of what we do. Clothing is a big part, in modern society, of defining what is sexually attractive and stimulating and there is almost no end to the range of fetishisms, or styles that represent a stimulus. In this situation then, how people dress is part of the message that they are trying to send to the rest of the population on how sexually attractive they wish to be – that applies to all of us, not just women. That does not justify a crime, but it does mean that the amount of attention that someone gets is a function of how they are dressed and for most people, being found to be attractive is a positive event, not a negative one. This becomes an issue if the environment in which this happens is intimidating – in which case the individual does have a part to play in being aware of the circumstances, and taking precautions – that’s just common sense.
I do feel that on this subject there is never an open debate because men are afraid of being branded as potential rapists by women who feel that they have a right to occupy a sexually inert bubble. This is just not the real world. We all have to recongnise that our actions ( verbal and non-verbal body language) do impact on other people – that’s human psychology; a general expectation that this can be switched on and off, at someone elses will, is misguided.
The later event on the 11th which was a naked bike ride through central London had no discernible point other than to demonstrate that it could be done ( although it is an annual event in many countries). It seemed to be largely a fun day out, and confused and surprised the tourists, and brought out a number of “fair weather” photographers. A good proportion were completely naked although a number covered their “modesty” in a variety of different ways.
What the event did reinforce was that being completely naked in public, albeit out of context, is not particularly sexually attractive or offensive, and whilst in some ways could be considered to be the most provocative of undress choices, is actually, completely the opposite….there is no tease, nothing left to the imagination!
In summary, whilst nothing justifies rape, we all have to take accountability for ourselves and how we dress is part of this. We all have a right to dress in a way which may be considered by some to be sexually provocative, but then we all have to accept that this may arouse some attention, in some circles – what is appropriate in any given circumstance is down to a lot of common sense, and good judgement on behalf of the individual – and we all have to be adult and accept our responsibilities in that respect.