Mainly, people have a problem with the word ‘slut’. Why are women calling themselves sluts, it seems. Because:
1. That is the term the cop in Canada used. The implication being if you are a slut, you are open to rape. And ironically, that is the mindset most people seem to have despite their many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ (for eg. Rape is bad BUT women should dress properly, no?). So the title of the protest is meant to draw attention to that very mindset, and to show solidarity with the original protest in Canada. Is that so hard to grasp?
2. To spell it out further, by calling their protest Slutwalk and dressing as scantily (or not) as they please, the message is this: even if I am skimpily dressed, even if I have many sexual partners, even if I sell my body for money, YOU have NO right to touch me except with my permission or to harass me. It really is that simple. Note that for the India Slutwalk women were encouraged to wear whatever they usually wear. Because in India, just by virtue of being a woman you are in many men’s eyes a slut and therefore up for grabs. What you wear doesn’t really matter as the legions of us who have been molested in salwar kameezes will testify.
Now let’s get on to this ‘responsibility’ debate, the source of the many ‘buts’ of the women-shouldn’t-be-raped-but variety.
The disturbing analogy Seema Goswami used (not even original in fact) is of an unlocked house getting robbed. Apart from the horrifying fact that she is comparing women, as Chandni points out, human beings, to a thing that can be locked up and stored safely somewhere, she is also just wrong legally and morally. It is not the responsibility of homeowners to lock their houses. It is the responsibility of other people not to encroach on property that is not theirs. If they do, they, the encroachers, will be punished.
The problem with people like Seema is a failure of the imagination. They cannot imagine a world in which people and their property could be safe just like that, without lockdown. Where perpetrators are held responsible for their crimes. But believe me, such places exist where women can dress how they want and walk around at any time unafraid and where houses can remain unlocked. When you live there, you taste freedom. And that is what we should aim for as a society, not make excuses for the perpetrators of crimes.
Even if by wearing skimpy clothes, women are calling attention to themselves, this is no reason for anyone to take that as an invitation to grab, no matter how lustful their nature might be. Should all bakeries in India go into lockdown because we have a nation of starving people? Should all advertising be banned because shops invite you to buy but do not give away the advertised ware for free?
A couple of the other criticisms of Slutwalk as suggested in this article in HT are:
1. There are far more pressing concerns for women in India. Yes, yes, there are always more pressing concerns. Though I think the right to be safe in the streets is pretty basic no? And would benefit all women, regardless of class etc. After all, what it is seeking is a change in the mindset across the board. Even so, this delaying tactic will always be conveniently deployed. During the Independence struggle, women were told yes, yes, let us get independence first and then we will see about your rights. Luckily the women stood up and said “no can do, we want our rights now thank you very much” and that’s how we got the right to vote from the very beginning. Dalit women are often told let the class war happen first and then we’ll see to your rights. Well, you know what, the class war may never happen so how about making some changes in your society here and now. So while it is quite obvious that women have a multitude of problems in India, being unsafe and then being blamed for causing a crime is a fairly serious problem. Changing the mindset that underpins this problem will solve a lot of other problems. Even if it was just a small problem, applicable to only a minority of women, it still bears redressal. This argument is like telling me, the road in front of your house is broken up but go fix the other thousand roads that are messed up first. This article on the Saudi women’s right to drive is one more example of how sometimes one needs to tackle the small things first. Though, in the case of Slutwalk, I do not believe safety is a small thing.
3. Women are objectifying themselves by dressing as sluts. First of all, the women in India were asked to dress any way they chose. Most of these commentators don’t seem to have read the memo properly, so scared off were they by the word slut.
“Earlier feminists had railed against popular culture’s reduction of women to body parts — breasts and buttocks. This belittlement of women as nothing more than sexual objects was regarded as one of the most degrading things that patriarchal societies had done to women. Yet, this new generation of feminists want to dress in clothes that reveal their breasts and buttocks and demand this ‘self-objectification’ as a ‘right’? Again focusing attention onto their bodies? Is this false consciousness gone mad?” says Amrit Dhillon in his very confusing piece in HT which he seems to imply that the organizers of Slutwalk are the ones equating how we dress with the right to rape.
First, feminism has developed. We now believe in the right of women to wear what they please without fear – be it a bikini or a burkha. I don’t see why showing a breast or buttock should result in objectification. It is still a person walking around attached to that breast and buttock no? The problem is with the seer who can only see a breast or buttock. And if these people persist in seeing women as objects, that is entirely their problem. It only becomes my problem when they touch me. And in certain societies this seems to happen no matter how women are dressed.