It started in the USA and Canada after a Toronto policeman said if women want to avoid being raped or victimised, they should not dress like sluts. The reaction was instead of telling women how to dress, the police should tell men not to rape. Now the movement has come to Europe. Thousands of "sluts" took to the streets in London on Saturday.
Over 5,000 women took to the streets in London on Saturday in the latest Slutwalk, a movement which defends a woman's right to dress as she pleases without the insinuation that if someone says something or gropes her, "she was asking for it".
The notion that a woman should not dress in a certain way to avoid being raped or victimised is as absurd as it is insulting, the result of hundreds of years of macho culture and male supremacy, running along the same lines as "women are too emotionally unbalanced to form an opinion and vote" and in some countries, for instance post-Saddam Iraq, a man has the right to beat his wife "if she misbehaves".
A sluttish man?
The word "slut" seems to have had several meanings and interpretations over time. Its etymology comes from the Germanic Schlutt (slovenly woman), Swedish slata (idle woman). It was originally taken to mean lazy or of careless or uncared-for appearance. Hard pieces in bread arising from sloppy kneading were called "slut's pennies" in the 18th century. However, it was not restricted to women. In the 14th century, Chaucer uses the word sluttish to describe an untidy or unkempt man. Samuel Pepys (17th century) uses the word to describe a happy, bold girl: "Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily. [Pepys, diary, Feb. 21, 1664] ".
Therefore the origins of the word "slut", a bold character and an uncared-for appearance lent its use more generally to the type of behaviour one might expect from a prostitute (dressing provocatively, acting boldly and "having loose morals").
However, a prostitute has a name and a prostitute is a human being, with rights. She cries, she laughs, she loves her children and if the female prostitute exists, then she exists because there is a male client. There is no chicken without the egg. However, there is a difference between a prostitute (who might or might not be performing her job willingly), who might or might not decide to dress in a provocative way, and a woman or girl who chooses to make the most of her body by using clothes which show it off, rather like the perfect seasoning on a nice meal.
It says a lot about our societies if a woman cannot dress the way she pleases without intruding eyes ogling and prying, intrusive body language (a hard and aggressive gaze following her as she walks past) or worse, a disgusting and offensive comment (Cor! Look at those boobs! Hey! I could plug THAT! ) And if she turned round and gave him a slap on the face, not just a tap, but one of those that sent him sprawling on his backside in the mud?
To insinuate that a woman is "asking for it" if she dresses in a certain way is an admission that males are collectively a bunch of savages, are born stupid and get worse with every passing day, or are totally uncivilised and culturally inept. There is a difference between a lewd and coarse remark and a knowing smile with a polite nod of the head showing appreciation and recognition of the effort made to be presentable and let's be honest, pretty.
How different societies behave
Different societies deal with this issue in different ways. In the Iberian Peninsula, the "piropo" or "cantada" or "remark from a male to an attractive female" can be coarse (1. "Great legs, what time do they open?") to neutral (2. "What's the quickest way to your heart?") to an art form (3. "Wow! I didn't know mermaids could walk!"). The first might provoke a grimace, the second a smile and the third a grin. They might also provoke the replies: (1) "Someone's got four balls hanging down, trouble is only two of them are his"; (2) "Plastic surgery, a new brain and three years in the gymnasium"; (3) "And I didn't know apes could talk".
Further south and east, in the Moslem world, there are varying degrees of covering the female body up, based on hundreds of years of tradition. I remember an argument I had with an Afghan woman in which I said how terrible the burqah was and she attacked me for imposing my culture on hers and how dare I say whether she should wish to reveal herself only to her husband or not. And she was absolutely right.
Then we come to France where wearing the veil is forbidden, well, sort of...not near Mosques and not on religious days. The further we get into it, the more complex it becomes. If you can't wear the veil, then what about the cross? Do we adopt the adage from Ortega y Gasset "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia" (I am what I am and what surrounds me) or do we accept the globalization of values in an already globalized world? In which case, whose and over whom?
Quite how Mankind imposed himself over Womankind is perhaps the subject matter of many doctoral theses to come in the areas of marketing, semiotics, political science and the psychology of the masses. Interesting it is to leaf through the pages of prehistory, where we find that at the time of Matriarchal societies, the Moon (feminine in most languages) was the Goddess (female), imposing her colour (white) on life and death. White was worn to funerals, white effigies were buried with the dead. The doctor of the tribe was the woman, the medicine woman, who had the power to cure snake bites (again, feminine in most languages), hence the stick and snake used as the symbol of pharmacy today.
Then there came a time when Patriarchal societies supplanted these. The Moon gave way to the Sun (masculine), male witch doctors replaced the females and black replaced white as the colour not of life, but of death. Black became evil (the bullfight, Man over Beast, Good over Evil).
And ever since then the main religions have done what they could to relegate the role of the female to childbirth and to perpetuate and eternalise the gender roles of thousands of years ago. Today, the woman's place is not in the kitchen, it is in the boardroom. Get used to it.
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