Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Need for and the Danger of Slutwalk

A few years ago, I overheard a couple of feminist friends talking about surrogacy and the need for a more nuanced debate in India, and how a superficial engagement with the issue, without any deeper understanding, could easily pave the way for even more subjugation of the already marginalized women in third world countries. The issue in question was how some people, even liberated upper class women viewed surrogacy as a mere choice, without contextualizing it in the neo-liberal economy where market forces only exploit and strengthen the already structured inequalities in the system, though on the face of it, choice, liberation, and freedom for all seemed to reign supreme. At that time, thanks to the patience of the two feminist friends, I understood the need to contextualize any struggle, and think before jumping into any bandwagon of any ‘radical’ struggles.
The Slutwalkers of Canada
It is one such context that one needs to place the rather ‘radical and revolutionary’ struggle called the slutwalk. Prima facie, the visceral rejection I feel for the term is because I think the word is akin to Gandhi’s harijan, which completely lacked any empathy for the struggling masses and sought to blunt the politicization of the dalit people, thereby paving way for a long-term subjugation with the ‘happy and proud’ consent of the victims! Secondly, what’s the slutwalk all about? It’s quite simple (rather simplistic!), ‘you have no business to touch me, irrespective of how I am dressed, and even if I am dressed like a slut.’ Fair enough.
The Sex Workers of Kolkata

Then, what is the point in dressing ‘like’ a slut? Let’s just look at India? Who is a slut? How many of us have actually seen sluts? I have interacted with a couple of them from the devadasi community (the community of women segregated by the bloody brahminical caste system to do just sex work for upper caste men), and they were not different from any of the other women. Only that they did sex work for a living, while the rest of us did office work for a living; there was no other difference except for the difference in brutality that the class-conscious patriarchy had dealt with us and ‘them.’ And, today, the women organizing slutwalk, without taking into cognizance the brutality of patriarchy and its oppression on women who were termed sluts, seem to embrace the very word and even want to flaunt it! And, these are women who don’t do sex work for a living, but somehow want to embrace the identity; how convenient is that?
A Sold Cow
For years, people have been fighting tooth and nail to just legalize this damned profession, with no success, and now, people are fighting for a cultural legalization of ‘slutting,’ or at least shall we say a cultural acceptance of being a slut, or may be being dressed like a slut. And, how do they plan to achieve it? By walking in hordes in skimpy clothes, which in their skewed view is of how sex workers are dressed! Wow!
It’s not without reason that one begins to think that a hypocritical society can only produce hypocritical and selfish struggles! The slutwalk India doesn’t come into existence because women in Kashmir were raped by the armed forces or strong women like Thangjam Manorama were brutally assaulted by the Assam Rifles, or not even when women on city roads are habitually sexually assaulted, irrespective of the clothes one wears, but when a Canadian policeman shoots off his mouth! What about the policemen closer home, who constantly taunt, harass, and even murder women? How is that there’s no such outrage? Do these women (the slutwalkers) feel more in solidarity with the western (read white-skinned) women than our own women, who do cringe, cry, and even commit suicide when harassed and termed a slut? Perhaps, there’s a simple solution: women come out and accept the term slut and in fact look at it as a liberating experience to be called a slut and do sex work in a market where the consumers are predominantly men. Is this the limits of one’s imagination or understanding of women liberation? This is perhaps the death of imagination, or a more sinister, neo-liberal-market-economy-dictated imagination!
A 'taken' woman
After moving to Chennai, I have seen some struggles by working class women. Truth be told, as a feminist, it did unsettle me to see women or young girls dressed in the so-called ‘decent’ clothes, in a way that makes women conscious of their bodies all the time. In those struggles, I have seen girls adjusting each others’ dupattas or saree pallus so that nothing ‘untoward’ is visible. Even women who are part of democratic struggles haven’t exactly escaped what for many of us is a flippant issue (shame at one’s own body). This is the place where there is need for, if not a slutwalk but the awareness of the way patriarchy creates shame in a woman for being a woman and the need to break the shackles of modesty that patriarchy ‘clothes’ women with! And we need to not only break the ideas of modesty, but also markers of patriarchy on women, such as the magalsutra (thali), the damned sindoor (vermilion ), the toe rings, etc.

We need to also identify how the market keeps bringing back these as fashion statements and women actually take to these as if these really make them look good! And, again look good for whom? For men! Perhaps, more than slutwalk, what we need are perhaps some lessons from history about how the sindoor came into existence; how sold out cows were marked on their foreheads with the vermilion and today the taken women (married) women have a vermilion marker on their foreheads!
I believe more than a slutwalk, what we need is for women to create a shared space that unites all women who are pummeled every day by patriarchy in a myriad of ways and break the roots of patriarchy and identify its ever changing colors and deal with it. But, can all women across classes and castes be united, without giving up the privileges of class and caste?
If the answer is no, and that the slutwalk is being organized only to represent the aspirations of a certain class of women, then don’t claim to represent ‘all’ women or even the women who do sex work for a living, especially if you do not share their world view even by a decimal point. So much, yes so much work needs to be done before we could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, especially for the Indian woman, and the slutwalk will only lead them into an even more darker tunnel that is conceived by the holy matrimony of patriarchy and the market.

Ps: Image courtesy: 1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbcworldservice/3512785840/in/set-72157617862244116/
 2. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/166482/20110621/slutwalk-capitol-hill-neighborhood-in-seattle-women-in-provocative-outfits-capitol-hill-neighborhood.htm
3. http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=1708019&TPN=9

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