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

Comments

Sri said…
Good one Hannah! I completely agree with your idea of working towards 'real issues' that concern women from different walks of life irrespective of cast/creed/class!!! At least if each one of us do the small bit which we can in whatever ways /means that would be a start rather than these so-called demonstration for all!
Deepa said…
Sharp and well-expressed!

//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? //
Absolutely. I felt the same about who held the pink-chaddi campaign too.

//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.// yes, its outrageous.

Do write more often, Hannah! It sure is inspiring.
Anonymous said…
I understand the idea of ‘reclaiming’ a term but somehow it’s not coming through via the Slutwalks. This is just an urban phenomenon catering to the consciousness of women who love (probably) Sex in the City and expensive shoes. It’s like someone grafted a western woman’s mind onto an Indian woman’s body, therefore this grotesque Frankenstein doesn’t function normally.
~M
Janaiah said…
I think Hannah is true about multiple identities that women have in terms of class, caste, culture, etc, in today's world. Nevertheless, we should also learn to appreciate the commonalities that a woman carries across class, caste, culture, etc. In this process, even the upper and middle class women movements are progressive because the rapes that are commited in Delhi are with out any class consciousness. The radical femisnists seems to forget the genesis of feminist movement. I completely agree with Hannah that there are other serious issues facing by the Dalit and other havenots. Well, there is always debate whether the change should be reformist or revolutionary. But the strugges that people carry out yields marginal profits in the long run. But we should not stop with these trickedled down benefits. Let's support the "Slut Walk" as I feel it is progressive with its own limitations.
Saravana Raja said…
like to know your take on this article - http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne020711PROSCONS.asp

I think 'Slut Walk' can appeal to those affordable classes who think their outfit is their identity. I don't think the rural girls who wear their brother or father's shirts will find the 'besharmi morcha' to be serving any purpose.
Ta'fxkz said…
Pink Chadi and Slut Walk are (IMO) responses of the urban women.

A good friend of mine was molested and beaten by a politician's relative because she and a few other girls were stepping out of a popular pub at closing time. She is still fighting out that incident in court. She was active through the Pink Chadi campaign and also went to every cop station with a list of basics on how to respond when a woman reports an act of violent crime.

I think there is a cultural and social significance to her actions, maybe i am wrong.
Deepan Kannan said…
Well said!!! What do these women know about the struggles and lives of sex workers? These same women who are going on a slutwalk, would they care to treat a sex worker with the due respect she deserves? Would they even try and understand the kind of abuse and stuggles she has to go through!
And oh yeah! The vermilion. I simply cannot understand these women. Who are these women? These are the same women, who would graciously accept the thali, with their heads bent down on the day of marriage ceremony. These are the same women who would happily flaunt vermilion to the entire world as a sign of their "happy marriage union"! These upper class I-am-looking-for-my-prince-charming women will never get all these right!
Happy heart said…
@ all thanks, for your comments. Would like to know what your friends and family think of this.

@ Saravana Raja
As for the article by Nisha Susan, here are my thoughts:
She's just trying desperately to cover the political vacuousness of the slutwalk with a fig leaf, but is failing badly. She is only talking for a certain class, except that she isn't even honest about it. And, she completely ignores the background of the slutwalk, how and why it began in Canada, and if it can be replicated here, with a mere translation of the word! Try as hard as she does, she's unable to make the connection between the varying shades of sexual harassment that women in India across classes, and then she uses one brush stroke to make it into urban vs. rural women! What she conveniently ignores is hundreds of girls from impoverished backgrounds in the city are sexually harassed much more than a woman in a bar; moreover a landlord's daughter in the village may not really be harassed in the way a landless laborer's daughter be. So, if they (slutwalkers) themselves analyzed the idea in the Indian context, they would see not only the vacuousness of the slutwalk, but also stakes the market has in such a walk, which is perhaps just waiting for women to shed more and more clothes, so that women bodies can be more 'legitimately' objectified. The stakes of the market is obvious with the kind of media attention this particular walk has invited.
Saravana Raja said…
Agreed.Except that Nisha Susan says 'The organisers are only asking the women to wear what they wear everyday'. I think almost everyone misunderstood the dress code.
Happy heart said…
I don't think I have an issue with the dress code, but with the casual usage of the term 'slut.' And, wearing everyday clothes and to be part of a slut walk? what's the point of it then...or i mean, it's no more a slutwalk, right? That way, they are neither with the white-skinned people they so want to ally with.
Katie said…
I do agree with what you said but why denigrate the term 'slut' in the first place. If we as women don't rid of the shame attached to it (which is also how the patriachs view it) then how can we ever identify ourselves with the women who are forced into slut-hood.

Like you said, as we work in a office for living, so do they as a sex worker. I mean you wouldn't be ashamed if you were called a corporate executive officer then why slut?
//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!//
Perhaps that is why the commonly used term for a daughter in law, is Maatu-Ponnu among the Tamil Brahmins.

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