Friday, 17 June 2011

Support the Slutwalk

Health permitting, this Saturday I will be speaking at the 'Slutwalk' in Birmingham city centre.

I will be taking part for one simple reason; there is no place in a civilised society for sexism and violence against women.

And it is simply unacceptable to blame women for male violence against us, irrespective of what we wear or how we act.

The view that women can be at least partly to blame for being raped is widespread.

According to an Amnesty International survey, about 1/3 of people think women are partly to blame for being raped if they were under the influence of alcohol, had been flirting, or were dressed 'provocatively' at the time of the incident.

The consequence of these kinds of views is that they help create a culture which helps legitimises physical and sexual assault against women.

And the statistics are shocking. Globally, 'up to 6 out of every 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime'.

In the UK an estimated 3 million women experience violence every year, and many have to live every day with the legacy of violence from their past.

I think an initiative that captures the imagination of new generations who want to tackle sexism and violence against women, and that gains the attention of the world’s media, is a good thing. But the tactic, and even the name ‘Slutwalk’, is controversial.

The word ‘slut’ has been used to shame women, and some feminists are uncomfortable at any attempt to use this kind of language, even in a good cause. Others are concerned that any positive message will be lost if there is just an attempt to be ‘shocking’.

Women face a constant battle against sexual exploitation. Images are promoted through advertising and popular culture which narrows our value to sexual attractiveness to men. Sadly, this increasingly sexualised image of women is often ‘sold’ as a sign of empowerment.

The results are clear in the heartbreakingly low self esteem of such a large proportion of young women; in the increased cases of anorexia; and in the worthlessness that older women are made to feel as their sexual appeal declines.

Music videos have become raunchy to the extent of blurring with soft porn (even the live performances of Rihanna and Christina Aguilera on the X Factor family show attracted thousands of complaints).

Such images are (rightly) criticised for encouraging the sexualising of children, as well as promoting the view that a woman is deemed successful if she is scantily dressed and gyrating around a (fully clothed) male.

Newspapers, magazines, advertising boards, films, generate huge revenues based on the exploitation of the basic premise that women can display their attractiveness by wearing fewer clothes.

But the point of Slutwalk is not that all women should be scantily dressed at all times in public. It is that however they are dressed, and even if they are scantily dressed, they do NOT deserve to be raped! It's a pretty basic point which should not even be contentious!

The excuse of 'I could not help violently raping a woman because I was provoked and overcome by desire by the wanton display of her body' is simply unacceptable.

The irony is that Muslim women are coming under increasing attack for apparently wearing too many clothes. The heated debates and hostility around the face veil which a tiny minority wear is shocking.

Again you are perfectly entitled to disagree with their choice, or indeed question whether some had a choice - but to attack them for doing so or blame them when they are attacked is completely wrong. Personally I do not wear a mini skirt or burqa in public - but I vigorously defend the right of women to do so without fear of attack.

It is sad to think that in the twenty first century such a basic point needs to be made. But I shall be making it on the streets of Birmingham and encourage others to do so when I join Slutwalk at 1.45pm in Victoria Square.

Whether it's a little or a lot - no woman should be shamed, blamed or maimed for the clothes she wears!