Monday, May 23, 2011

Toronto's "Slut Walk"

Have you read the news story about this? Briefly, as a result of public reaction to a comment by a member of the Toronto police, organizers staged a demonstration at a local park which culminated with a march to the Toronto Police Headquarters on April 3. Here is the remark that set off all the furor:

In January, Toronto Police Const. Michael Sanguinetti told a personal security class at York University that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Sanguinetti apoligized for this comments, but his apology failed to satisfy walk organizer Sonya Barnett. "It was evident that if you're going to have a representative of the police force come out and say that then that kind of idea must be still running rampant within the force itself and that retraining really needs to happen to change that mentality," she said. A statement on the event's website says: "Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of the slut, and in doing so have failed us."

Well!

I would like to know the context in which the remark was made, but no one is reporting that. Was he talking about walking alone at night? Going out to bars? Was it a general comment about personal actions? I may be a little old fashioned about this, but I think understanding what the constable meant involves analyzing his remark with respect to what other comments framed the statement. Let's hear the whole paragraph, so to speak, not the sound bite. It also becomes relevant to know to whom he was speaking. Consider the audience and context of the remark.

Don't get me wrong. This is NOT "blame the victim". Rape is about power, and far too many rapes happen. If your attacker breaks in your house, if someone grabs you while you're on your way home, if someone whom you trusted turns on you, what could you have done to prevent that?

But let's talk about other situations. Imagine that you're out clubbing and drinking with your girlfriends, or meeting someone on a blind date. Personal safety experts give all sorts of advice to young women in those situations. Don't let your drink out of your sight, for fear that it will be spiked. Don't go into a secluded area with a stranger. Go out in pairs and keep together for safety. Meet strangers at a location away from your home. All good ideas. But consider this scenario:

You're set up on a blind date with a friend of a friend. "You'll like him," you're told. For safety's sake, you make arrangements to meet at a local watering hole, where you're a regular. You dress what you consider attractively for the occasion, to make a good impression. Maybe for you that means a shorter skirt than usual, or a lower neckline, or tighter clothes, or (God forbid), low rise pants that let a bit of your undies peak out the top. I'm thinking about the clothes store next to my hairdresser's shop which has window displays for what they call "clubwear". Let's just say that this isn't what you wear to work!

You walk through the door and he sees you for the first time. He doesn't know a thing about you at this point, only what his eyes tell him. And depending on what he sees, what he may be thinking, if he's a certain sort of person, is "Jackpot!" A few drinks later, you're both somewhat impaired in the thinking process, and he starts to wonder if his first impression is going to pay off. This could get ugly.

Rewind that and redress yourself in a little more conservative, more modest attire. You don't have to look like Marion the Librarian, for goodness sake, just don't put everything right out there. If you say "But no one will pay any attention to me!" I have to ask if people attracted to that sort of display are who you really want to meet. (Old fogey alert! But I AM an old fogey, so I get to say what I please.) Was this what the policeman was talking about? We don't know because we aren't told.

There were picket signs on the march which proclaimed "My short skirt has nothing to do with you". I always hope that people aren't that ingenuous, but I'm always disappointed. Here's a news flash: everything we do, say or wear affects how we are perceived by others. Do you want to control the message, or have the message control you?

PS: I expect rabid comments to this post. So be it.

4 comments:

The Calico Cat said...

thinking...
I don't think that I am hypersensitive or an old fogey, but I do question the language of a person that represents the police department in this case.

"Dress like a slut" - for some people that is anything less than a burka... It is widely open to interpretation. I've seen people in "work" environments dressed like they are ready to hit the clubs while others are one step removed from the pool/beach!

Especially in the secular world, dress codes vary too much for that kind of statement to come out of a police officer addressing a personal security class.

joe tulips said...

I agree with you.

Elaine Adair said...

While I DO disagree with what he said, I DO wonder what some of these girls are saying about themselves when their clothing garb is just advertizing sex, and not advertizing a nicely-dressed woman. Maybe they don't realize it?

desertskyquilts said...

I agree I'd like the whole context to know what the entire story was. It was an unfortunate choice of words, for sure, but I have also often wondered about the way some women, and even girls, go out in public. I'm not saying it's their fault if they are molested, because that's entirely, completely, totally on the head of the criminal. I am saying we should not bait the tiger. It isn't about women's rights, it's about women's safety.