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June 6 2011

Jessica Valenti: Next Thing You Know, She'll Burn Her Bra

Charlotte Hays

Feministing founder Jessica Valenti's piece in the Washington Post yesterday shows why many people no longer take feminism seriously. Headlined "Slutwalks and the Future of Feminism," the piece heaps praise on a group called...Slutwalks:

It's a controversial name, which is in part why the organizers picked it. It's also why many of the SlutWalk protesters are wearing so little (though some are sweatpants-clad, too). Thousands of women - and men - are demonstrating to fight the idea that what women wear, what they drink or how they behave can make them a target for rape. SlutWalks started with a local march organized by five women in Toronto and have gone viral, with events planned in more than 75 cities in countries from the United States and Canada to Sweden and South Africa. In just a few months, SlutWalks have become the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years.

In a feminist movement that is often fighting simply to hold ground, SlutWalks stand out as a reminder of feminism's more grass-roots past and point to what the future could look like.

I love Valenti's admission that Slutwalks is "a controversial name!" 

Valenti recalls that Slutwalk protests began after a policeman told students at York University in Toronto that if they wanted to prevent rape they should avoid dressing like "sluts." We do not condone what the policeman said. Whether the speaker is a cop or talk host, we believe that people who speak of women in this derogatory fashion deserve censure. We have no problem with demanding discipline for the policeman. What we don't like is the further cheapening of discourse and antics that make women look dumb.

Valenti just doesn't get it, however:

When I speak on college campuses, students will often say they don't believe that a woman's attire makes it justifiable for someone to rape her, but - and there almost always is a "but" - shouldn't women know better than to dress in a suggestive way?

What I try to explain to those students is part of what the SlutWalk protests are aiming to relay on a grander scale. That yes, some women dress in short, tight, "suggestive" clothing - maybe because it's hot outside, maybe because it's the style du jour or maybe just because they think they look sexy. And there's nothing wrong with that. Women deserve to be safe from violent assault, no matter what they wear. And the sad fact is, a miniskirt is no more likely to provoke a rapist than a potato sack is to deter one.

As one Toronto SlutWalk sign put it: "Don't tell us how to dress. Tell men not to rape." It's this - the proactive, fed-upness of SlutWalks - that makes me so hopeful for the future.

Nineteen year-old Miranda Mammen, who participated in SlutWalk at Stanford University, says the idea of "sluttiness" resonates with younger women in part because they are more likely than their older counterparts to be called sluts. "It's also loud, angry, sexy in a way that going to a community activist meeting often isn't," she says....

 [T]he success of SlutWalks does herald a new day in feminist organizing. One when women's anger begins online but takes to the street, when a local step makes global waves and when one feminist action can spark debate, controversy and activism that will have lasting effects on the movement.

Valenti has a kind of generalized anger that doesn't reflect the status of women in society. She also seems to be looking backwards towards those halcyon days of 1960s-style protests. Ms. Valenti, that's the past, not the future.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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