Stu Bykofsky: More message than skin revealed at SlutWalk

at the Slutwalk on Saturday. Associated Press
at the Slutwalk on Saturday. Associated Press (Elli Rego)
Posted: August 08, 2011

THE UNIVERSE BEGAN with a bang, it is said, no sexual innuendo intended.

SlutWalks began with the casual remark of a misguided Toronto cop who in January told students at a crime-prevention talk, "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized."

Because the overwhelming majority of rape victims were not dressed like sluts, he was wrong and he apologized, but his remark sparked a worldwide anti-rape, don't-blame-the-victim, don't-shame-the-slut movement.

Dictionaries define "slut" as a promiscuous woman, and/or one who is sloppy or untidy. (Up-to-date dictionaries might use a picture of Snooki.)

Why embrace that?

SlutWalk Philadelphia, which attracted more than 500 protesters Saturday - mostly women, mostly in their 20s and 30s, mostly wearing what their mothers would approve - caught fire after a careless column in the little-known Broad Street Review by Philly intellectual/gadfly Dan Rottenberg.

The wrongheaded column managed to blame victims, insinuate that all men are potential rapists and insanely connect the Cairo rape of CBS reporter Lara Logan with a sexy dress she had worn to an awards show in the States three years earlier. His column, for which he abjectly apologized, illustrated his miserable misunderstanding of rape facts.

By coincidence, Dan's daughter Julie was a writer for "Sex and the City," which helped define the sexual mores of a generation. Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte were sexually active, but were they sluts? Did they "ask" to be raped?

"So, what is a slut?" I asked Hannah Altman, 21, organizer of the local SlutWalk.

After a pause, she said, "It depends on the scenario," but agreed it is a slur. So why use it? My answer: To attract attention. Call it an anti-rape march? Zzzzz. Call it SlutWalk? Wooo, wooo.

Jill Maier, director of counseling services for Women Organized Against Rape, applauded shifting blame from the victim to the perpetrator, but told me she feared that "the name is so charged it may distract from the message."

She said 1 out of 4 women is sexually assaulted at some point in life, and 70 percent of adult victims know their attackers. Attire rarely figures into it.

An older woman at the rally, with a guide dog, held a sign that summarized the protest: "I was wearing jeans and it was not my fault." She declined to give me her name or to have her face photographed.

Because some of what I write is sure to be mischaracterized by a few, listen: RAPE IS A CRIME. IT'S NEVER JUSTIFIED BY THE APPAREL OR EVEN THE CONDUCT OF THE VICTIM. That was SlutWalk's basic message, and most men would agree, if they thought about it, and I wish they would.

Repeated at the rally was the idea that rape is all about power and not about sex. That's a political statement, not a logical one. If it were solely about power, women would just be beaten, as male victims are, and not raped. Rape is sexual assault, too. Only those living in silos on Group Think Island can't see that.

Saturday, I saw SlutWalk suffering from SDD - Slut Deficit Disorder, with only a few women dressed like "sluts." Organizer Altman was in a T-shirt and denim shorts, declining to "dress up," as she said, skirting the word "slut."

Maybe 5 percent of the women (and 0.5 percent of the men) were in stereotypical slutwear. Gwen Stahlnecker, 18, and Courtney Wilkinson, 19, wore black bustiers, pink bras, tight shorts and fishnet hose to support the cause.

"When do you wear those outfits in public?" I asked.

"Never," they replied simultaneously. "It doesn't feel safe," Wilkinson said.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko. For a list of ways to reduce your risk of rape, go to: www.woar.org.

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