Grab your fishnets and your megaphones, women of Melbourne, it’s SlutWalk time again!
The march started in Toronto in 2011 after a cop told women we should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” (slow clap, Toronto’s finest), and has since become a bit of a global tradition, and one of the highlights in the feminist social calendar. Each year, all around the world, women march together in clothes that are generally perceived as “slutty”. The message is clear: no matter how a woman might dress or behave, nothing provokes or excuses rape. It’s a bold statement against a culture which puts the onus on women to avoid being assaulted, rather than building a world where men bear the responsibility for their crimes.
Image by Ben Ponton
SlutWalk is well and truly part of inclusive feminism: a broad church where everyone is welcome. Men are invited to participate, waving the banner against rape culture and in support of gender equality, and many SlutWalks — including SlutWalk Melbourne — have men as organisers. But this, I think, is a problem.
Because while they may have the best of intentions, I don’t think the men walking side by side with women are thinking critically about the message it sends.
What point exactly, dude in fishnets, are you trying to make?
It’s Not Called ManSlutWalk
When I got into this argument on Twitter, the guy I was sparring with said he would be walking this Saturday because he wanted to set an example to other men (presumably by turning up and not assaulting/slut-shaming anybody?). This is a reasonable thing to want to do, but in the broader scope of things, I think making that point in this particular setting does more harm than good.
When men participate in SlutWalk, the message shifts from “we can dress how we like and not bring on rape”, to “hey girl, you can dress how you want, and not be blamed for being raped”. I feel this is a distinction Ryan Gosling understands.
Feminism Needs Men Like Men Need Feminism
In a world where men dominate the media, there’s a risk that their voices will overshadow women — even in the domain of feminism. When Emily Maguire interviewed feminist academic Michael Flood, for instance, he told her that gender studies professors tend to be “evaluated by [both male and female] students as less biased and more competent than female professors”.
It’s true that patriarchy damages men as well as women, but let’s get real: it also benefits them. The advancement of women doesn’t mean that there is double the amount of privilege and power going around. Of course power has to be redistributed. Thanks to feminism, Parliament is no longer a boys’ club. Thanks to feminism, a man is no longer entitled to sex with his wife, even if she doesn’t consent to it. Forgive me if I’m a little wary of men getting an equal say in how the New Gender Order is worked out. There’s a role for men in feminism, but that doesn’t mean they should be equal participants.
By welcoming men into SlutWalk, the organisers may be hoping the event will earn some mainstream validity. It’s not enough for men to be observers of women’s advance towards equality – now they have to be participants and decision makers, or the event is labelled “anti-men”.
There’s a pretty obvious problem with that. If men are heavily involved in feminist activities, and go along with whatever the women think is best, then why be involved at all? And if they’re making decisions on an organisational level, what is their qualification? And why isn’t a woman better suited to the job?
Feminism Doesn’t Need Men To Organise It
When a man steps up to organise a feminist event, I can’t help but think he’s completely missed the point.
In a controversial piece called Can Men Be Feminists?, Corinne Grant wrote:
My least favourite feminist dude is the one that genuinely believes his insight into the female experience is the same thing as actually being a woman. The argument goes something like this: “I know women, I have dated women, I have a mother, I have a sister, I know a woman who has been attacked or abused and, because of this, I understand completely the experience of being female. This means I have a right to call myself a feminist and if you want to question one of my essays, blogs or tweets, then that would sadden me greatly. I don’t want to sound patronising, but as you obviously don’t know as many women as I do, and even though you are a woman yourself, your point of view is not as valid as mine.
This becomes more of a problem when men are appointed to organise feminist events. The ability to empathise does not equate to actual qualification, and there’s a real chance that the event’s message will be diluted or co-opted by men who may not know when to step back. We’ve gotten to the point where men in their capacities as activists, writers and academics are helping to define feminism and its future.
Having male organisers has been problematic for the global SlutWalk movement, too. SlutWalk HQ had to apologise after one of the organisers of SlutWalk LA, gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer, was involved in a sex scandal and confessed to having no actual gender studies qualification. This, of course, was an extreme case. But it serves as a reminder for women to be sceptical about men who claim to be feminists.
What’s A Boy To Do (On Saturday)?
Look dudes, it’s real nice that you want to do your bit for the team, but please know that it won’t get you any bonus points. You don’t get a cookie every time you subscribe to the rules of basic human decency (up to and including ‘women are equal, rape is bad’), and if you’re thinking that a SlutWalk Scouts badge looks good on your OkCupid profile, then feminism can do without your pandering, thanks.
Of course, there are also many men who have lived experience of the damage that patriarchy, sexism and violence against women can cause, and we need their voices. But SlutWalk is not the right platform for those men. SlutWalk is about women making themselves visible in a public space, rebelling against a culture that condones rape and polices women’s bodies. For every man that marches with them, women become a little less visible.
At Reclaim The Night marches, men walk behind the women. That’s a good way of showing your support, while acknowledging that to walk side-by-side with women completely contradicts the point.
Feminism doesn’t need the participation of men so much as it needs their cooperation. Sometimes the best way of setting an example and showing support is to shut up and listen to what women have been trying to tell you for centuries.
SlutWalk Melbourne kicks off tomorrow at midday outside the State Library of Victoria.
Eliza Cussen is an emerging creative writer, who earns a crust editing websites for Australian non-profits. Her columns have appeared in The Drum, Ramp Up, The Punch and Mamamia. She blogs sometimes at Fix It, Dear Henry.
Feature image by Chris John Beckett, under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.