When women turn out dressed like sluts, slags, jezebels, floozies, hussies, tarts and tramps on the streets of Delhi on June 25 to assert women’s right to dress any way they like without inviting male sexual attention, I will support them. SlutWalking has been gathering strength since it began in January, provoked by a Toronto policeman’s remark that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’.
Incensed, Canadian women put on bustiers, stockings, vampish makeup, heels and garters and went on the first SlutWalk in April to protest against being morally judged by the way they dress. Since then, SlutWalks have taken place in many cities. When Delhi’s turn comes, I’ll be cheering them on because everyone needs a bit of fun, a break from the normal routine, some diversion to liven up their lives.
But let the Indian SlutWalkers dare claim there is anything remotely serious about their caper. In a country where 10 million babies have been killed in the womb because they were girls, where women are burnt for dowry, murdered in honour killings, face domestic violence so frequent it’s as common as a power cut, where Dalit women fear sexual humiliation by upper caste men and where young girls are forced into prostitution, who needs the right to dress like a slut? And while we are listing women’s sorrows, a recent global survey by TrustLaw found India to be the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women.
Such a misguided protest only serves to mock Indian women and the real issues they face. I doubt if the women who roll beedis all day long for R30 are going to shout ‘hurrah’ when they hear about the SlutWalk. Indian women are still denied so many fundamental rights that this preposterous event, performed by women who are aping the antics of white, educated, middle-class females in the West (who appear to be short of genuine problems in their lives), can only be a bagatelle.
In the West, the SlutWalk might just have a modicum of meaning because the feminist movement has notched up victories in many fields. By force of their searing critiques of society, feminists have succeeded in improving women’s lives in great measure. If, at this stage they wish to take on relatively lightweight matters such as the use of ‘slut’, how such words are part of the madonna/whore categorisation of women and how there is no equivalent of ‘slut’ for a man (because he is a stud), there is nothing very discordant about it because of the substantial advances that have been made.
Transpose the same campaign to India, which has not been through the same feminist trajectory, and it jangles because of its irrelevance and discontinuity, a bit like a shipwrecked man, rescued naked and asking for cuff links instead of underpants.
SlutWalkers are wrong to link the way women dress with rape. A Bangalore group called White Noise had an exhibition some years ago of the clothes women had been wearing when they were groped or assaulted. They covered the entire gamut of female attire, including outfits that covered them from neck to feet.
When women are raped during times of war or ethnic cleansing, it is not because of what they were wearing. When a woman in rural India is raped, it’s definitely not because she was sporting a thong. What Indian women need is protection against violence, not a campaign to reclaim the meaning of ‘slut’ and give it a positive connotation. If SlutWalkers think that their effort to reclaim the word slut or slutitude is perhaps akin to the ‘negritude’ movement by intellectuals in French Africa that sought to reclaim the pejorative ‘negre’ as a positive word, they are pretentious in the extreme.
Their strange stance bemuses me. Earlier feminists had railed against popular culture’s reduction of women to body parts — breasts and buttocks. This belittlement of women as nothing more than sexual objects was regarded as one of the most degrading things that patriarchal societies had done to women.
Yet, this new generation of feminists want to dress in clothes that reveal their breasts and buttocks and demand this ‘self-objectification’ as a ‘right’? Again focusing attention onto their bodies? Is this false consciousness gone mad?
Even the basic argument of SlutWalkers that men should not ogle women who are dressed revealingly is ultimately unrealistic. Yes, a woman can control how she projects herself in the world but she needs to be aware that the way she dresses can trigger certain reactions around her which she cannot control.
My non-Indian friends in Delhi dress more conservatively than they would do in London or New York because they are aware of the cultural differences and wish to protect themselves against possible misinterpretation.
SlutWalkers inhabit a fantasy world if they think they can be invulnerable to the force of culture, history and social conditioning — and the fact that most of us take three seconds to form an opinion of someone based on their appearance or accent.
It’s odd that the women who will be participating in SlutWalk have not been out on the streets denouncing female foeticide or dowry deaths. No doubt they will get their regulation 15 minutes but if they believe that Indian women lie awake at night wishing they could dress like a strumpet without attracting a glance, they are delusional.
Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer. The views expressed by the author are personal