On April 3rd, 2011, the world’s first “Slut Walk” took place on the chilly streets of Toronto, Canada. The official site is here. The march was organized in response to the infuriating remarks of a police constable, who told a safety workshop at a Canadian university that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” (The officer has apologized, but it’s evident that his trogolodytic view of sex and responsibility remains widely held.)
I’ve written many times in support of women’s right to wear what they want in public without fear of harassment or harm. This includes both revealing and concealing clothing; I’ve written in favor of the right to go topless in public and in opposition to bans on headscarves and burqas.
There are so many things that trouble me about the obsession with regulating women’s bodies. But as a man, I am particularly exasperated at the assumption that lies beneath the insistence on modesty: the myth that men cannot control themselves. As feminists often point out, the real “man-haters” are those who promote modest dress for women out of the belief that men lack self-control. There is nothing more contemptuous than the suggestion that those of us with penises and Y chromosomes are prisoners of our biology, liable to rape or commit infidelity at the first sign of cleavage. The myth of male weakness sells us woefully, heartbreakingly short.
I honor SlutWalk for many reasons. But I appreciate one assumption that the organizers made in particular. Though what constitutes “slutty” clothing is obviously open to debate, SlutWalkers believe in men’s capacity to do two things at once: be aroused by what we see while honoring the humanity of the woman whose body attracts our eye. The most pernicious of all lies about men is that because of our make-up, lust and empathy can’t coexist within us. If you want kind and compassionate men who will respect women’s boundaries, the myth suggests, those women will have to conceal the parts of themselves that will turn men bestial and irresponsible.
We present women with a brutal binary: hide your sexuality and be respected; show your sexuality and be slut-shamed, harassed, or worse. But if ever there were a false dichotomy, rooted in ignorance about male identity, male biology, and male potential, this is it. While none of us want to live in a culture where women are compelled to display those parts of themselves they’d like to keep private, none of us should settle for living in a society where women are compelled to conceal those parts of themselves they’d occasionally like to display.
Men rape and harass not because of biological imperative but because of cultural permission. To paraphrase George W. Bush, we treat men with the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Of course, the real price for those low expectations is paid by women, who become responsible for managing and redirecting what we refuse to expect men to manage for themselves.
As a feminist, as a man, and as a father to a daughter, I stand with the “sluts of Toronto” – and with women everywhere who demand the right to be treated with decency regardless of their attire.
Originally posted on HugoSchwyzer.net; Cross-posted with permission.