Standing with Sluts

By Hugo Schwyzer

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; Cross-posted with permission.

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12 thoughts on “Standing with Sluts

  1. I was floored by this article.

    It made me realize that this is exactly my thinking: the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Ive always prided myself on being fair minded but this has opened my eyes,
    Its hardly equality if I have such a low opinion of half of the population!
    I don’t know where we get this idea from, and why it is so firmly and regularly reinforced.

    Thank you so much for writing this article, it has definitely made me think about my own views on all variety of people

  2. The really sad thing is the young girls who want to look like Barbie. I know they tend to come from dysfunctional families, have low self esteem, and don’t know any better. Its sad that they have no ambition in life except to be a plaything for a man. Cleavage on young girls is trashy and doesn’t help them, it just exploits them.
    So please make sure you differ between adult women and young girls. Teenagers are not adults and shouldn’t dress like them.

  3. sometimes we arent even trying to “display” anything although i agree withevery point you made in your article. sometimes its literally just hot out. and i dont feel all that sexual wearing a tank top and shorts when its 110 (i live in nebraska not toronto). i feel like a sweaty, unsexual, pig. society has sexualized every part of my body FOR me. i havent chosen that. im just dressing for the weather perhaps, and it all of a sudden because a discussion like the one that you are describing. when in actuality women are policied so much more closely than men, and society demands that their bodies be sexualized when they never asked for it, that they can’t so much as wear comfortable clothing on a warm day.

  4. I agree with you mostly. I’ve always tought that women should have even the possibility to be completely naked in public without being molested. However, I disagree with you about the hiyad (muslim veil). We need to understand that the hiyad in most cases, is part of the Muslim culture. Most Muslim women like to wear it because it is a reminder for them of the spiritual qualities they must focus on, instead of the looks. So, as we defend the right to wear jeans and cleaveages, we should stand up for the right of Muslim women to not “WESTERNIZE” themselves if they don’t want to. What we need to stand up as a society is freedom, but the freedom to or not to do things.

  5. This is incredible! Thank you for vocalizing this logical opinion and deftly pointing out a very big problem with this society.

  6. This is one of the debates that will never seem to end. I really valued hearing a male feminist’s opinion about this, as I had never thought of this issue in quite this way before: “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.” Also, like some of the women said who participated in the Slut Walk — the kind of person that is going to commit rape does not care WHAT you wear or whether it’s a mini skirt vs. an ugly Christmas sweater.

    Still, I have to admit that I was turned off by the name of the walk. I get what they are going for and I can see why they chose it, but on another level, it makes me uncomfortable, possibly because I think the radical name could cause negative reactions from people who don’t already agree with the point they were making — and isn’t that the whole idea, to change peoples’ minds and make them understand? Just food for thought…

  7. Good post. It’s good to hear a male perspective in support of both men and women on this issue.

    What is also upsetting about the police constable’s statement is that it is still based on the thought that rape/victimization is about sex, as opposed to power. I remember when Kobe Bryant was accused of rape – I don’t know whether he was guilty or not – that the reason some people didn’t believe it was because it would be so easy for him to have sex with any number of women so why would he rape someone. He would do it because a woman had said NO to him, something he wasn’t use to or might not have been willing to accept. Again, it’s about power.

  8. I am totally behind the idea of the walk. That officer was way out of line. Women should be able to wear whatever they want and not have to expect a certain kind of reaction. We need to teach men how to respect women, even the ones who dress revealingly. Having that said, unfortunately this kind of thing will backfire as young women are likely to misinterperate this kind of thing as “It’s ok to be a slut.” meaning that it’s ok to go have unsafe sex where and whenever the urge strikes, which is not ok in my book.

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