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Keli Goff

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Dear Feminists, Will You Also Be Marching In N***erwalk? Because I Won't.

Posted: 10/ 3/2011 8:22 pm

The only thing more irritating than people doing absolutely nothing to make the world a better place are those actively trying to make it worse, but coming in a strong third? Those whose well-meaning efforts to make the world better are so misguided that they make things worse by default.

I was reminded of this when I happened upon the SlutWalk protests taking place in New York this past weekend... with my mother. (If you're looking for something super memorable to do with your mom in the Big Apple, Broadway shows have got nothing on watching a bunch of adults parading around in their underwear in broad daylight in the name of allegedly making a serious political statement.)

Now before the SlutWalk army gets their undergarments in a twist and adds me to their enemies list, let me state for the record that we are on the same side when it comes to the issues. But when it comes to execution in addressing said issues? Not so much.

For those who don't know SlutWalk (yes that's the actual name) originated in Toronto when a group of students organized a protest in response to a police constable's comments that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

Months later, the first so-called SlutWalk was held.

As I noted on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show, like every person with a brain and any person with a heart, I find that constable's comments appalling. Just as I found the acquittal (on the most serious charges) of the so-called NYC "rape-cops" appalling. But we've all heard the saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right." Well two stupids don't make a smart, something SlutWalk is a powerful reminder of.

According to CBC News in Canada, the event's website at the time read, "Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of the slut, and in doing so have failed us... Barnett [the organizer of the event] said she wants to use the walk to reclaim the word and also demand that victim-shaming change."

That's certainly a worthy goal. But here's a newsflash for Barnett and the organizers of the other SlutWalk protests which have begun to spread throughout the world: you can't "reclaim" a word defined by a predominant group in power unless you are a part of that group. Just ask all of those people on a mission to "reclaim" the N-word for black Americans or the F-word for gay Americans. (How's that working out by the way? Perhaps we should ask critics of Rick Perry.) As long as heterosexual white males in power (or anyone else) can use a particular word as a pejorative to denigrate a particular group -- and you acknowledge that them doing so will offend you as a member of that group -- then you using it is not "reclaiming" it but simply perpetuating it.

My point? Me walking through the streets of New York with a group of black Americans to protest any of the nonsense that comes out of the mouths of David Duke, Don Imus or the like by proclaiming the protest a "N*****walk" doesn't do anything to make the world better at all -- except for perhaps members of the media, who will get a great story out of it, just as they did this weekend.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with sexually liberated women defining feminism on their own terms. As I have written before, I consider a woman who chooses to make her living shedding her clothes no less of a feminist than myself, as long as like me and every other feminist out there, she supports gender equality. But I do have a problem with SlutWalks. Not because they play into the stereotype of women being "sluts" but because they play into the stereotype of women being intellectually inferior. Fair or not, the images from SlutWalk send the message that when push comes to shove, young women will always fall back on taking off their clothes to get attention, even when it comes to making a serious political statement. The same women who probably ridicule the Kardashian sisters essentially employed the same tactics -- a little T&A -- to get a lot of camera time this weekend. And the sad part is that doing so didn't really make any difference, at least not to victims of assault, but perhaps to members of the media who got a few nice soundbites and some sexy images to broadcast.

Watching the fishnet- and bikini-clad SlutWalk protesters strut around Union Square Park, I did not think of any of the women participating as "sluts" but I did think of them as pretty silly. Because when it's all said and done, "SlutWalk" will make very little difference in the lives of sexual assault survivors and those doing work to make their lives better (some of whom I have written about). Of all the pressing issues facing survivors -- including the need for eradicating the statute of limitations for sex crimes that remain on the books in some states, tackling the DNA backlog that has slowed countless rape prosecutions, increasing funding and training for sexual assault nurse examiners (who can make a huge difference since they are the first line of defense survivors interact with following a crime) -- I have a hard time believing that dressing in underwear while walking down the street is the issue that keeps most of them up at night. Because you know what keeps a lot of them up at night? Actually making sure our criminal justice system works better for them and every other assault survivor, something SlutWalk will have very little impact on. (For the record, I am far from the only feminist critic of SlutWalk.)

If you'd actually like to make a difference in the lives of sexual assault survivors -- a real difference -- that doesn't involve taking off your clothes, feel free to click here.

Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.


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