I wanted to love SlutWalks, the viral protest movement that began this spring after a Toronto police officer told a group of college women that if they hoped to escape sexual assault, they should avoid dressing like “sluts.” In angry response, young women (and men) have marched in more than 70 cities around the world, often dressed in bras, halter tops and garter belts.
But at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.
This fall will mark the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress about the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Clarence Thomas. Though Hill offered only her own narrative about the behavior she witnessed, her story helped other women build a vocabulary and learn to talk about unjust sexual-power dynamics. Thanks in part to her, we were, by now, supposed to be braver and more skilled at calling out injustice, at exposing or reversing sexual-power imbalances. But 20 summers later, we’re marching in hot pants.