Women: Should they have autonomy?

[Trigger warning for sexual assault, misogyny, and slut-shaming]

Spoiler alert: I say yes. More to the point, I say we do have autonomy, if only more people would respect it.

Earlier this year, lots of people (including Liss) wrote about a Toronto police officer who, during a rape-prevention presentation helpfully (not-at-all helpfully) suggested that women who don't want to be raped consider not dressing like sluts. That was his word, BTW.

There were a few folks who were pretty indignant about this (including York University, which hosted the gathering in question). As a result, SlutWalk was born:
When we first heard about the Toronto Police officer labeling women and people most at risk of sexual assault as “sluts”, we thought about making noise and demanding for more than an apology. We have a constitutional right to a freedom of expression and a freedom of assembly so we’re using it. Putting that into action, we wanted to go right to Toronto Police Service’s front door at 40 College St. with impassioned numbers uniting against these damaging stereotypes. Thus SlutWalk was born and began with SlutWalk Toronto.
Between the catchy name (I, for one, am a big fan of compound words with multiple capital letters) and the controversial message (people should stop raping other people), the movement really took off. Sluts and their allies have organized SlutWalks all over the place.

Today, the BBC's World Service hosted a discussion of SlutWalk on its World Have You Say programme. Because the BBC is among the world's most trusted news outlets, the online link for the story read: "'SlutWalks'- Do you agree with the Toronto policeman?"

Oh boy.

I listened to the first hour of the program with my Tweeps. As far as I'm concerned, Heather Jarvis (founder of SlutWalk Toronto) is a rock star. As for the bulk of the guests, eeesh.

The Beeb has justed posted the podcast. It'll be available for seven days. I'm afraid that I don't know of a transcript, though. Anyhow, here's a quick summary of what I heard. Feel free to chime in with additions if you heard otherwise.

There was a lot of discussion about reclaiming the word "slut". I guess that's to be expected. :Yawn: I'm sure we can agree that women (like all oppressed groups) are not a monolith, and don't agree upon the value of reclamation language. Some women approve! Some don't! News at 11! 10 Central! (I'm sure we can also all agree not to debate that issue here. Thanks.)

Multiple men called in to debate both how women should dress and how they should behave in public. The assumption there is that women aren't autonomous beings, which is certainly an interesting point to make during a discussion of rape.

The BBC gave Gail Dines (She's got a doctorate. I also have a doctoral degree) a lot of airtime. Not to typecast Dines, but she's a prominent anti-porn feminist. Admittedly, Dines didn't give me much to work with. She went on and on about porn, despite Jarvis' desire to talk about rapists. I'm not sure Dines' argument was merely that porn is part of rape culture-- she actually fell in a big ol' pool of evolutionary psychology (porn arouses men, society is hyper-sexual these days, therefore there's a lot of rape). Sigh.

(I'm sure another thing we can agree on is that rape pre-dates porn, and whatever role porn may or may not play in the modern rape culture, is pretty much irrelevant to a conversation that's supposed to be about a police officer telling women to stop dressing like sluts to avoid being raped.)

Oh! There was also a discussion about whether women should display affection towards each other, because WHAT ABOUT THE MEN? Apparently, the sight of two women hugging hornies up the blood, therefore causing rape. I know, I had trouble wrapping my mind around that argument, too. Also, Dines made it clear that this is not about lesbians, this is about men raping straight women, because that's the problem. Suuuuuuuure. Thankfully, Jarvis chimed in to mention the reality of queer women.

I don't recall a ton of conversation about how slutty, provocatively-dressed women who totally sleep around also do not deserve to be raped. That's really a pity, because as I understand, that's sorta the exact point of SlutWalk. Ooops.

I guess it's nice to know where one stands with respect to the world. Listening to the program, I got the impression that most (all? hopefully all?) participants in the debate agreed that rape was wrong. However, a dismal percentage of folks actually felt the need to vocalize that sentiment. As far as respecting women's autonomy, everything short of raping women appeared to be up for debate.

Sure, it was energizing to follow along with like-minded folks on the Twittosphere (Can that please be a word now?), but I found it downright scary to climb out of my comfortable spot on the Internet to listen to the world writ-large (at least the portion thereof that listens to the World Service) debate women's place therein. I mean, I deal with this shit every day I decide to leave the house, but there's something exceedingly different about engaging in an actual debate about my autonomy. To steal from one of my twitter contacts, hearing this debate really demonstrated why feminist activism (like SlutWalk) is vital in the first place.

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