On Vogue & Slut Walks

I wrote the following as a comment on Racheal McCaig’s  Cocktails & Curtain Calls blog (great discussion there) in response to this, roughly-paraphrased, question:  Can we, on the one hand, be outraged by pictures of a 10-year-old girl being sexualized in Vogue Magazine and, on the other hand, not be upset when 16-year-old girls participate in a “Slut Walk?”

Part of parenting is teaching ‘children’ what is, and what is not, appropriate behaviour at different stages of development.

The advertiser/magazine in question is using the allure and promise of sex with a child to sell a product.

That child did not get out of her clothes and onto the pages of a magazine without her parents’ consent and help. I would be surprised if she hadn’t been encouraged by her parents. This is much like the toddlers and tiaras nonsense–dangerous because it tells girls that their self-worth is rightly measured in the way they present their bodies, how much they primp in front of a mirror, what clothes they wear…

Being ‘marketed’ by their parents, whether as pre-pubescent ‘cuties’ or as nascent ‘Lolitas,’ undermines girls’ abilities to establish an autonomous and grounded sense of their worth–and their own values–as persons, as females, and as sexual beings.

So long as we continue to condone the commoditization of children, we will continue to condemn them to self-blame when they are, finally, ‘sexually’ assaulted, and to ease them into the lie that sexual assault is about sex–that men cannot control their sexual urges and that women exist to ‘service’ them–willingly or no.

Sexual assault is about establishing power over, and victimizing, another human being in a manner that entirely strips the one attacked of dignity and, for an interminably long time, of a sense of security of person.

The sad fact is that a certain percentage of our daughters will become prey.

Although females are subject to attack at any age, from infancy to seniority, there is a world of difference between the child of 10 and the adolescent of 16.  A difference in what they can understand, a difference in our ability to control their choices.

As a society and as parents, we need to stop selling our girls to the highest bidder–whether the recompense is dollars in our pockets or simply the ego boost of ‘owning’ the prettiest one.

We need to stop selling our girls’ lives short by clothing them in dangerously antiquated mores.

And we need to broaden our conception of appropriate adolescent behaviour.

Allow a 16-year-old to participate in the slut walk? I say, encourage her to walk! And walk with her.

Personal power, female power, sexual power– these are all political.

The sooner we help our girls empower themselves–in the incarnations they choose–the sooner will a generation of girls grow into women who know who they are and to whom they owe service: themselves.

~Lady Di

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. Eeeek! We’re in a real fuzzy area here for me. First, you’re dead on about the 10 year old girls parents. They are exploiting their daughter. My daughter asked me tonight if I would let her model. I told her never. That I couldn’t allow her to work in a industry that values her looks more than her heart or her head. I told her they would be missing the best part of her. This made her smile and I hope, made her think. When we talk about the slut walk, I get uneasy. Would I march with my daughter in a Take Back the Night walk, yes, would I tart myself and her up and partake in a slut walk. Probably not. I see what you’re saying Diane, personally though, I couldn’t do it. It’s not because I think any girl deserves to be raped because of what they wear, but at the same time, I do think, what you wear gives a impression. I don’t want to stifle my future 16 year olds sexuality, but I want it to be what they want it to be. The media (print, web, music) seems to mandate that being sexual means dressing scantily and that you have very little brains. We need only look at the legion of women being held up as today’s sex kittens, Kardashians, Hiltons, teen moms, Real Housewives. All sexuality, no substance. I’ve probably got off on a tangent here….but you know I do that 😉 Great blog. You always make me think.

    • Hi Candace.

      It’s taken me a couple of days to respond to your comment. I hope you don’t think me a laggard, but I wanted to seriously consider the concerns you expressed.

      I understand your concerns about the impressions we can give the world by our fashion behaviour. But I think that’s part of the larger life lesson that if we don’t adhere to certain societal constraints, we won’t be respected, or taken seriously, or given the job, or asked back to a dinner party…

      My exhortation that parents encourage their teen-aged daughters to participate in a Slut Walk – and even accompany them – was not an effort to persuade mothers and daughters to tart themselves up, or to dress in any way that isn’t right for them. The Chicago Slut Walk says this about the dress code: “Come cloaked in as much or as little garb as you’d like. You are welcome to dress up, but SlutWalk is welcoming and enthusiastic about attendees in all states of (un)dress. Dress comfortably enough to walk…. this is a march, after all.”

      Though you and I may not be similarly disposed to the idea of participating in a Slut Walk with our teen-aged daughters, Candace, we both belong to a vast community of parents who want the world to see beyond the external beauty of our children and get to know the beauty of their souls and their minds.

      For me, part of the beauty of my daughters’ inner selves is their confidence in the decisions they make, and their knowledge of when they are, and are not, in the wrong.

      As a 14-year-old in Nova Scotia, I rode a bus to school. Every morning, when I boarded, a group of three boys would watch me, and every morning the same question rang out, just loudly enough for me to hear it: “Would you fark her?”

      That assault was only verbal, but I can’t tell you the shame I felt every day on that long ride in – not to mention the trepidation with which I waited for that bus every morning.

      In my 14-year-old world, wrestling with issues of identity, wanting boys to like me and notice me, the subtle messages of commoditization were confusing and inhibiting. When those boys said what they did every morning, I knew it was about sex. But I also knew it wasn’t. This was an attack. I felt it. But I had no mechanism to understand it, to express it and, certainly, no one to express it to.

      Long before I even understood the importance of my sexuality, it was being already being perverted by misunderstandings of what sex is and what it is not, of what I was responsible for – and what I could be blamed for.

      When, finally, I was sexually assaulted on the campus of Ottawa U at 19, the first thing I did when I got back home was look in the mirror. I peered at myself, in jeans, desert boots, and a pale blue long-sleeved cotton shirt, open a few inches from the neck, to see if I had been showing too much skin. For months, not only did my heart pound when I heard footsteps behind me, but I dressed cautiously, lest it happen again.

      I wish someone had talked to me about my power as a female when I was young. I wish there had been a Slut Walk so that I could have known I was not alone, that I was not responsible.

      However we do it, whether by capitalizing on Slut Walks to initiate conversations (as Jessica suggests in the comment below) or by discussing court rulings we read about in the press, two things are, I think, very important.

      The first is that, before they become victims, we must get our children the message that they are not responsible for sexual violence done to them.

      And the second, my friend, is that we not allow our differences of opinion about how to empower our daughters divide and, consequently, disempower us.

      If you’re interested; “Why we need slut walks”

  2. I agree with you 100% Diane. To me, the point of the Slut Walk is not to say “I can dress in scanty clothes and not have anything bad happen”… It’s to say “I can dress in any way I want and I *shouldn’t* have anything bad happen”… It isn’t a requirement to dress scantily to walk in it and I think it provides an ideal opportunity for parents to talk to their children and explain to them the purpose of the walk and what is behind it. Unfortunately the reality is that sometimes there are repercussions to our actions and that includes our wardrobe choices. Should it be that way? NO! But until we can change everyone’s thought process to get rid of the defense that is “She dressed for it,” education about smart choices and caution is the way to go with our daughters. In my opinion, Slut Walk provides an ideal opportunity to open the doors for that discussion.

    • Hi, Jessica.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. I especially appreciated your comment about using the Slut Walks as a jumping off point for conversation.

      We have a long way to go to change the way victims are perceived and treated. But some of that, I think, has to happen within the community of women at large. Divisions exist here which lead us away from the issue in question.

      An article in Rabble characterizes the term Slut Walk as problematic because it fails to contextualize the victimization of women in a larger feminist discourse and address the underlying “power dynamic” of sexual assault.

      Here’s my take on that: The argument to contextualize this protest in the greater issue of marginalized women undermines the impetus of the first Slut Walk and the many which have followed.

      Additionally, it marginalizes male victims. Somehow we downplay the assault of teen-aged boys. I can only imagine that this comes from misdirection from the noun, ‘assault’, to the adjective ‘sexual’. All males want sex, don’t they?

      A woman quoted in that same article said she would rather it had been called a “rape-walk.”

      I can’t agree. Reframing the idea of Slut Walk as “rape walk” would be a step backward, I think, to a mindset that pits victim against victim in a bid for community support and legal justice (you were only fondled, but she was penetrated).

      I also think it would obscure the purpose of the marches – to refocus responsibility away from victims and onto perpetrators.

      Are people in your circle talking about these issues?

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