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  (Curtis Lantinga)

 

(Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Embrace your inner slut? Um, maybe not Add to ...

I almost feel sorry for that Toronto cop who ventured on to the campus of York University to impart a few tips on personal safety. "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this," he told a handful of students last January. "However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

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You can imagine the outcry that ensued. Before you could blurt out the words "fishnets and bustiers," an empowering new movement called SlutWalk had been born. Thousands of women marched through the streets of downtown Toronto to protest a blame-the-victim attitude that trivializes rape. "This thinking is unfortunately everywhere," complained Heather Jarvis, a co-founder of SlutWalk." We wanted to take back the word and sling it right back," said co-founder Sonya Barnett.

Thanks to social media, SlutWalks are spreading far and wide. One was held in Boston on the weekend, and more are coming in England and Australia. "We live in a society where rape isn't taken as seriously as it should be," said Katt Schott-Mancini, an organizer of the Boston SlutWalk. The walks are drawing major media coverage, because news directors think their audiences will be stirred by images of valiant feminists reclaiming their power and their agency. Either that, or by images of nubile young women in thigh-high cutoffs and tube tops. You really have to wonder who's using whom.

SlutWalks are what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do. In fact, they're flogging a dead mare. The attitude that rape victims bring it on themselves has largely (though not entirely) disappeared from mainstream society. When a Manitoba judge recently blamed the victim in a rape case for leading her attacker on, he was universally ridiculed. Everybody was amazed that any judge today would be so ignorant. It's the same with the police. They're not perfect, but they take sexual assaults far more seriously than they did in 1972. As for cases of domestic violence, laying charges is no longer optional. It's mandatory.

The highly educated young women who join SlutWalks are among the safest and most secure in the world. But you'd never know it from the fevered rhetoric. According to one widely cited scare statistic cooked up by the American Association of University Women, no fewer than 62 per cent of female students say they've been sexually harassed at university - a figure that is credible only if you include every incident of being groped by some 20-year-old drunk. The student activists at York continuously insist that their own campus is a hotbed of violence and sexual assault, for which the university administration is to blame. The only remedy is mandatory anti-oppression training for all. (In fact, Toronto's crime rate, and also York's, is among the lowest in the country.)

So, is violence against women a non-problem? Absolutely not. It is a very large problem in a number of Canada's South Asian communities, including some not far from York University. Some of York's first-generation immigrant students are no doubt safer on campus than they are in their own homes. And the pervasiveness of violence against women across the North, and in certain aboriginal communities, shocks the conscience.

These women will not be helped by slogans and SlutWalks. What they really need is the dedicated efforts of people like Jenniferjit Sidhu, a young Toronto police officer who goes on domestic violence calls in South Asian neighbourhoods. "I'm a Sikh Punjabi female, so they may be able to relate to me a little bit better," she says.

There's no shortage of other causes for feminists to take up. There's the juggernaut of ultra-hard-core online porn, which has coarsened the attitudes of millions of young men and made relations between the sexes far more problematic for many young women. Or how about the sickening slut-ification of preadolescent girls? Maybe we should get more outraged about that. Anything would be a big improvement over the narcissistic self-indulgence of the SlutWalkers. I guess they mean well. But really, they're so … privileged.

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