Up Front by Emma Hart


Respectably-Dressed Sensible Demure Lady Stroll

Warning: triggering for rape, sexual assault, and massive twatcockery.

Some good news. On the 25th of June, I will be in Wellington, attending a protest. As with all protests, we will be endeavouring not to attract attention, and to only express our views in the most patient, thoughtful and well-mannered way possible. Well alright, not quite. In order to be as inclusive and inoffensive as we possibly could, we'd all stay home and do nothing.

 Sometimes, however, one's patience is simply tested to its limits, and one is tempted to become almost vulgar in one's self-expression. Such a test might arise from a case such as this:

 When a police officer from Toronto went on a routine visit to Osgoode Hall Law School to advise the students on personal safety, little did he know that he would unwittingly inspire a movement that has caught fire across Canada and the US.

"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," Michael Sanguinetti began, blandly enough, as he addressed the 10 students who turned up for the pep talk. Then he said: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

There are some things to note here. Firstly, this was a police officer: a representative of the people you go to when you've been sexually assaulted. The ones whose investigative technique apparently includes the question "What were you wearing?"

 Secondly, he's been told he shouldn't say this. Now he's all embarrassed, but he clearly knew he was doing something wrong. Not why, obviously, or that he was perpetuating a dangerous myth and encouraging a culture that makes victims afraid to report rape. In any case, hardly an innocent mistake, something that just fell out of his mouth when he wasn't thinking.

 These remarks have certainly caused something of a tizzy. In Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand, people are taking to the streets, so cross they're almost snippy, to protest victim blaming.

 Now, it's true, some of them have the temerity to try to reclaim the word "slut". It's an ugly and unlady-like word, and if one woman uses it, even in a positive fashion, it tars us all. I wouldn't understand this, of course. "Slut" was what my girlfriend called me after I was sexually assaulted by five of our friends, and I'm sure she meant it as a compliment. (I was wearing a bat-wing sweatshirt and jeans and I'd had one beer. Does it matter?) And it's not like offensive words can ever be reclaimed, and have their poison drawn.

 It's also problematic that people might be dressed in an unseemly fashion. Because how can you possibly be taken seriously if people can see pieces of your body? Nobody's judging, of course, but everyone knows that women who show breast and thigh tissue are stupid. And here they are, in Brisbane, all dressed like silly tarts, and here again in Melbourne. Look at all the slags. And in Wellington in June, I'm quite sure it'll just be an ocean of exposed flesh and giggling and wobbling about in high heels. Alright, perhaps we'll leave that for Auckland SlutWalk, where it might not be quite so nippy.

 One of the wonderful things about my open support for SlutWalk has been the way it's allowed people to explain to me what rape is like. It's a property crime, apparently, rape. It's just like having your car stolen. You know, the way 80% of car thefts are committed by someone known to the victim, who takes their keys from them by force or coercion. And then when you go to the police, they want to know who you've let drive your car in the past, and what colour it was, and how fast it went, because perhaps it wasn't stolen after all. You're just making that bit up, right, to get attention? And twenty years after the fact, a discussion of car theft can still reduce you to shouty tears. It's just exactly the same.

 For those tempted to protest that remarking on the risk factors of dress, or alcohol, or going out after dark is just common sense, and who can't quite get their heads around the concept of rape culture, an exercise. Try imagining what you might think listening to Sanguinetti's comments if you were a rape victim. Now imagine what you might think if you were a rapist. And you know, if our rapists are people we already know, then they're people you already know. Your co-workers, your acquaintances, your classmates. So why can we only talk about what potential victims can do to make sure someone else gets raped instead of them?

 We SlutWalkers expect these protests to immediately change the world, and bring an end to sexual assault. Of course we do, why else would we be bothering? No social change was ever incremental. And there's no way that making each other feel supported and understood could be an end in itself.

 It's a modest proposal. We're not asking much. An end to victim-blaming, and an end to slut-shaming. If that sounds like something you could get behind, perhaps you might come along. But it's also completely okay if you don't. We'll be too busy drinking and staring at each other's tits to notice.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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