Tuesday, October 04, 2011

SlutWalking in Morningside Heights

I'm a mom; that's the first fact I'd like to disclose. My daughter is a recent college grad and I have two sons, one an adult, the other a high school junior. The matter I raise in this post is one we have often talked about amongst ourselves. Amazingly, it is something we all seem to agree on.

I'm also a grown-up who loves parties, is comfortable going to bars, singing karaoke and wearing miniskirts though my fashion sensibility precludes tight clothing or excessive cleavage.

To my taste, such attire is tacky or, in the parlance of my mom's generation, cheap.

When I feel buff enough to carry off the look, I've even been known to wear bikinis, though of the early sixties, wholesome American kids at a beach party variety, with a bottom never ending more than a couple of inches below my navel.

Thong? No thongs.

A product of the freewheeling seventies who hates the fetishism inherent in the concept of female virtue and virginity, who treasures the exclusivity of a committed relationship but also believes that, in the absence of such a bond, sex can be recreational or deep and meaningful, I am continually appalled by the depersonalized sexuality of the hook-up generation, the randomness of romantic alliances, the consumerist activity of accumulating sex partners, the culture of drunken make-out sessions that often culminate in one or both people sleeping with someone they would ordinarily shun if sober, the "evolved" contention that making something that used to be called love is no big deal, an activity on par with, say, toothbrushing or going to the gym.

Hand-in-hand with reports from the friends-with-benefits front come the nightly sightings of young women dressed like what my Grandma Dorothy used to term "floozies." As I live across the street from the Columbia University campus, where I was a graduate student last year, I need only look out my living room window to catch sight of college girls looking tacky, cheap and worse.

By worse I mean embodiments of male pornographic fantasies, strutting capitulations to XXX-video jackets, sex kittens come to life, eager participants in the objectification of themselves, that is to say, all women.

Which brings me to the word "slut" and to this past weekend's SlutWalk, which was an anti-rape demonstration where women were encouraged to wear skimpy clothes and march to promote the idea that no matter how slutty she dresses, a woman does not deserve to be raped.

Naturally this is true.

Naturally it is also true that men as well as women are raped. Grandmothers and nuns are raped. Little girls and boys are raped. People are raped regardless of their sexual aura or age or attire.

Rape is an act of violence where sex is the weapon.

Naturally, none of the young women parading through Morningside Heights or anywhere deserve to be raped or so much as touched without their consent.

As the protestors said, slutty attire is not an invitation.

Except when it sometimes is an invitation, that is, at the behest of the young woman.

The problem, for me at least, is that the new slutty sartorial sensibility coexists with slutty sexual mores...on the part of men as well as women, then again, men have always been sluttier than women.

Let's just put that on the table.

And while its unconscionable to blame the victim of a crime I would like to ask the uncomfortable, possibly unPC question: why do young women increasingly feel compelled to dress like sluts?

Of course, I am going out on a shaky limb by posing this question, aware of the subjectivity of the concept of skimpy attire, fully cognizant of the fact that in some part of the world, the sight of a woman's face is considered a provocation. I've gotten into arguments with HOBB over my own attire; accused of dressing immodestly. He's usually right. I am dressing inappropriately, my secret rebellion for being forced to attend a religious event outside of my belief system and comfort zone.

Yes, what one terms scandalous attire may in fact be relative but within a given culture, there are agreed-upon norms or at least parameters. I would venture to say that everyone reading this post has a concept of what constitutes slutty attire.

Sometimes even by the woman so dressed. In the coverage I read of the SlutWalk, young women spoke of the empowerment of dressing sluttishly.

So here's where I'm lost. I fail to see the empowerment inherent in looking like a pole dancer in public unless empowerment is code for extended adolescent rebelliousness against some amorphous parental figure. Or the government. Or God. Or the patriarchy. Or capitalism. Or Wall Street...though I believe that demonstration is still ongoing.

This fun-loving, sometimes hard-drinking, karaoke-singing, mini-skirted feminist mom would like to sit down with some of the young women -- younger than my daughter -- who parade past my apartment on their own SlutWalks in an effort to understand why we see things so differently, why the clothing they see as their ticket to liberation is, for me, the 21st century's version of the apron, the corset, the child-sized shoe that binds, constricts, hobbles and disfigures.

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