Proud to be defiant sluts

Israel’s first SlutWalks – marches against male-dominated society’s habit of blaming sexual harassment or even rape on a woman’s appearance – take place next week.

Canadian women did it, American women did it and even Singaporean women did it, and soon Israeli women will too: This month will see SlutWalks (Mitzad Sharmutot in Hebrew ) in Tel Aviv (March 16 ) and Haifa (a week later ), and in April there will also be one in Jerusalem.

The first SlutWalk was around a year ago in Toronto, Canada after a policeman said at a crime prevention safety forum that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

His remarks reflected a very commonly held view that a woman who dresses in what is considered sexy attire is basically asking for rape, or harassment or any other degrading, abusive and criminal treatment. She is the guilty one. It is the very common and so-convenient-for-the-attacker practice of blaming the victim.

Women, fortunately, are no longer willing to accept this attitude. Following the march in Toronto, over the year many other SlutWalks were held all over the world, where some of the participants wore minimal dress. The marchers’ message is clear: We will wear what we please, we do not need to apologize for our sexuality, and it does not matter what you think of what we wear or what you think we mean: When we say no, it means no.

Yaara Lieberman-Kalif, an organizer of the Tel Aviv march, says that in Israel the effort actually started in Jerusalem. “We hope it will be like it was abroad,” she says. “We will not ask anyone to come wearing revealing clothes, because the goal of this march is the opposite of coercion, it is to highlight the option of every woman (and man ) to dress as she wishes, without social criticism.”

The choice of the word “slut,” much like lesbian, homosexual, transgender and bisexual takeover of the derogatory reference “queer,” sparked a heated debate. Lieberman-Kalif explains that “it’s a word [sharmuta] that is deemed shockingly blunt in politically-correct Israeli society, but we all use it. Even if its original Arabic meaning is whore, its Hebrew slang version describes a woman who is sexually open, of course, in the negative sense. And needles to say, there is no masculine equivalent. Our goal is to remove the negative connotation of the word, and present in a positive light feminine sexual openness, which is no less natural and legitimate than masculine sexual openness.”

In the meantime, Internet debates focus on whether this activity will achieve its goal of combating sexual violence, or if many men will simply use the opportunity to come and gape at scantily dressed women.

For the Jerusalem group, the situation is more complicated because, naturally, the issue of the ultra-Orthodox surfaced. Is this march a part of the fight against efforts to remove women from the public sphere (i.e. exclusion )? Unlike those who tried to link these issues, it seems that the organizers want the march to remain faithful to the worldwide SlutWalk movement and its objectives.

Another fascinating discussion appeared on the Facebook page of one of the organizers: A man, who wanted to help in the organization, was welcomed, but very quickly commandeered the discussion, insisted on determining exactly how the march would be run, anointed himself the chief organizer and so on. Given that this is a protest against male violence against women, it is unclear if this is funny or sad.

It was an instructive example of what is referred to as “mansplaining” (a term included in the list of the New York Times’ list of the best new words of 2010 ). Mansplaining is a common activity that every woman is well acquainted with: It refers to a man who explains to a woman, usually at length and patronizingly, how to do something that she already knows how to do, or why she is wrong about something that she is in fact right about, or lectures her about something that she is far more knowledgeable in than he is. The American writer Rebecca Solnit provided a fine example of this in a 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times. The article, entitled, “Men who explain things,” described an incident where a man condescendingly told her about “a very important book” that was recently published. Somehow he managed to not hear the response from Solnit, who repeatedly noted that she herself wrote this book, which it turned out he had not even read, and only read a newspaper review of it.

According to Solnit, this is totally gendered behavior. “Every woman knows what it’s like to be patronized by a guy who won’t let facts get in the way.” An extreme example of mansplaining is, of course, when a man explains to you that a comment you think is sexist is not – which brings us back to that guy, apparently well-intentioned, who was convinced he knew best how to organize the SlutWalk.


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