Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: How does dressing like a 'slut' help protect women?

Pioneering feminists have lost their compasses. It is a shameful abdication of the responsibility they took on as torchbearers for women's rights

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Thanks to the Slut Walkers demo, as of Saturday the word "slut" has been baptised, washed of its sluttish meaning by the latest super-cleaner. Now when we tell our daughters not to dress like slappers, they will answer back, eyes flashing with disdain for our hopelessly outdated view of women and men. And rape.

I watched footage of the strutting popsies (some with their trendy mums) and am baffled and unsettled. They seemed to be inviting men to leer, and many obliged. Did they put the fear of Jezebel into rapists? Of course not.

It all began in Toronto after a Canadian policeman said provocatively dressed women risked sexual assault. His words lit the wicks of feminists, so they took to the streets, incandescent and dressed to pull. The franchise is spreading. Since then, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff have come out in support, in their infamous club gear, now suddenly a political strategy. London was the latest UK city to join the excited sisters, who seemed to be behaving as if they were at a fun, pop-up festival. They, will, I'm sure, be very cross with me for not even trying to understand where they are coming from. So let me put their case as fairly as I can.

Protesters in uplifted bras, thongs, Playboy outfits, corsets, red ribbons, with hair looking as if it has been thrashing on pillows all night, and sporting risqué tattoos represent smart insubordination and empowerment. They believe they can disable those bastards who think God or evolution have given them the right to tear into females when and where they choose. Sorry gals, still don't geddit.

The Canadian policeman surely was only saying women need to be sharp and savvy. Rape is a universal evil – and women in burkas with their unambiguous "stay off" sign are still as likely to be victims as the flesh-flashing demonstrators on Saturday. But to objectify yourself indefiance is still objectification. And dis-ingenuous too. We females in free societies use clothes to express moods – playfulness, sexiness, seriousness, power and so on – and then canhardly complain when others interpret these choices differently. Our garments mean what we want them to and also what we don't.

I detest Camille Paglia's perverted attacks on feminism, but on the slut phenomenon, findher persuasive: "Too many over-protectedmiddle-class girls have a dangerously naïve view of the world. They fail to see the animality and primitivism of sex ... Their flesh-baring daily dress is a sex mime to whose arousing signals they seem blind."

Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls and the conscience of modern feminism, is also unconvinced: "[This protest] is still defining women in terms of their sexuality – this idea that what we're saying is that we're proud to be sluts."

Other pioneering feminists, I fear, have lost their compasses and are tripping over their own clumsy justifications for this latest fad. They are like parents who want to be best friends with their teenage kids, to be oh so trendy. It is a shameful abdication of the responsibility they took on when they became torchbearers for women's rights. We are talking here about one of the most heinous of crimes – rape – used as a weapon by Gaddafi, by soldiers in the Congo and everywhere, by civilian blokes in the home and on the streets.

I bet there weren't many women on the march who endure domestic rape or have been trafficked. Dolly, an African cleaner, came up to me in March this year when I was sitting on a park bench and told me one of her employers was forcing her to have sex in exchange for £1 extra per hour and protection from the immigration police. "To him I have no feelings." Dolly told me. "He hurts me because I don't want him. What can I do?" I wonder what Dolly thought of the dollies out on Saturday. And how it felt to the parents of girls who have been groomed and used by gangs.

Internet rape porn now propagates further and faster the old fantasy that a woman always wants painful intercourse, and eventually comes to desire her own violation. A universitylecturer (and lech) once gave me a copy of DH Lawrence's The Woman Who Rode Away, a repulsive fantasy about male domination. It was, he said, the truest account he had read about the confused sexuality of females. I hated him and the book and all those who glorify the abuse of females because it helps them feel good about what they do. This march, I fear, has given the beasts more reason to think that modern women are really asking for it.



I have no idea if there is more rape than in previous ages when it was a completely hidden crime. What I do know is that partly achieved gender parity does not discourage brute force against females (and boys too). Ever more men seem to defile babies and toddlers, their own teenage children and partners, and violate innocent females, the elderly included. In recent years there is more evidence that drunkenness among young women (and their revealing clothes in some cases) make them vulnerable to sexual assault. They often get little sympathy from the juries. That may explain why only a small proportion of them report the attacks, even though the conviction rate is now nearly 60 per cent.

Does it make any sense for us to teach our daughters that they can get pissed and wear whorish garb and still expect to be completely safe? The most brazen woman, once raped, feels waves of shame and guilt and fear. I stress again, this is not about blaming the victim, butreducing the risks.

I once interviewed a pimp in the Midlands. He had done time and was out on licence, trying to go straight. A young girl passed by in a micro skirt, halterneck top and very high heels. He burst out: "See that, walking temptation. She wants it. I used to just get these girls a good deal and look after them." I wanted to kick his teeth in and cover the girl with a protective coat, keep her from the carnivores she was attracting. Slut Walkers don't know the real world and need to before they try to challenge and change it.



y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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