Dear Given Breath

Since your comment thread seems to be disabled, I shall add my response to your post here, contributing my small part to the din of Internet Rage.

Mrs. Hall,
I’m sure your heart is in the right place, right now, you are NOT teaching your boys to respect girls. What you are teaching them is that, if they find a girl sexy, it is shameful, she’s not a “woman of character”, and most importantly, that THEIR inappropriate thoughts are HER fault.
For centuries, girls have been told how to behave, how to dress, how to present themselves, and how to think, by society. Not by “men”, but by society- a society that older, established women like yourself are a part of. But this is the key point that I think you’re missing:
Girls must have the right to present themselves however they like, and it is the responsibility of your sons to treat her with respect no matter what.
Treating a person with respect should not be conditional, or based on the moral judgments you choose to place on her facebook pictures.
And if a boy gets a boner looking at a girl, then it is his own responsibility to react appropriately, and NOT THE FAULT OF THE GIRL.
What you are teaching your sons is that the freedom of expression available to girls should be policed, that girls should be judged by their appearance, and that if they leer at a girl, it’s her fault instead of theirs. These are the same dangerous messages that we have been teaching boys for millennia, messages that lead to the prevalence of rape culture in our society. A girl must adhere to society’s definitions of decency, and if she doesn’t, then she will be objectified and disrespected by men, and it will be her own fault.

Instead, maybe you should remind your sons that their female friends are experimenting with self-expression, and have as much right as their male friends to do so. It is up to them to respond appropriately and respectfully to whatever their friends choose to post. Teach them that it isn’t their place to pass judgment on others, male or female, and that it is important to treat EVERYONE with equal respect, no matter their gender, wardrobe, or selfie pose. Tell them that women are people, and their worth does NOT come down to whether they’d make good wives or girlfriends. Teach them that they don’t actually get to tell girls what to do and how to dress. And most importantly, teach them that if they find themselves having inappropriate thoughts, that those thoughts are their own responsibility, and NEVER the girl’s fault.
These girls are not slutty little Jezebels just waiting to corrupt your innocent sons’ virtue. They are teenagers experimenting with their image and social media. The last thing they need is disapproval, bullying, and judgment. Please afford them the same understanding and benefit of the doubt that you afford your sons. It would be nice to know that the upcoming generation could be capable of taking the next steps toward gender equality.

(Keep an eye out for Kyle David Greenberg’s response in the comments section. That’s a dude who gets it).

PS- Rebecca Hains offers a wonderful response here, containing nuggets of wisdom like, “Contrary to popular opinion, boys are not animals. They can practice self-control. And yes, it takes practice. But if we focus on raising our sons, rather than chastising other people’s daughters, it’s possible..” Go read it!

And it wouldn’t be even be a conversation if Jezebel didn’t chime in.

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Made For Walking

Last month, a Toronto police officer giving a lecture on rape prevention advised those gathered that the best way to avoid being raped was to stop “dressing like sluts.”

At that, all the rape victims in the world finally realized where they’d gone wrong. From Canada to Iraq to South Africa to the United States, everyone donned a parka, burqa, or Virgin Mary costume, and no one was ever raped again.

Because, that’s how it works, right?

I mean, come on, some eleven-year-old children are just totally asking for it, right? Take real good look at a Catholic altar boy some time. Goddamn begging for it. Could you resist the little tramps? When the Japanese invaded Nanking and raped thousands of people, some multiple times, some until they died, you just know it was because of all those sexy lacy thongs those saucy little minxes were wearing. And when my unstable boyfriend suffered a psychotic break in the middle of the night, woke me up with violent touching, and proceeded to torture me until I was barely aware of my surroundings, it must have been because of those damn button-down pyjamas I was wearing. Pyjamas which I’d borrowed from him.

It was a cop who’d sworn to look out for us who said this. Someone I might turn to if I’m ever attacked again. Someone I’d count on to be on my side, to see that justice is done. But justice is an easy word to throw around, whose meaning is fluid, hard to recognize and understand, just like the word “slut”. Exactly what is a slut? What constitutes slut-dom? Its meaning seems to change according to its circumstances, much like the word “rape”.

When I was a kid, I thought a “slut” was just someone who’d sleep with anyone, without being picky. But I noticed that when some people did this, they were called “studs”. This was confusing. So I looked for differences in behaviour- what marked a slut from a stud? It seemed to me that a ‘stud’ is defined by sexual conquests, getting many people to obey your sexual whims, having sexual power over those from whom you take what you want (which all sounds pretty rape-y to me). A ‘slut’, on the other hand, was someone who let herself be used for the pleasure of others. Usually suffering from poor self-esteem, she seeks the lowest form of attention and affection, becoming an empty vessel without desire or agency to be used and consumed by those who don’t really care for her. But unless you get a t-shirt that says all that, I don’t really see how you can get that across via clothing choice. Which is when I discovered that, apparently, “slut” refers to females (and only females, for some reason) who wear clothes that men traditionally find sexy. Which simply means “not much clothes at all.” Which, of course, doesn’t take into account that different men find different things sexy. Some go for lipstick and heels, some for glasses and sensible boots.

So if it isn’t the clothing itself that defines a “slut”, and it isn’t merely a submissive but invisible attitude, then what? Most definitions seem to agree that quantity of sexual partners, or a willingness to have sex, are intrinsic to the identity of a “slut”. Which sounds pretty close to the definition of “stud”, except there’s no suggestion of coercion here, no “making someone your bitch”, as it were. Females who, somehow through dress, express themselves as sexual beings.

But, aren’t we all sexual beings?

So, if a “slut” is simply any woman who doesn’t retch or freeze at the thought of having sex, then a “slut” is basically any woman with sexual agency? Or am I leaving something out? I’m so confused!

The problem is that this word that carries so hurtful a meaning doesn’t seem to actually mean anything at all. But it isn’t going to go away. Like it or not, it’s a part of our language, even if we don’t know what we’re saying when we use it.

So I guess that means that the meaning is open for a new interpretation, huh?

And there are women in this city who have decided to take it back.

If “slut” is to mean “a woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality”, then fuck it, I guess I’m a slut! And I am proud to be so. It took me a long time to get here. It was a hard climb from Victimhood Valley to see the Sexual Liberation Summit from where I stand. Maybe I haven’t quite reached it yet, but at least I have my goal in my sights. And you have no idea how hard it’s been.

When you’re raped, you stop being you. It’s like being assimilated by the Borg. Suddenly, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s being used for someone else’s purposes, without your consent. We here on Earth like to believe that human rights are absolute, inalienable facts. You have some sort of soul or mind or consciousness that is housed in a fleshy structure, and that structure is your only means of interacting with your environment. You are that structure. It is you. You have exclusive rights to it, and only you may decide what happens to it and what it’s used for.

And that is a lie.

Your body is nothing more than a walking meat pile, as public a commodity as trees or water or dead animals. Nothing stops others from doing what they want with it. If someone else decides that you have one arm, you have one arm. If someone else decides that you’re not a virgin, you lose your virginity. If someone else decides that you are a vessel for their pleasure, then that is the case. If someone decides that you die, then that’s the end of you. You do not own your body. That’s the truth. And yes- it is possible to prove it to you.

People often talk about psychologically surviving rape by “leaving your body”- mentally checking out so you don’t have to acknowledge the horrifying, empty truth being proven to you using your own body, your spiritual home as evidence. But what no one ever mentions is that, after you leave your body, you can’t get back in. That’s it. The locks have been changed, and someone’s repainted the interior an awful colour. Your mail is marked “return to sender”. You’re not there anymore.

Meet the rape-victim zombie.

Floating through her life with the understanding that the only purpose of her fleshy substance is to provide pleasure for others. Her own doesn’t matter. She is not a person. She is only an empty shell.

God. If only she’d worn the flats. Clearly, she was asking for it.

Let’s be clear: it is impossible to “ask for” rape. That is contradictory to the very definition of rape. But here we go with definitions again. What is rape?

Rape is the act of separating a person’s soul from her body. Rape is the act of seizing absolute power over another. Rape is the act of demonstrating to a person that their basic human rights are a fiction, they are not entitled to a mind or soul, that they are nothing more than walking meat piles existing solely to be consumed by others. Quite simply, rape is the worst thing in the world.

Despite ridiculous legal gray areas, there is no difference between “date rape” and any other kind of rape. From “incest” to “pedophilia”, we keep trying to tell ourselves that there are types of rape that are somehow worse than others. We forget that people are equal, and everyone has a right to their own body.

So why the victim-blaming? Why do we perpetrate the myth that rape victims are women who walk the streets at night dressed provocatively, instead of acknowledging the reality that they are people like you and me, who are probably raped in their own home, by someone they know? Some say it’s some deep-seated cultural misogyny, some say it comes down to a fear of female sexuality. And some just desperately need to believe that such a thing can only happen to “someone else”. Someone who made herself a target somehow. Someone who was asking for it.

In fact, you probably know someone whom it has happened to. Your friend. Your co-worker. Your wife. Your mother. Your daughter. Your son.

The truth is, it can happen to you. Yes, even if you’re a guy.

But that doesn’t mean it will.

You cannot live in fear. The streets of your city belong to you, and you have every right to walk down them wearing whatever you want. Your body is not a commodity, and no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or threatened, or to take your rights away from you. You own yourself, and no one can take that away.

The fact that we live in a world where rape is even possible is existential-crisis inducing indeed. I won’t tell you how to prevent rape, because that isn’t your responsibility. It is your responsibility, however, to NOT rape. It is every person’s responsibility to not be a rapist. We live in a society where we accept sexual assault as inevitable, the status quo. We live in a rape culture. But that can change, if we take control. Don’t be a rapist, and don’t be a victim. And when I say “don’t be a victim”, I don’t mean that it’s your fault if, god forbid, the worst happens. It isn’t. But victimhood easily becomes an identity, even to those who have never been attacked. If you have been there, remember, you don’t have to see a victim when you look in the mirror. You don’t have to see that red raw meat that you no longer recognize. You don’t have to live in fear. Be a survivor. Be free.

Tomorrow, we take back the streets. We take back the word that has so often been used against us. We stand up for our rights. We march.

Join me and countless others as we march the Slut Walk down Toronto’s streets. Meet on Sunday April 3rd at 1:30 on the south lawn at Queen’s park. Together, we will wear what we want, and proudly carry our sexuality, whatever form that takes, down the streets that are rightfully ours. And we will not be afraid.

Note: Read also my other blog, that I write with another fabulous lady, where I’ve posted a complementary piece on this same all-important subject.