In Defense of Rebecca Traister's Mixed Feelings About Slut Walk

What Women Really Think
July 21 2011 10:59 AM

In Defense of Rebecca Traister's Mixed Feelings About Slut Walk

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Kudos to Rebecca Traister for airing her conflicted feelings about SlutWalks as a form of activism in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. For those not familiar with the SlutWalks, they were a series of protests—spurred by a cop in Toronto telling a group of college girls that they shouldn't dress like sluts if they don't want to get raped—in which mostly young women reclaimed the word slut by marching together, some scantily clad. Traister expresses her frustration:

This fall will mark the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress about the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Clarence Thomas. Though Hill offered only her own narrative about the behavior she witnessed, her story helped other women build a vocabulary and learn to talk about unjust sexual-power dynamics. Thanks in part to her, we were, by now, supposed to be braver and more skilled at calling out injustice, at exposing or reversing sexual-power imbalances. But 20 summers later, we’re marching in hot pants.

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The feminist community has been largely supportive of SlutWalks—they praise the movement as a great example of grassroots youth activism (see our own Amanda Marcotte's post here; Jessica Valenti's Washington Post op-ed is here). So it took some bravery for Traister to disagree with them, to admit that she wasn't 100 percent on board. "I found myself again wishing that the young women doing the difficult work of reappropriation were more nuanced in how they made their grabs at authority, that they were better at anticipating and deflecting the resulting pile-on," she writes.

The tone of disagreements in the feminist blogosphere can be truly vicious—there can be a real tendency for other writers and commentators to pile on when you veer from the party line.Though Traister is going against the grain, she's doing so in a completely respectful way.The push-back to Traister's piece has already begun, but I am glad she offered a dissenting—if ambivalent—voice, to a discussion that can all too often feel like it's coming from a hive mind.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

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