14/06/2011

A medieval philosopher goes on a slut walk

If you're at all like me, you'll be irritated to hell by the nasty little comments people have been making about the slut walks. So let's get a few things straight.

Women, on the whole, do not dress up in short dresses because they want strangers to pay them for sex.

Those who do, actually want to enter into some sort of contract with their potential customers, that is, they must agree to serve them and settle on a price for their service. They are not free for all.

No woman, sex worker or otherwise, wants to be raped. This means, amongst other things, that choice of clothing never indicates the desire to be sexually assaulted, by strangers or otherwise. And that still obtains even with very short skirts and very low cut tops.

To think otherwise is utterly unreasonable. Men who work in construction often go topless, sometime showing off the proverbial builder's crack. Do we think that they are thereby inviting somebody bigger and stronger than them to take them by force, maybe with the use of the instruments of their trade? No. No one, to my knowledge, has even so much as suggested it. They undress because they're too hot, and because they can.

So granted, women don't always wear skimpy clothes because of the weather. But they do wear them because of fashion. And fashion, whatever one says, is important. A teenage girls who has nothing to do with it will find it harder to make friends - not to find a boyfriend, mind you: teenage boys don't care so much about fashion - they'll find it hard to fit in. Of course that can be character building. But let's face it, we're not all cut out for isolation, and it's actually not bad for us to learn how to fit in with a community of peers.

And then there's work. Who - outside of academia - is going to give a job to a 'frumpy' looking woman? Some jobs actually require you to dress nicely, that is, to wear skirts, and heels. Maybe not short skirts, but once we become used to a certain dress style, we're going to work with it as we can. I think it's outrageous that employers should demand that women dress in a 'feminine' manner, and that the fashion industry should so relentlessly target young women. But they do. So let's not pretend that we, women come up with the idea of wearing skirts all by ourselves.

And we shouldn't get raped for it. Or be blamed when we are.

I was mulling over all this, when I came across very similar arguments in a book I am reading for next semester's teaching. It's by a medieval French philosopher, Christine de Pizan:
I am troubled and grieved when men argue that many women want to be raped and that it does not bother them at all to be raped by men even when they verbally protest. It would be hard to believe that such villainy is actually pleasant for them. (The Book of the City of Ladies II.44)

She goes on to discuss a whole bunch of famous women, from Lucretia onwards, who clearly didn't like being raped.  Then she asks whether women who like to look nice, who are coquettish are doing it to seduce. Nonsense, she says. It's perfectly natural, for men and women, to enjoy pretty things and looking good. It's done, unless one is actually required to dress a certain way, first and foremost for one's enjoyment.
No one should judge someone else's conscience from dress (II.62).

I like to think that if she could time travel, Christine would have put her ink and parchment down, last Saturday, and flown to London to join in the slut walk there. And with her medieval dresses, she would have fitted right in with the colourful and sometimes outlandish outfits that women wore on the march.


3 comments:

Erin said...

Well-written. I hadn't heard about the "slut walk", and had to look it up.

I'm soooo tired of excuses (bahaneler) people use to justify the crappy things we do to one another.

Belgravia Wife - sort of said...

If she does time travel could you have her email me, I'd love to get to know her. Beautifully written. I have thoughts on this but haven't distilled them yet. How are you btw !! xxx

Sandrine said...

Thanks Erin! Fancy you knowing about Chritine de Pizan but not the slut walk!
Hi ms Belgravia. Lovely to have you back online. I'm very well thank you. You?

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