Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On sluts, shame, and cultural sensitivity...

Okay, three big concepts - probably way too much to tackle in one blog post. Let's divide it up.

Part one: The Melbourne Slutwalk.
So, back in January, a Toronto policeman was giving a talk to young women about sexual assault, advising them that women can avoid being victimised by not dressing like sluts. Word spread, and just over two months later, people took to the streets of Toronto with the first SlutWalk. Their message was simple - the woman should not be blamed for sexual assault. The implication that a victim would do something to provoke such an attack is grossly offensive.

This spurred on numerous other SlutWalks around the world, and one of the first in the Southern Hemisphere occurred here in Melbourne a little over a week ago, where over two thousand women - and men - marched in protest of slut-shaming and victim-blaming in society.

This evening felt like something of a SlutWalk debrief, as I attended this month's Cherchez la Femme for a packed-out session that explored the issue further through a panel discussion. I could blog on that alone, but I want to get to my main point.

Part Two: Sexual Harassment in Japan
Okay, read this article. I'm sure I don't need to comment on it - you get the idea. I also had a look at the 2010 JET Programme Manual, and it reads (amongst other things): "Be aware that inviting someone to your home, flirting, and the way you dress, move or sit can be misunderstood and seen as an invitation to take liberties."

An invitation to take liberties - sound familiar?

Part Three: You can see where I'm heading with this.
Yes, I understand that we're going to another country.
Yes, I understand that we need to be culturally sensitive.

I'm not going to go over there and wear shoes indoors, or boycott places that serve whale-meat, or loudly proclaim "ching-chong ling-long ting-tong" in the library.

However, there's a difference between being culturally insensitive, and fighting social injustices. And it's campaigns like the SlutWalk which make me realise that there are some issues that transcend what it means to be culturally sensitive.

Because we live in a world when men have privilege over women. It's not a matter of cultural sensitivity - it's a matter of respect, understanding, and empathy.

No woman should be labelled a "slut" and judged accordingly - regardless of what she wears, or if she is a blonde independent woman a Japanese society - and, certainly, no woman should be fearful of their life, or feel that their behaviour or appearance might invite sexual attacks.

With a SlutWalk scheduled for New Delhi in a few weeks, it seems that this message is starting to permeate more conservative Asian cultures. Hopefully, it won't be long before we see a SlutWalk in Osaka or Tokyo - in which case, I'll be there.