Suddenly, everyone is going gaga about “SlutWalk”. What began in Toronto is having repercussions all over the world now. Back home, the Walk is soon to occur in New Delhi, somewhere in mid-July (most likely to be postponed further). There are talk shows on it that boast of some very popular celebrities as panelists, there are newspaper reports, analysis and fiercely opinionated articles trying to gauge the success and failure of such a concept in a culture-obsessive country like India. And there is a sudden need, urge and necessity to now know the exact definition of the word ‘slut.’
So, I began looking at all these in the past couple of days.
It would be unfair of me to comment on the talks shows as I haven’t watched one entirely yet. But from what I’ve gathered from friends, it seems to be a farce. More so, because the discussion/debate (if any) is being conducted among upper middle class and elite sections of society trying to figure out the “dress code” for this much-awaited melodrama, if I may take the liberty to call it the same.
I have read at least 6-7 articles and opinions published in various newspapers, magazines and websites written by experts, columnists, social workers and ‘feminists’ who, again, voice a similar concern, that foregrounds the complex case of India, riddled with the politics of caste, class and culture. Most voice the same thought: that the idea is commendable and that its success in the Indian context is based on the only-time-will-tell theory.
Let’s get back to the exact definition and meaning of the word ‘slut’. While the word has been categorized as too elite and sophisticated for Indian usage, options like ‘besharmi’ (Hindi word for shameless) are being suggested. So long as the irony comes out, it doesn’t really make a difference, I guess.
But, to think of it, how does the dictionary define the word slut? The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘slut’ as follows:
Slut noun disapproving* a woman who has many sexual partners, or who is untidy and lazy
*meant to convey a low opinion or to insult someone
In short, a woman who sleeps with more than one person (for whatever reasons) is a slut. I guess we could also possibly conclude that the only difference between a slut and a prostitute would be that the latter is paid, while a slut is not.
The other half of the definition says: “untidy and lazy.” That is akin to the usage of the word “bitch”, which means a female dog and is also used to refer to an annoying, irritating woman.
Thus, so far, it’s clear that I would be a slut if I’m sleeping with multiple partners and there is complete knowledge and awareness of the public about it. Fair enough. So, if my partner(s) and I are mutually consensual with it, what is the problem here, really? (as long as we use protection and don’t catch Human immunodefficiency Virus during intercourse?)
Curiosity got the better of me and I looked at the meaning as defined in the most checked, and sadly relied upon, source: Wikipedia.
Wikipedia describes how the usage dates back to Chaucer’s time (14th Century)—a period when women were entirely dependent on men for everything, their space was confined to the domestic sphere and they had no will, choice or voice. Tragically, such is the state of affairs even today in many parts of the world.
The online knowledge-hub states that the accepted denotative meaning of slut is as follows:
“A sexually promiscuous woman” or “a woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade.” These definitions identify a slut as a person of low character — a person who lacks the ability or chooses not to exercise a power of discernment to order their affairs, such as a cad, rake, or womanizer.”
Herein begins the problem. Whatever may be the sexual history of the woman in question; if she is a slut, she has already been judged morally by society. Words like ‘loose’ ‘promiscuous’ and ‘impudent’ are adjectives that imply moral connotations. Thus, if I’m a slut, I am a woman sans common sense, basic demands of propriety and decorum and, possibly, characterless. It is to be noted that the argument of pleasure or satisfaction (if any) involved with the concept of sleeping with multiple partners runs nowhere, here. If I’m sleeping around with more than one partner, I’m already disregarded and dismissed as unfit for a society of ‘civilized’ people.
In the context of this learning and understanding of the word slut, let’s picture the SlutWalk in New Delhi, India.
Firstly, most agree that the “rape capital of India” is the most appropriate city for such a protest march. Having lived in the capital for three years, I have never really managed to convince myself of this definition. While there may be statistical evidence that prove that the number of cases of rape, sexual assault and molestation in Delhi are the highest in the country, it is essential to note that most of such cases often go unreported and, hence, do not have any record of them having even occurred in the first place. A Dalit girl may be raped in the afternoon sun on a Sunday in Muzaffarnagar and no one may even know about it. Do we have any evidence that this happened, except the girl probably screamed and cried recalling the trauma at a police station that didn’t give a damn to file the case? Then, what really is the basis of such a comparison?
Second, the “dress code” is widely being debated upon. Since it’s a slut walk, many upper class women are considering dressing up in a “slutty” manner (heaven knows what that means!). Ideally, a protest march that aims to hit back at the classic rapist defence of but-oh-she-was-dressed-provocatively should allow women to dress as freely as they can. That whatever you wear, you do not give any one to attack/molest/assault you is an argument that stands nullified when people discuss any sort of dress code.
Third, there is widespread talk about its limitations and the extent of its success.
I don’t know if the walk will be a success.
All I know is that I don’t stay in Delhi anymore and I still undergo the same trauma of being the victim of the male gaze when in public.
I endure roadside comments, irrespective of what I wear and how I dress up.
I hear whistles, regardless of the number of sexual partners I have.
Maybe I’m “loose.” Or even lack “character.” Frankly, I’d care more if the perpetrator is penalized accordingly, than people judging me on the number of partners I sleep with or the amount of cleavage I show while walking down the road.