Trivializing Rape: Zombie Feminism and Prudish SlutWalkers

toronto slutwalk

Toronto's Slutwalk

Feminism is dead, and yet it lumbers forward in high-heeled shoes and cleavage-heaving costumes.

SlutWalk is a worldwide phenomenon in which women parade through the streets in “slutty” clothes. It began as a backlash against a Toronto policeman who publicly declared that women should minimize the risk of rape by not “dressing like sluts.”

The most obvious message of SlutWalk is credible. Women should be able to dress as they want without being raped or blamed for violence against them. But the raw politics and hypocrisy surrounding SlutWalk expose mainstream feminism as an exhausted movement that continues to have influence only because it has been institutionalized into laws and academia. As a result the underlying messages have quickly overwhelmed the explicit theme.

Do Not Respond

One message: It is fabulous for women to publicly flaunt their sexuality but an intolerable offense if men respond nonviolently. Wolf-whistles are taken as an attack. Disapproving or overly approving comments from men are an assault. But isn’t provoking a response the entire purpose of wearing fishnet stockings topped by a leather bustier?

Another message, as pointed out by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail: “Slutwalks are what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do.”  In other words, SlutWalks are an expression of privileged women who mistake a costume party for a political cause. While Iranian women fight for the right to pursue an education, North American feminists fight to reclaim pride in the word “slut.” SlutWalk is an extreme expression of mainstream feminism’s political impoverishment.

Yet SlutWalkers proclaim they are performing a political service by protesting the trivialization of rape. Nonsense. They are using the ill-considered words of one ignorant policeman as a reason to throw a street party.

I do not begrudge anyone having a good time but as a woman who has experienced rape, I object to the political agenda being attached to a costume party. I object to the posters and attitudes that vilify men as predators. I do so because I was attacked by one man, not by mankind, and when I was helped, it was by men. I object to the notion that women do not bear any responsibility for controlling their circumstances, such as attire. I object to rape being trivialized by associating it with sluttiness and making it part of a celebration.

Not Trivialized

Moreover, SlutWalk’s basis premise is flatly wrong. It is difficult to imagine a cause that is less trivialized by society than “preventing rape” and other sexual offenses against women. For example, the definition of sexual assault has been expanded to include verbal abuse and intimidating gestures. The legal standards by which rape is judged have also been watered down. Recently, the Department of Education imposed the weak “preponderance of the evidence” standard on the adjudication of on-campus charges of sexual offense, including rape.

Nevertheless, organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) stir the dying embers of controversy by making inflated claims. For example, in its report “Drawing the Line”, the AAUW claims that 62 percent of female students have been sexually harassed. The AAUW arrives at this high statistic by defining sexual harassment in an extraordinarily loose manner. First on the list of indicators is: “sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks.” Using this standard it is amazing that 100 percent of the female students did not report harassment.

The AAUW makes other amazing claims that go virtually uncontested: for example, “95% of [sexual] attacks are unreported.” By their very nature “unreported” crimes cannot be counted or quantified. And yet such claims are blithely repeated and used to promote policies such as the aforementioned lowering of rape adjudication standards within academia.

wendy mcelroySuch statistics are generated in a politically correct environment, so they often receive uncritical acceptance. Academia has been oriented toward gender feminism for decades, and the idea of “the predatory male” has been institutionalized within university policies.

“Mechanism outlasts policy.” The phrase refers to the tendency of ideas and ideology to outlive the circumstances that gave them birth. They survive through being embedded into laws and policies that continue in an automatic fashion.

Gender feminism in America is now a movement reduced to SlutWalks and tenured professors.

Wendy McElroy
The Free Life


  1. Francisca says

    My, my, my…such sweeping generalizations of feminists who are academics! I believe these are called “stereotypes” as is the reduction of “gender feminism” (is there any other kind?) to only “academic feminists.” And it’s amusing that anyone still uses the empty and way-overly used phrase “politically correct” anymore.

    Sarcasm aside, I know this was written last August, but it is interesting to read virtually the day the Center for Disease Control and Prevention came out with a study that found “nearly one in five women has been raped; one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner; and one in six women has been the victim of stalking that scared her or made her believe that she or someone close to her would be harmed or killed” ( No substitution of “sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks” here. (This brutal reality does much more to inspire feminism than any laws or academy.) Such statistics are not new. How can one know such figures and still believe, “It is difficult to imagine a cause that is less trivialized by society than ‘preventing rape’ and other sexual offenses against women”? Really?!?! Your critique of the UUAW report, even if correct, is cherry-picking the data to fit the argument. I would expect better methodology from a purported “Research Fellow.” One might even say that your arguments, with their extremely limited engagement with both feminisms (plural) AND data, themselves trivialize rape and violence toward women. I second Hochstadt’s comments here, especially the critique of libertarianism. In the end, the emotional force of the article seems to come down to not rape, but the last two words–“tenured professors.” One can only speculate upon the story there. I do like the article’s first sentence, however. Though it caricatures feminism like much of the article, it is also clever!

    • Makhdoomh says

      I think she has an interesting point namely that academia does have a tendency to sensationalize theoretical notions. For example, there is the notion of the “metaphysical violence”. Metaphysical violence is an oxymoron. Perhaps metaphysical exclusion or whatever have you, but not violence. In the same vein, there is a considerable amount of literature representing various strands of feminisms that do use a very loose definition of rape and assault. I think, instead of loosening the terms, it might be better to add terms. For example, sexual misconduct rather than sexual assault. I say this because it is obnoxious for a person to claim that they have been sexually assaulted if someone has slapped their bum at a bar YET the slapping of the bum is also a deviant and irresponsible behaviour. There should be a language to capture that behaviour, but assault goes much too far. Ditto rape.

      If sexual assault is any unwanted touching construed as sexual from the victims point of view regardless of the place touched, then the term assault and even sexual have lost a lot of former value. The argument is then made that assault exists along a continuum. I can agree to that. But the continuum has to be reasonable. Assault can be a push to a punch, but not a glance or a touch.

      Consider this: two people are raped and sharing their experience. The first, teary eyed, manages to sob out her story:

      “I was with my girlfriends to celebrate their birthday. The night started good, we got to the club, and the DJ was amazing. We had a few shots and things got on their way. I was dancing on the dance floor, and a guy started to try to dance with me. We danced and then headed to the bar. We had a few shots together, and he suggested that we should go to his place. I was drunk at the time, so I said ok. That night, we had sex. I woke up the next day and went home. I realized that evening that I was raped.”

      Second story:

      I had a fight with my boyfriend. He came home drunk, and was just laid off his job. He was working construction. Bills were piling and I couldn’t work extra hours because there simply was no work to go around. His ex-girlfriend called right before he got home, saying that he left his jacket at the bar. I was furious, and really let him have it. Intoxicated, enraged, unemployed he hit me. The first time, he kind of stepped back, and took a few breathes. I thought he would stop. But he didn’t. He just kind of snapped. He started to kick me, beat me, pull my hair and calling me a “slut”, “worthless”, a “gold-digger”, a “bitch”. I was terrified. He stopped, went to the fridge, got out a beer, and sat down. “Suck my dick he told me”. I couldn’t say no. I did. He then told me to strip and have sex with him. I did. That night, I decided that this would be the last time. I left that morning, realizing that I had been raped.

      Ok, so both stories are fictional and both represent a few common tropes:

      stranger rape vs acquaintance rape

      violent rape vs non-violent rape

      intoxicated victim vs intoxicated perpetrator

      so on and so on

      But look at it this way: HOW would the first-story person look to the second?

      More importantly, both label their situation as rape. But what shared meaning could they hold? Perhaps sexual integrity and violation. Yet the nature of violation is radically different between the two, so much so as to be qualitative. Perhaps patriarchy? Yet, the first was affluent, at a bar drinking, having fun; while the second lived in a completely different experience. Perhaps the similarity is that they both refer to the event as rape. But if categorization is the key, then content and word have a tenuous social relationship. Perhaps it is rape because both are woman and the event in question was sexual? Yet, we cannot boil the events in question as being sexual without robbing them of their contextual richness. Moreover, even the sexual nature of both were radically different.

      Anyways, any thoughts?

  2. says

    Why should nuns get less cat calls than women dressed in other fashion — the important thing is to see where the problem lies: in attitudes such as expressed by the Canadian police officer and others who always looks for excuses for rude behavior by men.

  3. John Halbert says

    Completely agree with this, and thanks very much for this post. I went to a very progressive small liberal arts college on the east coast in the late ’80’s, at the height of political correctness. On a campus full of sensitive men, I was one of the most sensitive and politically correct. I’m still pretty liberal, but I was thoroughly disillusioned with academia, and particularly with academic feminism. I’m still very much in favor of feminist ideals; my girlfriend and my sister-in-law have jobs working for organizations that are completely focused on empowering girls. But my experience with academic feminism was horrible. I took a class on contemporary women’s poetry, which featured a lot of lesbian poetry from the early 1970’s. There was a lot of anger expressed in that poetry, and it ended up being directed at me. All students also had to attend a date rape seminar. The messages that I got from academic feminism were basically “if you are a man, and you are on a date with a woman, she is worried that you are going to rape her.” The message was not “a woman wants companionship, a guy who can listen and who is great in bed.” No. The message was, if you are a man, you are automatically suspect as a potential rapist. The terrible irony was that feminism ended up ruining my ability to relate to women, because I assumed that they were afraid of me. I didn’t consciously realize this at the time, but I was incredibly nervous around women, and I treated them as very delicate and fragile. Which, of course, they ended up resenting. One girlfriend in particular was unhappy with me because I never disagreed with her. In James Joyce’s Ulysses, a character has “Catholicism injected the wrong way” – he has all of the guilt of being Catholic, but none of the redemption. I had feminism injected the wrong way – all of the guilt, and none of the sex.

    • Clara says

      I would recommend reading bell hook’s book of essays on saving the relationship between men and women…sorry, the title escapes me at this time. She says that feminists got it wrong and I must agree. Society is not helped by demonizing either gender, nor by coddling to an unreasonable degree. There is also the wave of not-so-covert racism…I attended an extremely liberal college in the mid-70’s and my room mates were nervous around male friends…one admitted that she felt “Chicanos would be more likely to rape a woman.”

  4. says

    This is almost a progressive essay. The points that Wendy McElroy makes about the problems with SlutWalk, and about the larger issue of the current ubiquity of women’s revealing attire, are in my opinion right on.

    But the uninformed and misleading attacks on academic feminists simply echo what the right-wing says as a means of deflecting critiques of sexism in society. McElroy reveals again the underlying conservatism of so-called libertarianism: attacks on intellectuals who don’t toe the line that she is pushing about gun rights or the wonders of the free market. Instead of seeking allies among other people who share some of her ideas about what feminism should be, she joins all the anti-feminists who use attacks on academics to block discussion of equality.

    Steve Hochstadt

  5. Macdoodle says

    i do believe you are more likely to get unwanted advances,harassed, assaulted and attract a lower class of “admirers” in general if you dress like a hooker than if you dress like a nun.

    While it is never your fault if someone else commits a crime against you, luck has a lot to do with how and where you place yourself.

    if you dress like a hooker and walk down a road late at night would you be offended if you were mistaken for a hooker? Why?

    My biggest concern about this is it is teaching young women not to apply common sense.

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