I Wish Slut Walks Didn’t Have to Further Sexualize Women to Make Their Point

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Amber Rose, slut walks, sexualization of women, victim blaming, modest dress, how we dress matters

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This past weekend, actress and model Amber Rose took to the streets of Los Angeles dressed in black lingerie to lead a so-called “slut walk,” a protest aimed at combating the notion that any woman, regardless of how she is dressed, deserves to be sexually assaulted. About 250 women and men joined her; some women wore underwear, and others went altogether topless.

The walk is not the first of its kind: Slut walks originated in Toronto in 2011, after a police officer suggested that women should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Since then, these protests have taken place across the country and the globe.

A former stripper, Amber Rose is no stranger to slut-shaming. Rose has suffered very public negative comments from two of her former partners, Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa. And she has made many public statements sinceEarlier this year, Rose and her friend Blac Chyna attended the MTV Video Music Awards in outfits covered in offensive slurs used to denigrate women. Rose also appeared in a Funny or Die skit entitled “Walk of No Shame,” where she reversed the so-called “walk of shame” by strutting home confidently after spending the night at a man’s house.

I believe that Rose’s message—and the overarching point that these slut walks are designed to make—is a good and vitally important one. There are no circumstances that justify sexual assault. There are no circumstances that justify the kind of venomous language that women, even women perceived to be promiscuous, are so often subjected to. If you truly believe in the dignity of the human person, then you must acknowledge that all of us deserve love and respect—regardless of our behavior or appearance.

That being said, I wish there were a different method employed to deliver the message. Yes, it gets headlines and news reports and think pieces (Verily included). I get it; you’re making a splash. But the slut walk seems to employ the same eye-catching tactic that Maxim and Sports Illustrated (along with 99 percent of the media) have been using for years. The fact is that to see a famous woman in lingerie in broad daylight while walking the streets of L.A.—or anywhere else, for that matter—is, at this point, nothing out of the ordinary. Women’s bodies are constantly on display, and our sexuality is constantly exploited, to devastating ends.

In fact, if I am oppressed, it is not because I can’t show my skin, but it is because I feel that I have to, to get ahead. And the negative effects of objectifying and exploiting the female body occur regardless of the purpose one has in doing it. Female sexuality is misused to sell magazines and products all the time; to use it to draw attention to an important issue (even a women’s issue) doesn’t make it any less exploitative or harmful.

So why do the groups of women marching on slut walks feel the need to dress hypersexually to promote the cause against mistreatment of women? It’s as if to suggest that being fully clothed would be part of the problem—almost suggesting that one is victim-blaming for sexual assault. On the contrary, I believe that it is possible to refuse to victim-blame and also to think that there are better and worse ways to dress oneself. It is possible to expect men to treat women with respect no matter what they are wearing and also to expect women (and men, for that matter) to dress respectfully. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive.

I hope we can all agree that Rose and the people who joined her this weekend are absolutely right in saying that “my clothes are not my consent.” But that doesn’t mean that how we dress doesn’t matter.