Desperately seeking SlutWalk sensibility

I really want to have an opinion about SlutWalk, I really do. I want to be firm in my resolve, and to be able to argue my points convincingly to anyone who’s interested in hearing them. “Yes! Go along and march, it’s great for women” or “No! It’s wrong, the messages are wrong.”

But I’ve been reading opinion pieces for just over a week now, and each time I think, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I really think” and then I read the next one and think, “Hang on, maybe I think this after all.” More tellingly, I’ve now got to the point of , “I like that bit, but not that bit; this bit makes sense to my flickering inner feminist, and that bit’s just hypercultural postmodern bullshit.”

And that’s the problem for me -there are too many complexities to neatly encapsulate the event, let alone the arguments for and against it. And that’s because, in my case at least, being a 40-something woman in 2011 is a complex thing. All the experience of a wasted youth, a bit of travel, some great education, interesting career choices and now the constant puzzle of parenting two boys is there to remind me that a woman’s place in the world is usually where she’s standing, catching her breath, right at that moment.

And let me say that within that great education was a fair amount of cultural theory including feminist studies, and my mum was one of the career trailblazers in the 60s and 70s yada yada, so this whole feminism concept is not entirely new to me. So the fact I feel unable to find my place in this argument worries me.

One of the niggling aspects for me is the location of the conversation. When I think of how I’ve accessed SlutWalk, it’s been through ABC online News (only yesterday!), The Drum, Q&A and Radio National; crikey.com and New Matilda. I’m not saying it hasn’t been covered anywhere else, but they’re the only places I’ve had time to listen, to read – to engage, dahling, with the arguments being put by the writers.

And let me be clear on the contributors I’m referring to. It started with a porn discussion from the Sydney Writer’s Festival I heard on RN driving home on Sunday evening, then my online onslaught began with Drag0nista, Guy Rundle (why Guy, why?), Mel Campbell, Clem Bastow in The Age, SlutWalk organiser Karen Pickering, self-proclaimed radical feminist Sarah Langford, Kimberley Ramplin, then the blokes-for-a-laff got in with Ben Pobjie taking no prisoners as usual, and cartoonist (Mr Lovely) First Dog On The Moon, who was just lovely as usual.  And I can’t forget the viewing pleasure that was this week’s Q&A. Finally, this evening I read Catherine Deveny’s contribution, which I agreed with more than I expected to.

And that’s because one thing I agree with, as an underlying theme of SlutWalk, is that rape is rape, and I couldn’t help but smile at Deveny’s t-shirt, “You’re not allowed to rape sluts either.”  Now that to me is a direct message to the target audience, which comes back to the location of the arguments, raising the bigger issue at play.

To explain, let’s jump for a minute to Lindsay Tanner, talking to political journalist George Megalogenis about his new book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy on Radio National’s Big Ideas on Thursday 26 May:

Out on the Internet, out in digital land, there are all kinds of fantastic new products with high quality commentary, blogs, even some stuff on pay TV – the trouble is: that is talking to the engaged, educated minority … and until you’ve actually got a mechanicam for engaging the bulk of the population in a political conversation about the major issues of the day, which we used to have and which I think is slowly diminishing, then you’ve got a problem.”

I have no immediate answer (other than a long essay about the challenges of content and communication in contemporary Australian culture and politics) but I also have no doubt that Tanner’s point will be made hard and fast, as Kimberley Ramplin points out, this weekend:  on the commercial television news we will see images of scantlily-clad frozen young things having a bit of a lark in the name of the new sisterhood, not really sure how much of it is supposed to be fun, while alongside them the sensibly dressed women (shoes or otherwise), making a point with their placards, a genuinely heartfelt and passionate point about sexual freedom, won’t get any screen time, and the female journalist sent to cover the story will be squirming in her Jimmy Choos later in the evening watching the playback on the little screen; something won’t sit quite right with her and yet she won’t be able to put her finger on what it is. But if Deveny’s t-shirt gets a few seconds onscreen, maybe that’s an achievement.

So in the end I guess it comes down to: if you walk, good for you. If you don’t, I understand. And that, unfortunately, is the best I can do. And I mean it.

[Thanks Hollaback for the image].

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