Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011


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A Slut By Any Other Name...

Recent news stories about women asserting their entitlement to wear what they choose in public provided diametrically opposed imagery.

On the one hand, we had Slutwalk – a worldwide series of protests triggered by a Canadian policeman’s remark that women who did not want to be victimised should avoid dressing like sluts.

Slutwalk’s attention-grabbing name and image generated a heated debate among feminists – particularly since one of the movement’s Canadian founders had said that she did not regard herself as a feminist and would rather be known as a slut. Maiy Azize on The Drum disagreed with the attempt to reclaim the word “slut”: “Feminist, not slut, is the word we should use to describe women who support other women, consensual sex and equality.”

As Guy Rundle noted in Crikey, the “Reclaim the Night” marches during the 1970s and 80s were a less-colourfully dressed protest with a similar message about the entitlement of women to go about their lives without being held responsible for any sexual violence that might be committed against them. Rundle’s critique triggered a sharp response from Ellena Savage in Eureka Street: “Slutwalk, using the theatricality and parody that Rundle dismisses, performs and inversion of the Madonna/Whore binaries that harm all women, and as well employ a fierce solidarity that Rundle seems to think us incapable of."

While the coverage of Slutwalk focused on images of women wearing outfits ranging from low-cut dresses to tight jeans to bustles and corsets, Carnita Matthew’s successful appeal against a conviction of falsely accusing a police officer of racism threw the spotlight onto women who cover their entire bodies, including their faces. Matthew’s conviction was overturned on the grounds that her face-veil made it impossible to be certain that she was the person who had lodged the false statement. And so another round of veil-wars begins, with most Muslim organisations and commentators stating that removing a face-veil to assist in law-enforcement is permissible, but that Muslim women – like “sluts” – are entitled to dress as they choose on the streets. ‘LOOK AT MOI!’

Shakira Hussain