Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The Slut Walk for Men

Donald D’Haene brings us the origin of the word “slut,” as well as his support of the White Ribbon Campaign raising awareness of violence against women.

Even though the euphemism “four-letter word” only came into use during the first half of the twentieth century, I think the first and most controversial example must be “slut.”

As far back as 1450, the word almost exclusively referred to “a sexually promiscuous woman,” but another early meaning was “kitchen maid,” or a “dirty or untidy woman.” No wonder Germaine Greer said, “True liberation is women wearing what they like and abandoning the Hoover.”

And yet, I found an unusual modern-day definition: a woman with the morals of a man.

Surprised? Slut is not just a term used for women.

In 1386, before it was ever even used to describe women, Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English literature, used the word sluttish to describe a slovenly man. In fact, by the late 14th century slut was only used in reference to an untidy man. (Guess some men didn’t Hoover back then either.)

But I’ve heard “slut” dished out to men for over 20 years.

Okay, busted, but I’m not alone. I’ve used it to affectionately describe a friend or three—always male, though. I remember I used to joke, “Two, three, a dozen mistakes and right away you’re called a slut.”

Interestingly, I’ve never been called a slut and I think I’d faint if someone ever did—okay, once but that story requires a blog on its own! I’ve always been Mary (Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) to my best friend’s Rhoda. Or as he says, Ellen to his Rosie.

The first time I remember being introduced to the word was in a dark theatre in 1982, watching the film Tootsie. Bill Murray’s character reacts to Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing Dorothy and his much-too-ardent older admirer with the words, “You slut.”

Hence, my introduction to the word was amusing. Unfortunately, for women, it is not. Well not since the 15th century anyways, for how many women want to be called “slut” if the word is only used to describe a so-called “woman of loose character”?

Yet, in the diaries of Samuel Pepys from London, England in the 17th century, one finds a shockingly playful use of the word, without implication of loose morals: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily.” [Pepys, Diary, Feb. 21, 1664]

Confusing, huh! Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, for anyone listening to women debate the ongoing Slut Walk controversy could certainly find it a bit confusing as well.

Last year a Toronto policeman told a “personal security class” at York University “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” That is not the part that is confusing. What that officer said was ridiculous. Do some rapists actually take the time to scan neighbourhoods looking for so-called “sluts” while others use x-ray vision before they break into homes?

Give me strength.

Sexual assaults have nothing to do with appearance and they more often occur in instances where people know each other. Of course women were upset with the officer’s comment. But surprised? What else is new? They’ve heard it a million times before. I know I have. No wonder women hit the streets to protest.

The confusion lies with the term these women used to describe their demonstration: “slut walk” and goes full throttle when you listen to them defend their manifesto—“We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality”—to their sister naysayers (“Far from empowering women, attempting to reclaim the word has the opposite effect, simply serving as evidence that women are accepting this label given to them by misogynistic men … Women should not protest for the right to be called slut.” —Socialist Worker Online).

I watched the TVO’s The Agenda “Slut Walks & Modern Feminism” episode where five women tried to convince each other of the pros or cons of the Slut Walk. It was like watching a ladies mixed doubles match at Wimbledon but without a referee and no clear winner.

As an unapologetic feminist I was fascinated with the debate, but was left sighing, seriously? If a woman wants to walk in something called a Slut Walk, I say go to town. If a woman doesn’t, so what? Somehow I find myself smack dab in the middle of this debate as I have friends in both camps. What can I do but commiserate?

Well, I refuse to take sides. Instead I choose to support all women by focusing my energy elsewhere.

One way is supporting The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) , the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. On September 27, at Dundas Square in Toronto, men are putting on high heels so that they may, “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes,” the perfect opportunity to raise money and show our support for ending violence against women.

Oh, what to wear that will match my pumps?

In support of my “sisters” out there, anything I want!

 

Read more on Ethics & Values.

Image credit:  || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL ||/Flickr

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About Donald D'Haene

Donald D'Haene started his own successful theatre/opinion web site: http://www.donaldsdish.ca, is an author (Father's Touch), Huffington Post Blogger, and was one of the male Survivors on the Oprah 200 Survivors Episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, November 2010. Follow Donald D'Haene on Twitter @TheDonaldNorth.

Comments

  1. Oy, not the White Ribbon Campaign AGAIN.

    How is this relevant to men looking for solutions to men’s problems? The White Ribbon Campaign is a passive-aggressive obstacle to men finding justice, not an ally.

  2. Fascinating!…what are U doing for men?

    • I am not surprised at the comments that are quickly appearing…interesting…as though one column defines what one does for men. For most of my life all I heard was a male perspective – say the first 25 years. For the last 20 years I’ve written on the experience of males experiencing abuse, wrote a memoir about my own experience even. I guess sometimes I feel like writing about women’s issues from a male perspective.

      • As a side note, will I live to see the day women try to take a walk in men’s shoes and raise awareness n money to fight violence against men? Especially seeing as on the street men are more at risk of violence than women?

        I dislike gendered campaigns though as they contribute to stereotypes of abuse which actually just harm victims, and leave up to half the victims and perps (perps need help too to change their ways) unhelped as it always ends up being a case of men = perp, women = victims since very few seem to give a shit about the reverse. Hell the support for male victims of abuse is far less than the rate of abuse men face, women actually get a disproportionate level of support for abuse campaigns.

        Hi 5 for working to end abuse though for either gender. I myself support slutwalk as they also help male victims too (or at least their facebook appears to raise some awareness), but I refuse to support the white ribbon stuff unless there is a brother campaign to balance it back out. I can’t help add to that extremely damaging narrative of male = abuser, female = victim, I’ve seen too many people hurt by it. I’d much prefer to throw my weight behind a gender neutral campaign, one with posters of either both sexes in each role, or one with androgynous people so you can’t apply gender to them, but simply abuser or victim.

        And you’re most likely going to get a lot of whataboutthemenz comments to this but that’s largely because society, and even many anti-abuse campaigners seem to care very little for raising awareness about male victims, and even less about female perpetrators. This site also has a lot of male victims of female abusers, and we get quite a lot of chivalrous campaigns in our society asking us to fight abuse against women ONLY, but not much on fighting the abuse we suffer especially if it’s a female abuser. You could imagine walking into a women’s shelter n asking them to stand up against violence against men only, and then imagine a society where a disproportionate level of awareness is given to male victims, and very little to female victims. Logically it’s going to ruffle feathers, and can even be considered insulting if the difference in support is too great.

        I’m sure pretty much every male here hates violence against women but I guarantee you’ll get more supporters if these campaigns simply tackled violence against both genders, or at least change the pledge to speaking up against violence against everyone. I myself refuse that pledge as I speak up on violence against all people, not just women.

        Hope that clears it up, but I commend you for writing about women’s issues as well as men’s, I just wish more people did the same and maybe we wouldn’t have these kinds of comments ever again ;)

        • I have to write a column just to respond to the points you bring up. There are that many. Thanks for your comments.

          • Thanks, if you write one let me know as I’d love to read. I can tell it becomes aggravating to see the derailment, I just wanted to explain to you and others why it happens and how I think we can stop it. It’s not really justified to derail but I’m truly not surprised it happens.

        • I agree Archy, there is far to much on violence against women, and not enough on violence against men. The genderization of the subject is sexist in it self. And it is kinda disappointing seeing it happen all the time.

          I hope one day there will be something on the subject that also include men, and please without the usual rutine, women have it worse, or men still are responsable for the xxx procent of violent violence.

          IMO either is gender neutral or it is pointless.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    It sounds like there are at least two separate protest messages behind SlutWalk, and they don’t necessarily fit well with each other, so there’s some unavoidable disagreement.

    On the one hand, there’s the message that slut-shaming is wrong and women should stop being shamed for their sexuality and there should not be a double standard for men and women when it comes to the amount of sexual experience you have. Sounds reasonable to me.

    On the other hand, there’s the message that you shouldn’t blame the victims of sexual assault for their own victimhood. There is no magical female outfit that transforms the innocent man into the rapist. There is also no magical outfit that all by itself prevents a woman from being assaulted. Sounds reasonable to me as well.

    The problem is there’s one camp saying “I have a right to my sexuality!” and another saying “I’m not trying to be sexual! I’m just walking down the street!” One is saying “let me be sexual” while the other is saying “let me be.” One wants to draw attention to female sexuality, while the other does not want sexual attention.

    These aren’t irreconcilable, but there are some cross-purposes here.

  4. I was interested in your response to my column, “wellokaythen”…You are trying to understand the messages as I have. I’m not certain I must understand every detail in order to support them. I was curious about your comment, “There is no magical female outfit that transforms the innocent man into the rapist.” That is such an interesting way of making a point – I had to re-read it several times. Because I know there are rapists in both sexes, let me try to interpret your line – are you saying, “There is no magical outfit that transforms an innocent person into a rapist”? If so, I agree.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Yeah, a provocative, somewhat confusing way to put it, I can see that.

      I meant that an outfit does not really cause a rape. An article of clothing that someone else is wearing does not force someone to be a rapist. A certain kind of drapery or tightness is not reasonably interpreted as an expression of consent. No piece of clothing transforms the viewer into a licensed rapist.

      By the same token, you can find cases of rape in which the victim was wearing every single kind of clothing possible. There are rape cases in which a woman was wearing a burqa or a full nun’s habit, hardly a “come-hither” ensemble. There is no magical sartorial protection against sexual assault.

      And, yeah, I should have used more gender neutral language. Both men and women can be rapists and victims.

  5. It is my humble opinion that this “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” thing is just a not so wise publicity stunt by the organisers to gain some public attention. Though working for ending violence, including those against women, is a noble cause but violence can only be curtailed by good law enforcement practices and not by men walking in women’s shoes. I find it completely pathetic.

    • OMG you need to read my book (memoir: Father’s Touch http://www.fatherstouch.com/ )! You write, “Violence can only be curtailed by good law enforcement practices.” I guess if I were one of the Jetsens (the old cartoon where the Jetsons live in the year 2062) living in a futuristic utopia I could take that comment seriously. Alas, I am not. Of all the things on this earth to find pathetic you pick “men walking in women’s shoes” for a good cause. Give me strength! But I do thank you for taking the time to comment!

    • How is this any different from a cancer walk? Are those pathetic too?

      There’s Mo-vember for prostate cancer awareness. I’ve never understood how wearing a mustache can help make any difference practically. The only purpose it serves is to show visually, which is to say, symbolically, that pretty much all men can be affected by this serious disease.

      What’s wrong with a symbolic show of support?

      Wearing a jersey to a football game doesn’t make the team play any better, but it’s a symbolic show of support that raises the morale of the players.

      • Amen, Mr. Aiken.
        I can just imagine if someone thinks men walking in women’s shoes for a good cause is pathetic, imagine what that person would think of a gay pride parade…hmm…I feel another column coming on!

      • Men walking in women’s high heels is emasculating. It is cross dressing.

        • Emasculating? Really?…just looked up the definition of your word: “Make (a person, idea, or piece of legislation) weaker or less effective.”
          I don’t know…a heel can make quite a weapon if you work it right. Hardly weakens. Actually very effective.

          • High heels can be definite weapons, but that’s not what makes them emasculating. The fact that it is a shoe worn by women is what makes it emasculating.

            I wonder how many men who use the word emasculating (the only time I’ve seen this word used anyway is when describing a female characterstic) and can turn around and say they don’t see women as lesser when the very definition of emasculating is just that (when used in reference the feminine characterstics, as it usually is in my experience).

            ignorance of the definition? hypocricy? curious….

            • The anger from some of the anonymous posters on this thread is palpable. That’s all I got this round….

            • I don’t think it’s neccessarily about being a woman, but more about a fear or disgust of being the opposite gender. Emasculation for men and butchifying for women.

              I think heels are evil :P They can look ok but I’d rather people wear a shoe that is comfy and doesn’t damage them, hell I am a real fan of women in dresses + high boots like in gothic culture. Looks better than heels in my opinion.

            • And then there are posts like your post Archy that make me smile!

            • haha thank-you, glad to be of service.

            • Joey Joe Joe says:

              Another definition of emasculate is “Deprive (a man) of his male role or identity”. One might think a better word would be “D”emasculate. To place aspects of the female role or identity on men, to help them see the female side of things and be more empathetic to their view/gender roles is the epitome of being emasculated.

              One may be able to partake in such acts because they are secure in their masculinity, but it is still altering their male identity by placing them in an aspect of the female one.

        • What’s emasculating about cross-dressing? Women’s clothing tends to be more revealing as it is, it can only emphasize a man’s physique. Maybe you should try it.

          It’s also great for balance. If you’re into martial arts it should really help your form.

        • @ Donald D´Haene and Grey Aiken.

          Gentlemen, if you enjoy cross dressing or anything else, please enjoy it and don’t persuade me to try those stuff, but I find “men walking in high heels” to campaign for end of violence against women rather bizarre. I think that there are better ways to support a cause than this.

        • whats wrong with cross dressing? and wearing high heals is no more emascualting than wearing a kilt or a necklace.

  6. I’d only label a person a slut if they were unfaithful to their mate.
    And that is because of deceit and betrayal.

    • There are some pretty complicated reasons that people cheat, both men and women. Is it really wise to have a negative blanket term for all of them? Doesn’t that dehumanize them and take away their agency? Unless you mean that only a woman who cheats can be a slut.

    • d’artagnan…really? Wow! So what do you call the person sleeping with the mate? Say the person is single but sleeps with 100 mated peeps?

      • d'artagnan says:

        The accomplice slut.
        To me the mated person holds more responsibility because they are mated.
        If I do not respect my relationship why should someone on the outside respect it?

        Both are to blame but it is 70% mated and 30% unmated lover.

  7. It doesn’t matter what a girl or a woman wears on the street….she will still get harassed and whistled at as if she was some street walker (I guess that according to “pimp-ho” culture, ordinary women are presumed to be “sluts” and, therefore, okay targets to be whistled at like a dog…)

    It doesn’t even matter if the young woman was wearing a casual outfit (i.e.., long slacks and a long jacket) and assisting her elderly father outside the NYBG garage on Member’s Day…a group of men loitering outside kept whistling ….it wasn’t until this woman walked on the other side of her father (on the inner sidewalk out of their view) and into a crowd of seniors that it finally stopped….I think someone made a point before to involve institutions to help educate and stop this kind of street harassment (so NYBG Members’ Dept. was made aware!)….

  8. Wear comfortable shoes. Problem solved.

  9. A footnote to my column: I have heard positive responses to this column from around the world but I need to point out that SlutWalks are not an event only for women to reappropriate “slut”; men can and do participate in it. I believe that aspect does not get much coverage and I personally have never been invited so it would not be a part of my experience and hence I did not write from that perspectivie. A representative from the Toronto SlutWalk wrote me the following, “Our initiative focuses on combating sexual violence, victim-blaming and slut-shaming. We challenge slut-shaming language and acknowledge there are many ways people do this, one of which is reappropriation of slut-shaming terms. Many men have participated in SlutWalks worldwide.” I hope my column does not imply that their is a separate or alternative event for men as that would negate male involvement, participation and support in SlutWalks. The Walk A Mile event is a different event, with a different target audience, and a different kind of awareness than is raised in SlutWalk. There are many similarities and space for allyship between their initiatives but ultimately they are not simply alternatives of the same issues. Perhaps the eye catching title my terrific editor chose may be a tad misleading since the SlutWalks welcome participation by men and hence can be called “a slutwalk for women AND men.”

    • If men are called allies and women aren’t in that movement, doesn’t that simply ‘other’ the men and treat them differently? I don’t feel particularly welcome when I hear the word ally on anti-abuse campaigns, it implies we men aren’t at risk and don’t suffer from the same or similar issues as women.

      • Adam McPhee says:

        Exactly. Referring to men as allies means men support the women’s cause, but the women’s cause does not support the men. This is akin to another violence against women movement, seize back the night, in which women parade at night, and men/allies may join in, but they are only allowed on the outskirts of the march. I.e. women walk down the street, men walk on the sidewalk.

        I didn’t realize men were never victimized at night either. Also, this others the men, because they are not one of them (women), but instead belong to the other them (men/abusers).

Trackbacks

  1. […] Don’t get me wrong, the decision not to circumcise was actually rational. For years before my son’s birth, I had been doing work that, in one way or another was about ending the particular indecencies and unfairnesses that women face every single day. I had talked about and joined with men in this, had heard and tried to understand the pain and loss many men experience under the demands of patriarchy, was one of the people who helped my dear friend and mentor Frank Baird put together the first ever Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event. […]

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