What do "SlutWalks," the anti-rape demonstrations that have been held in nearly every major city, and Halloween parties have in common? A lot. Both feature phalanxes of females flaunting scanty clothing that typically involves lingerie.
As everyone knows, the perennial favorite among Halloween costumes for women is "ho," followed by "sexy witch," "sexy nurse" and "Lady Gaga." So it's hard to spot the difference between the young woman marching down the street clad only in a lace corset and high heels for a SlutWalk and the young woman clad only in a lace corset and high heels for an evening of Oct. 31 club-hopping. The only real difference is signage: The demonstrators often have the word "Slut" penciled on their foreheads or carry signs saying something like "My Clothes Are Not My Consent."
Here's an irony, though: The same feminists who promote SlutWalks as a protest against our supposed "rape culture," in which society always "blames the victim" for sexual assaults, are urging their sisters to cover up for Halloween. Take, for example, the feminist blog Feministing. Here is Feministing's founder, Jessica Valenti, writing in the Washington Post on June 3, not long after the very first SlutWalk, in Toronto: "[Y]es, some women dress in short, tight, 'suggestive' clothing — maybe because it's hot outside, maybe because it's the style du jour or maybe just because they think they look sexy. And there's nothing wrong with that."
But here is Feministing contributor Jessica Fuller, in an Oct. 19 post titled "Eight Alternatives to 'Sexy' Halloween Costumes": "This Halloween try dressing for yourself, not the crowds." The eight "feminist" costumes listed by Fuller include Rosie the Riveter, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Annie Hall. (A photo depicts a model attired like Annie in a fedora hat and a man's baggy pants, long-sleeved shirt, vest and tie: about as sexy as a bag of CornNuts.) If you must don a corset for that Halloween shindig, Fuller suggests you go as Gloria Steinem during her undercover stint as a Playboy bunny and "plan on using the inspired quotes you're sure to collect to write your own revolutionary essay."
The contradictory modes of the two women stem from a fundamental contradiction in the very idea of a SlutWalk. Back in the old days there were — as there still are — "Take Back the Night" rallies against the very same male-controlled culture that supposedly condones the sexual abuse of women. Since old-time feminists were in charge of Take Back the Night, the dress code was old-time feminist: bluejeans and T-shirts. Then this past spring a police constable in Toronto teaching a personal-safety class at York University said that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
The admonition, if crudely put, was practical, rather like advising someone walking through a dangerous neighborhood at night not to flash expensive jewelry or leave a wallet hanging out. Sure, it's not your fault if you get mugged while flaunting your wealth, but you could have taken steps to reduce the risk.
A group of women in the class didn't see the remark that way, though, which led to the galvanizing of a young cohort of feminists, who accused the officer of "slut-shaming." Hordes of them painted "Slut" somewhere on their persons and took to the streets wearing little more than their push-up bras (and sometimes not even that). They waved signs reading "Don't tell us how to dress. Tell men not to rape." They wanted to make a point, as Valenti wrote, that "the sad fact is, a miniskirt is no more likely to provoke a rapist than a potato sack is to deter one."
The SlutWalkers got all huffy when people — including some old-time feminists — pointed out that their attire might be sending mixed signals, especially to men. A New York City SlutWalker who decided to protest rape culture by performing a pole dance on the sidewalk was quickly surrounded by male gawkers filming her on their phones.
As illustrated by Valenti's remark, the SlutWalk feminists are in denial of a reality that is perfectly obvious to both the women who favor "sexy" for Halloween parties and (although perhaps not consciously) the SlutWalkers themselves. The reality is that men's sexual responses are highly susceptible to visual stimuli, and women, who are also sexual beings, like to generate those stimuli by displaying as much of their attractive selves as social mores or their own personal moral codes permit. In Victorian times that meant flashing an ankle every now and then. Now, it means … whatever. It's no wonder that SlutWalks have quickly outstripped (as it were) Take Back the Night as anti-rape protest. Women get another chance besides Halloween to dress up like prostitutes!
The other reality that feminists tend to deny is that rape and sexual desire are linked. Rape, in that view, is a purely political act of male dominance. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of rape victims are under age 30 — that is, when women are at their peak of desirability.
Rape is a criminal act, and it is a crime most men won't commit regardless of how short a girl's skirt is or how lovely her legs. But the fact that rapists tend to target young women rather than grandmotherly types suggests that in the real rape culture (in contrast to the imaginary rape culture of some feminist ideology), the faux-hos of Halloween and their SlutWalker counterparts marching in their underwear — like a man walking at night with a bulging wallet — should be careful about where they flash their treasure.
Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's Minding the Campus.