On social messages and slutwalks

Update: Better coverage of Delhi’s Slutwalk in San Francisco Chronicle. The messages are far more effectively conveyed true to the idea, so that the disparity in dress is not garish. Responsible, real. Good job! If this were being showed to India instead of the crap, we could have called this a really awesome event. However, I am becoming incr

As pictures come in from Delhi’s slutwalk today, I can’t but help worry that the walk gives a totally different message from that intended and reinforces the stereotypes it aims to challenge.

My main concerns:

  • The clothes: Two distinct patterns – Indian women covered up, foreigners bare. I am very concerned by this on several fronts. The most important being what does it project about foreigners. The first picture in the coverage by HT shows a girl writing slutwalk messages on a skimpily dressed foreigner’s bare stomach. When I burst out in outrage on Twitter, some thought it was bare stomachs scandalizing me. Not true. It is the bare stomach of a foreigner being touched/written on, while Indian women are dressed conservatively as the defining picture of the event. Now, if Delhi has any problem after rapes in general, it is rapes of foreigners. What message does this picture convey about a foreigner’s personal space? Is either writing slogans or foreigners the main thing about the slutwalk? This kind of masala journalism sells papers and prejudice at the same time. SHAME Hindustan Times!!!
  • There is a stark contrast among the foreigners and Indians when it comes to clothes. The Indian women are dressed MORE conservatively than on the streets. It is almost like they are trying to prove that they are not sluts and thus should not be raped. This, I think is a message that will add to judgments about clothing. WORSE than not having a slutwalk.
  • In the pictures, it is the men shown as vocal and the women quietly holding placards. Another message I’d like to have missed.
  • The foreigners look like the “item numbers” of the event. Attention getters, but not part of the real story. And that not being integrated with the local people is what is the real damage. The skimpily dressed people are not us. We are not dressed like that. We hold up placards saying don’t rape us. An entire segment of Indian women who dress skimpily is totally unrepresented – worse, covered up.
  • The biggest mistake – the organizer of the slutwalk is totally covered up, devoid of makeup or any effort whatsoever to look appealing.
This coming after the threats to disrupt the walk comes off as totally wrong. Threaten us, and we will cover up.

Why am I making such a big deal of clothes if they don’t really matter? I am not making it. The big deal has already been made, which is why we see such a conservative choice of clothes. I am only calling it out as harmful to the message of the walk. I think it is important that this be noted that the slutwalk is not only about covered up women. You wouldn’t like being raped while returning from the disco because you weren’t in the slutwalk uniform, would you?

That said, I understand that this is the first slutwalk and that it happened is a big thing. Unfortunately, I think that now it becomes even more important to make sure that the right message reaches people. There are other things I saw that could be avoided in future walks, but this is not the time for them, will post separately.

I congratulate that it happened at all. It sets precedent for future walks to happen. Good. Now the trick is to make them happen at full power.

Now, the invitation is to see the slutwalk as a social intervention and not a masala event, or something that is okay if done halfway. Restraining conditions on the slutwalk and expecting the message to reach is like reigning in a thoroughbred and expecting it to win a race. The essence of a slutwalk is the right of a woman to wear what she likes, like the essence of a thoroughbred is in its speed.

If you believe in what you are doing, then there is no need to be apologetic about it. I am not saying parade skimpily dressed women, but the absence of skimpily dressed women totally is a big matter of concern, because then it is the message of clothes defining right to be safe that is getting promoted – quite the opposite of what is intended.

Also, the slutwalk is an intervention means that the message is crucial to change in society. It needs to ring loud and clear. If you are saying clothes don’t matter, then there MUST NOT be recommendations of dressing conservatively.

Coming to the journalists. You guys are the eyes of the country. Few will see the walk live. Most will see what you choose to show. As memories fade, the only ones publicly preserved will be those in your archives. As such, you have an ethical responsibility to convey the spirit of an attempt at social change as transparently as possible. From the beginning, there has been this obsession with bare stomachs. Now, in an event of hundreds of people FROM Delhi, dressed in a certain manner, your opening picture is of a foreigner dressed not representatively of the crowd. Sure, include it. But as the FIRST picture that also gets used as a thumbnail to represent the coverage? What is it that is being conveyed here?

I suggest that there is a serious effort to contribute to social transformation and promoting social initiatives rather than pimping midriffs for a moment of attention and undermining their entire validity.

Beyond angry with the reporting. Bloody pimps.

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