No one has ever made me feel like a conservative old crank–except for my 16-year-old daughter. While it’s true that I’ve inched rightwards after decades of aging, experience and paying taxes, I have never actually voted for a Republican–though I flirted with the idea of supporting Christie Todd Whitman as governor of New Jersey in the 1990s, at least until she hauled Dan Quayle out on the campaign trail. I lean far left on every social issue, especially those concerning women’s rights. In fact, I still think of myself, proudly, as a “liberal” and a “feminist,” even though both terms have fallen into disfavor. So it has come as something of a shock to find myself displaced by my own progeny as Most Liberal Member of the Household.
This is how I know I’ve been dethroned: my daughter briefly considered participating in Boston’s “Slut Walk” next week, and I was not supportive. For those who don’t know, the Slut Walk is a modern-day version of Take Back the Night, the women’s protest movement against sexual violence that arose in the 1970s. The Slut Walk, which has gained traction in such cities as Toronto, London, Denver, and Chicago, consists of scantily-dressed women marching and chanting anti-rape slogans. According to the artless, poorly written website, protesters are taking a stand against “rape culture” and “slut shaming”–the practice of putting down women based on the number of sexual partners they’ve had. The real point, my daughter explained, is to draw attention to the issues of sexual abuse and rape, and remind men that no matter what women are (or are not) wearing, they may not be touched without consent.
I am proud of my daughter’s new-found assertiveness, and delighted to know that she, too, considers herself a feminist. And I love that she is actively involved in a women’s group at school, where they discuss issues ranging from the portrayal of women in film to the battle for equal pay in the workplace. She has much more self-respect than I did at her age. But do I want her walking around the Boston Common in a short skirt and tight shirt to make the point that she’s in control of her body? Of course not.
I tried to explain why. I told her that she’d be lowering herself to the level of men who objectify women–in effect giving them what they want, which is to ogle (if they can’t touch) women’s bodies. She shrugged it off, arguing that women should be able to wear whatever they want and still feel safe. Men can ogle to their hearts’ content, but it has to stop there.
I can’t decide whether the advent of the slut walk means feminism is going in the right direction or not. I guess it doesn’t matter: that’s the way it’s headed. In any case, our conversation made me feel old and anachronistic. It reminded me of the feminist generation gap that divided us during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. Though my entire family was enamored of Obama from the start, I felt torn and guilty. As a woman, I wanted to support Hillary. My daughter was appalled: “Voting for her because she’s a woman is just as bad as not voting for her because she’s a woman!” she said. In other words, reacting to her gender in any way was a slight against women. It’s the same principle with the slut walk: being cowed into dressing modestly is affirming the “blame the victim” mentality they’re trying to stop. I understand that. In fact, I believe that the media should stop withholding the names of rape victims to protect their reputations. If rape is a violent crime committed against a woman through no fault of her own, why shouldn’t her name be reported as it would if she were the victim of armed robbery or aggravated assault? It doesn’t make sense. But I’m still not willing to make my daughter the messenger by letting her strut around downtown Boston with a group of young women who call themselves “sluts”–even if they do use the term ironically.