The Subculture of the SlutWalk and the Republican War on Women

The SlutWalk has become a subculture of new wave feminism that has grown out of a social movement to empower women. The recent campaign between the Democrats and the Republicans in the United Sates regarding access to contraceptives and abortions are a reaction to this subculture encouraging women to reclaim their bodies from sites of victimization. The SlutWalk is a movement to counter victim blaming and address the larger social issues formed in hegemonic claims of patriarchy and power. The SlutWalk began as a response against victim blaming, a movement to reject the shaming of victims and to raise awareness to where blame should be placed through examining language and discourse surrounding the ideas of rape culture and how it is motivated through institutional failures, the ideologies of oppression through power, and how this power is founded in arbitrary language. The SlutWalk was a resistance against this culture, a resistance against cultural beliefs and language surrounding rape statistics, who is the perpetrator and how this is perpetuated.

A year later, a war against women has begun in the United States. The Republican party has declared war on the site of women’s bodies, oppressing, humiliating, violating and torturing women through legislations which have been passed and bills that are currently being voted on. The Republicans argue they are reacting against the Democratic violations of religious belief, yet on a more comprehensive scale they are resisting this formulation of feminist subculture by counteracting growing discourses of the independent body of a woman and her own site of independence. The Republicans are reacting against this subculture that is demanding these rights through government action and legislations. Passing bills that first attack a woman’s access and choice to contraceptives and making doctors and women vulnerable the publicity of her private health documents, being violated with ultrasound probes, and forced to undergo traumatizing, violating and costly procedures, women are socially and economically targeted and essentialized for their reproductive burden. Republicans have initiated this oppressive, religious backed ideological attack on women as a reaction to movements women have made and the social commentary this subculture of the SlutWalk has done for critical analysis of patriarchy and rape culture.

Managing the prevention of rape has been targeted as a woman’s responsibility. The blame should not be put on the victim, but the one who commits the crime. In response to the comments made by a Toronto police officer at a York University forum who stated “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”, a ‘SlutWalk’ was organized, a march by the Toronto Police Headquarters to raise awareness where blame should be placed. Not only have figures of authority insinuated that by not dressing like a slut will protect women from being victimized, judges have given lax sentences to sexual offenders, with various claims of inviting circumstances such as being drunk at a bar or dressing provocatively and drawing attention to themselves. Women are told to protect themselves from predators, enforcing the fear that every man having the potential to be a rapist.  Exploiting women’s bodies has been made a priority for women to ratify.  The SlutWalk is form of subculture, which began by taking a public space and raising awareness of how absurd the prevention of rape campaigns have been directed at women and has transformed into a much broader examination of women’s representation within society through the media, social relationships and governmental decisions. This movement has encouraged a new wave of feminism and women’s liberation that focuses on women’s sexual liberation and not only taking back the term slut, but also taking back decisions made for our bodies without consent. The SlutWalk focused on victim blaming and how women’s bodies have become sites of victimization. The SlutWalk is a movement to empower women in asking how our bodies are used, exploited, and where and when we can object to these objectifications. These stem further than sexual assault and rape, but into verbal violence and a lack of personal choice women have over our bodies and reproduction.

A subculture is situated in a form of systemic distortion, a form of refuting the naturalized relationship between ourselves and others (Hebdige 9). The SlutWalk is a subculture that has recognized this frame of reference held within ideology and the dominant discourses of reality surrounding victim blaming and sites of women’s bodies as victimization (Hebdige 11). The discourse of rape culture has become naturalized within the popular themes of our social way of life, where these dominant discourses are traced and re-traced through media representation and government decisions (Hebdige 10, 15). The SlutWalk functions as an objection and contradiction to these forms of hegemonic language and representation (Hebdige 17). This subculture has violated the dominant discourses of the social world, organizing through a movement to provoke and disturb this form of hegemony (Hebdige 91). The SlutWalk seeks different ideologies, breaking the natural contract of our current discourse by problematicizing our social reality (Hebdige 91, 94). The SlutWalk is a process of recuperation through subverting popular cultural signs by redefining the morality of rape language and behaviour on a global scale (Hebdige 94). The movement demands that the judicial system is more responsible and proactive in taking care of victims and requiring higher standards through education and awareness, that different discourses are used when talking about rape in the media, rejecting forms of victim blaming, and reclaiming women’s bodies as a site of liberal independence. Women have a right to bodily integrity, whether it is through decisions to dress provocatively, use birth control or have abortions.

Much controversy has surfaced over the contraception coverage campaign the Democrats have recently launched. This campaign directly targets insurance companies to offer completely contraception coverage, and as many religious institutions are self-insured, they would be forced to provide contraceptives to students and employees if the mandate is passed. Republicans are refuting this as a battle against “religious freedom” or as some liberals argue, a “war on contraception itself”. The controversial rejection of the Democratic legislation to expand birth control coverage by religiously affiliated institutions escalated with the comments of American radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh directly targeted Susan Fluke, a Georgetown Law School graduate student who spoke about the economic and health benefits of contraceptive coverage. He responded to Fluke’s well-informed and articulate speech by asking:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. So, Ms. Fluke, and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.       (Goodwin 2012)

Where does the empowerment to use this kind of language toward women develop? Where has our tolerance for verbal discrimination and oppression towards women originated? These claims lose sight of women having the freedom of choice for her body, essentialize gender, and assume that all women are mothers and should be having sex for that reason alone. It recognizes gender relationships framed within grids of legibility determined by male representatives and experts. The reaction of Rush Limbaugh is retaliation against subcultures that have resisted and complicated the oppressive language used to surrounding women and their personal and private choices. Men who are in positions of authority have the power to make decisions to target social programs that directly affect women and women alone. It is a method of removing and decentralizing women from access to social services and health care. Legislations that have passed in the United State government are an attack on women’s bodies and their fundamental rights as human beings. Women should not be persecuted because they have the burden of child bearing. This fight over contraceptive health is a branch of the foundational problems occurring globally that reinforce essentialized ideas of women to keep us silenced, passive and domesticated.

Georgia State Representative Terry England spoke in favour of legislation HB 954 “which makes it illegal to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks even if the woman is known to be carrying a stillborn fetus or the baby is otherwise not expected to live to term” (Peck 2012). He related the experience to delivering still born calves and pigs while growing on a farm. He draws parallels between farm animals and women giving birth, and the experience being a similar one. He suggests, “if a cow or pig can give birth to a dead baby, then a woman should too” (Peck 2012). This legislation is a violation of a woman’s human rights as a form of torture and refusing her the right to live. Media critic Soraya Chemaly wrote a powerful response to Rep. England’s comments. Women have the right to life, the right to privacy, freedom and bodily integrity (Chemaly 2012). Women have the right to decide when and how we will reproduce; legislations such as these are a violation of a woman’s body. The criminalization of pregnancy and abortion are a reaction against women claiming their bodies as their own, reiterating a new type of language used in speaking about our bodies. A bill that forces women to carry stillborn or dying fetuses until they naturally go into labour is form of public intrusion over a woman’s body. It would disallow women or doctors to make privately based decisions on aborting dead or dying fetuses (Chemaly 2012). These “Let Women Die” bills are forms of essentailizing women’s roles as the reproductive caregiver. Forcing a woman to carry a dead or dying fetus to term is inhumane and unethical, it “is also a violation of her bodily integrity and a threat to her life” and completely violates her rights as a human being by putting her through both an emotional and physical form of torture (Chemaly 2012).

Women are forced to undergo trans-vaginal ultrasounds before their choice to have an abortion. Non-consensual trans-vaginal ultrasounds by “condom-covered, six-to-eight-inch ultrasound probe” are a form of control and oppression. It is a violation of women’s bodily integrity and process of rape by the state (Chemaly 2012). This “Heartbeat Bill” is a form of humiliation, mandating unnecessary medical procedures that are costly and non-consensual that force women to view the ultrasound and told if there is a heartbeat (Goodwin 2012). The Republican Party has also endorsed the “personhood” initiative, which would redefine the word “person” to include zygotes. The moment of fertilization would transform a women and a zygote to two people under the law (Maddow 2012). The “personhood” initiative would ban all abortions and could potentially outlaw prescription forms of hormonal birth control (Maddow 2012). Zygotes being given more fundamental rights than women are. Women’s wombs are becoming sites of legislation by the state, her insurance company, her employers and her rapist (Chemaly 2012). The Republicans are attempting to take away women’s reproductive decision-making power. This is a response to the movement of women fighting for freedom of violence imposed by state actors, institutions and sexual perpetrators.

The Life Defense Act of 2012 is a Republican legislation that could publicize the information of a women’s abortion, including “her age, race, county, marital status, education level, number of children, the location of the procedure and how many times she has been pregnant” and identify the doctor who performed the procedure (Pieklo 2012). Not only does this legislation violate human resources and health privacy protections for no public health purpose whatsoever, the father is never identified and is completely free of all public shame and social stigma. Where is women’s medical privacy? Where are women’s bodily rights and integrity? This legislation makes abortions not only physically unsafe, but can create unnecessary social issues and put women in a greater risk for danger.

The benefits of contraceptive coverage in the United States are completely absent in any Republican discourse. The coverage of contraceptives and other forms of reproductive health care by insurance companies are beneficial to society (Rosenthal 2012). Contraceptive have many health benefits such as reducing ovarian cancer and preventing health risks to women and infants through monitoring the gap between pregnancies (Rosenthal 2012). The preventative care of contraceptives usually include cancer screening with Pap smears, HPV and DNA testing, mammograms, and colonoscopies, as well as domestic violence screening and counseling through routine checkups (Rosenthal 2012). By voting against contraceptive coverage, women become more vulnerable to the social barriers in affording contraceptives and making routine visits for cervical cancer screening. Women are now encouraged to be screen less often for cervical cancer, and are now being educated that Pap Smears need only be done once every three years as cervical cancer grows at a very slow rate and pap test producers can be damaging to your cervix (Murdoch 2012). There are other issues regarding sexual health than developing cervical cancer. It is dangerous to encourage infrequent physical and sexual health care, and raises the question of what is being done for federal funding in women’s health. By popularizing the concept that pap tests do not need to be taken as frequently, many women will not be proactive in getting the screening they need done routinely. The multitude of contraceptive bills target women economically, publicizing medical records to employers and opens the door for many forms of discrimination against women. Women would be required to prove to their employers that they needed birth control to treat a medical condition if their wanted their prescription to be covered by their employer insurance (Schriock 2012). Women face termination from their place of work for requesting their birth control be covered for contraceptive purposes.

Renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has become another recent topic of interest in the Republican and Democratic debate, challenged by Repbulicans due to the new elements of the legislation that protects immigrant women and same-sex couples (Pandit 2012). The new elements of the VAWA legislation include community violence prevention programs, legal aid survivors of violence, funding for rape crisis centers and hotlines and support programs specifically for immigrant communities (Pandit 2012). This act would enforce federal funding for social services like legal protection and education against sexual violence and stalking, rape crisis centers, housing for domestic violence survivors and programs to address violence against disabled people (HRW 2012). The bill also provides funding for rape kits; in instances where forensic evidence is collected, the rape is more likely to go through the justice system and lead to arrests (HRW 2012). Despite the progress that the VAWA legislation appears to make for victims of sexual assault, states continue to slash budgets for preventative measures (HRW 2012).

Women are disproportionately affected by the cuts in social programs and the reduction in federal spending on health care programs (Brodsky 2012). As women statistically make less money than men do, we experience most of the cutbacks are more vulnerable and reliant on social programs (Brodsky 2012). Excluding contraceptive coverage in many insurance plans is a direct social and economical attack on women and private reproductive health decisions. As governments have been restructured, services have been privatized, markets deregulated and social services diminished, women’s inequality has become exacerbated and put at a greater disadvantage (Brodsky 2012). Women are experiencing decentralization through dispersion of people and responsibility to our human rights and access to resources (Brodsky 2012). Diminishing social programs and digressive stance of reproductive health has taken giant steps backwards in the progress of women’s equality. Government restructuring is complicating the values that subcultures such as the SlutWalk have struggled to popularize. Decisions made by governments are taking away the tools women need for bodily integrity and independent power from the oppressive culture and dominant ideology. Women are experiencing their bodies as a site of war rather than a site of liberation.

Our current justice system has also failed to deal with cases of rape adequately due to lack of public spending and financial support for victims and specializing within law enforcement (Jordan 231). The current laws and protocol for rape investigation is failing to hold perpetrators of rape accountable for their actions (Jordan 240). The attitudes held within law enforcement reflect broader social belief and institutional influences (Jordan 244). How rape is responded to is a reflection of the dominant attitudes and beliefs of those responding (Jordan 243). Financial support for victim support is a major area of neglect, as many agencies have scarce resources and rely entirely on volunteer aid (Jordan 241). The lack of government support for this social service do not provide communities with the economic means to provide educative seminars and leave rape victims with limited options for rehabilitation. An epidemic of sexual violence continues, as 2010 reports estimate 1 in 5 women have been victims of rape, over ninety percent of cases the perpetrators was someone the victim knew and half the time it was their own partner (Kovalchik 2012). Reports of rape are still low, as victims continue to be strongly judged, rape support agencies are largely under funded and police specialization is not essential and attitudes of victim blaming continue to exist (Jordan 245).

Resisting these forms of proposed social programs presented by the Democrats directly targets and disproportionately impacts women, who suffer in restrictions to health care in the US. Decisions to prevent birth control to be readily accessible to all women exacerbate the divide in the autonomy in men and women’s health. This disadvantage women face economically though decentralization, dispersion and lack of social support for these programs perpetuate bigger issues within socially funded programs that lack focus on women’s economic independence.

This “War on Women” has become a war about sex and property, not life and morality. The state seeks to control women’s sex and reproduction; there are “powerful social structures that rely on patriarchal access to and control over women as reproductive engines”. The Democratic Party has attributed women as a form of property. Controlling reproduction is founded in “ensur[ing] that a man could possess and consolidate wealth-building and food-producing land and then make sure it wasn’t disaggregated by passing it on to one son he knew was his — largely by claiming a woman and her gestation capability as property, too” (Chemaly 2012). The Republicans are reaction against a movement that has done exactly the opposite for women and our reproductive decisions. By reclaiming our right to our bodies, our right to our reproduction, a right to our sexuality and a right to our methods of birth control, the Republicans have reacted to further oppress the movement and the growing ideologies that stem from a movement like the SlutWalk.

This subculture of resistance has demonstrated great action worldwide in the movement to reclaim a woman’s right to her own body. The semiotics of patriarchal culture have condoned the violations of a women’s bodily integrity and controversially argued why our human rights as women are not on par with men. This movement has disrupted hegemonic ideals about men and women, causing a reaction against it. The Republican war on women is this resistance, the denial of these rights through additional social and economic barriers. Fortunately, the “deviant behaviour” of the SlutWalk will continue to use these oppositions as strengths to their cause and fuel a greater fire to strengthen, unite and resist the expectant behaviour of the essentialized passive reproductive bodies that Republicans have made women out to be.

 Works Cited:

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Murdoch, C. (n.d.). Your Future Just Got a Little Less Pap Smeary. Jezebel. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://jezebel.com/5893481/your-future-just-got-a-little-less-pap-smeary?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

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Pieklo, J. (n.d.). Tennessee Wants To Publish Abortion Patient Information. Care2Care. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://www.care2.com/causes/tennessee-wants-to-publish-abortion-patient-information.html

Rosenthal, L (2012). 5 Reasons Why The Contraceptive Coverage Guarantee Is So Important. Think Progress. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from

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