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Eyes on me | Anna Kleiman

Eyes on me: Visual resistance to sexual violence in the Israeli SlutWalk movement

Anna Kleiman, PhD candidate, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam



She(s)says







Introduction

The global SlutWalk movement – including its Israeli branch – was founded in reaction to controversial remarks made in 2011 by a Canadian police officer in a speech he gave at York University in Toronto: “I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” In response, the first SlutWalk was launched, attracting some 3,000 participants, as well as global media attention. That same year, SlutWalks were organized across the United States, South America, Asia, Europe, Australia and Israel.

This study aims to map the visual impact generated by the SlutWalk movement in Israel and the value of its actions against the patriarchal power relations the movement is fighting. I specifically examine the patriarchal power relations as expressed in the visual stratum, that is the way in which the patriarchal power uses women’s visibility to police and discipline them. I analyze the visual resistance practices that are inherent to the spaces the movement occupies, particularly body writing and the ways it is used in the marches. Unlike existing research about the movement, which mostly avoids direct examination of its visual products, this essay inductively examines the participants’ images, performance and visibility. Doing so, I hope to bridge the enormous, misleading and obstructive gap between the theoretical ivory tower and the march’s political value and real visibility.



Literature review: Sluts and rape logic

The word “slut” has been in use since at least the early 15th century; its meaning shifted according to changes in society and discourse, but it has always remained a signifier of gendered inferiority, carrying filthy, dirty and reprehensible connotations (Wilson, 2015). A coherent contemporary definition of the word is hard to find, in part due to its nature as slang, but all of its social uses have in common a reference to a specific “type” of women, distinct from the “good” women; they choose to be included in this category (or they might be mistakenly identified with it), and therefore can choose not to, and overall can control which category they fall into; they are identifiable by visible behavior that exceeds what is deemed “right,” “good,” “suitable” or “appropriate” according to the local moral codes of the time (Walters, 1966; Roberts, 2002; Hewitt, 2002). The first SlutWalk in Toronto sought to directly protest the police officer’s comments, who made a clear distinction between “sluts” and other women by the way they dress; the SlutWalks that followed adopted that visual emphasis as another means to express feminist demands, and the emphasis on visibility – both as a visual practice and as the object of the act of reclaiming – has been reshaped according to local social and political norms.

Annie Hill (2015) coined in her writing the term rape logic, meaning the justification of sexual violence against women (but not only women) by pinning the blame on the victim for their visual appearance. This, according to Hill, is because “the female body is such a forceful signifier of sex” (Hill, 2015, p. 26) in the Western culture and in general, seen as an essential characteristic, hence society’s conclusion that it is a woman’s responsibility to control the unavoidable influence of this visibility on those who see it; it is her responsibility to cover her body and make sure the message her clothes and behavior convey negates the inherent message her viewed body does, which is necessarily a message of sexual invitation. This puts women’s visibility, as a speaking subject, before the human subject. Rape logic describes sexual violence by men against women as an unavoidable, natural and innocent reaction on the men’s part to the agentic sexual force exerted by women by their mere visibility and supposed choice not to restrain it. Ironically, victims of sexual violence are therefore described as active agents, female subjects that consciously and actively sent non-verbal sexual messages; by choice of clothes, they brought upon themselves what occurred “naturally,” whether intentionally or not. This logic, rooted deep in Western thinking, has a negative influence on all women, not only those who were victims to sexual violence: The fear of being exposed to sexual violence and the fear of being made to feel responsible for summoning it are enough to reduce in actual terms women’s freedom of movement and of profession, undermine their mental health and overall sense of freedom, and keep them below men in the social hierarchy.


Methodology: The patriarchal panopticon

Panopticon is an ideal prison design, consisting of a ring-shaped building for the cells and a guard tower in its center, which Michel Foucault (1995) used as a metaphor to describe power relations between power and individuals. The panopticon disciplines the subjects in an automatic, deindividual manner, with no need for an external person to directly enforce their authority over them. The subject is self-indoctrinated at the possible presence of a guard in the tower and becomes “the principle of his own subjection” (Foucault, 1995, 252), unable to communicate with others in the same situation or point to the perpetrator that bears sole responsibility for their policing. Power is exerted not as a ruthless, uncompromising necessity, but in a gentle, soft and even seemingly voluntary way.

Sandra Lee Bartky (1997) criticized the visual standards of femininity as a panoptic disciplinary tool that targets women’s bodies and subjugates them to a wide variety of practices policing these bodies in the modern world. According to her, women have accepted the beauty ideal as an expression of “right” femininity and the inherent fear of the social consequences of any deviation, and are not at a distance from it that would enable criticism, conscious choice or resistance. Furthermore, patriarchal disciplinary practices and their internalization have become an actual identity from which women draw a sense of self-worth, making resistance all the more difficult. Monique Deveaux (1994) criticized this approach, arguing it is necessarily blind to various resistance practices as it assumes complete false consciousness among women and disregards the potential agency in gender performance. Such approach, according to Deveaux, puts any woman’s visibility, whether chosen with or without awareness of power relations, in the category of subjected bodies and sees it as a part of women’s voluntary self-policing, which stems from their lack of choice (Deveaux, 1994, p. 228).

As for resistance, Foucault argued that those seeking to bring about political, social and cultural change must turn their focus away from that inherent “deviant” sexuality at the core of their being and not demand its acceptance and normalization. He praises the feminist movement for seeking to rise above the specific individualization generated by the power by focusing on the sex, anatomy and “inherent sexuality” of women’s bodies to justify the social inferiority assigned to them as a biological element at birth (Foucault, 1980, p. 219-220). Following on from him, Judith Butler (1993) claimed that attempts to claim or reclaim “deviant” sexuality only serve to preserve, strengthen and perpetuate the artificial dichotomy that had justified the oppression the protesters supposedly seek to eradicate. She calls for subversion against this dichotomy, resistance to the social norms that construct our identity, and the restructuring of a new identity that does not rely on what the power can grasp (Butler, 1993, p. 314); “how?” is still an open question.

At this stage I seek to turn the focus to an inherent paradox in Foucault’s theory: According to the panopticon model, the patriarchal power is total, undisputable and all-encompassing, but then also constantly undermined and challenged. This paradox is crucial for the understanding of how feminist movements seek to resist sexual violence by resisting the sexualization of the visible female body. Butler and her queer analysis of gender can serve as a road map not only for analyzing everyday techniques of the construction of gender as agential choices, but also against the dichotomous and self-righteous judgement of women and their choice of visibility. Seeing as gender is constantly reprogrammed by repetitive imitation, Butler states that any choice of a gendered visual expression, even when it seeks to resist the patriarchal gender constructs, is merely a form of negotiating with what the power dictates and with the visual lexicon formed and shaped under its auspices and direct influence (Butler, 1993, p. 312-316). The understanding that any choice of clothes, movement and visibility that may be is a form of negotiating with the patriarchal force and its constructs concerning women’s visibility, individuals under its cover can be seen as active participants in that negotiation: Women repetitively weigh the pros and cons of any certain type of visibility, looking at the level of self-worth it gives them, for example, or how closely aligned it is with the ideal for women – or rejects it. Butler’s approach is seen in literature as somewhat pessimistic, claiming it pulls the rug from under any prospects of radical transformation of the patriarchal power relations; I argue it is a starting point that allows to look at women as conscious individuals, whose choices are based on an ongoing examination of the gender rules dictated to them and of the social and personal consequences of deviating from them, in relation to their needs and wants. And so, choosing any certain visibility is not an absolute, radical resistance to the patriarchal power, but also not collaboration with it as a result of false consciousness, weakness or surrender. The supposed paradox in Foucault’s writings actually resolves itself, setting universal foundations for the analysis of the broader influences that patriarchal power has over the most refined nuances in the human experience (Hekman, 1990, p. 176).

Film researcher Laura Mulvey – who deserves credit for adding “the male gaze” to the academic feminist lexicon, making it with time a basic, well-known concept in academia and beyond it and in ever-expanding social circles – provides an important insight in her essay (Mulvey, 1975). There is one characteristic, Mulvey writes, that is shared by all women in Hollywood’s popular film industry – perhaps the only one embedded into them – “to-be-looked-at-ness” (Mulvey, 1975, p. 11). Being that, women are expected to stir visual pleasure, and the female body is styled to suit the gazer’s fantasies, expectations and desires: “Women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact.” (Mulvey, 1975, p. 11). Despite supporting her claims by long criticized psychoanalytic theory, Mulvey was accurate in naming that “to-be-looked-at-ness” and defining it as a passive feature in women, semantically distant from an action carried out at them. “To-be-looked-at-ness” is the common denominator for all women in the patriarchal panopticon, on screens and in the unmitigated reality, and for safekeepers of the patriarchy is a given: Because women are to be looked at, they are responsible for the message read by the gaze turned at them, which they choose, as Butler argued, from an existing lexicon; by exposing their bodies in the context of the cultural discourse in the Israeli society, and Western society more generally, women expose themselves to stricter policing.



Visual protest strategies

How can women take control of embodied signification, of the way she is read and the way she reads herself? One possibility is (…) to problematize phallocentric seeing and readings of women’s bodies.

(Haber 1996, 139)


Seeing as each women chooses and makes up her visibility from an existing cultural-visual lexicon, Honi Haber (1996), who examined bodybuilders’ visibility, argues that going against traditional gender dichotomies undermines it, as well as the meaning of the established representations and their validity. Although it seems that according to Haber women have no choice but to be labeled inferior and classified into either end – a good-feminine woman or a non-woman – she expresses hope that the subversive bodies of bodybuilders can slowly undermine the reading of physical power and muscle as a masculine quality, and perhaps over time power can come to mean tenderness, and softness as physical force; the same goes for tattooed bodies, wrinkled bodies, bodies that take up space, limbless bodies, and more. Following on from Haber, I propose a reading of the body writing practice at SlutWalks in Israel that sees it as one of the ways in which women can challenge the phallocentric gaze turned at them by their mere being women with to-be-looked-at bodies. In writing on their bodies, women and girls paint messages they want to convey against rape culture, sexual violence and victim blaming across various parts of their body – chest, stomach, arms, legs, back – aimed at various readers; they march together knowing they would attract public and media attention. The protesters choose not to avoid the sexualizing gaze, not to stay away from it and in the private, safe sphere, and not to cover from it. They use their physical body, read as a sexual object whatever it may be covered in, therefore using their inherent “to-be-looked-at-ness” as a bait. The eye seeking to examine the protester’s body with a phallocentric view must replace it, even for a brief moment, with a view that is reading a text, reluctantly exposed to visible and written messages that cannot be understood as a sexual invitation, because they literally refuse it. The marchers at SlutWalk are “to-be-looked-at” just as women are “to-be-looked-at” any other time, but they charge what is seen with different content, which contradicts and does not allow for an objectifying look just as easily, content that undermines that patriarchal power relations and evokes angry reactions by those seeking to maintain the patriarchal order.

By organizing this protest in the form of marches through city centers, together with the practice of body writing, it reverses the power relations between the looker and the subject of their gaze. The performative nature of a march in the public space gives protesters control over the way in which passersby view them; the others have to stand in place in order to examine the march as it passes over them (Bonilla, 2019). Those watching women marching down the street with slogans on their bodies become passive receptors of their messages, while the subjects of the gaze, the women and their inherently “to-be-looked-at” bodies, become the originators and conveyors of the message. The use of physical presence in a protest demanding a change in the meanings embedded in the body, can be seen as using an existing medium for conveying messages – women’s seen, inherently “to-be-looked-at” body, which was constructed and charged with supposed inherent sexual meaning for male-masculine pleasure, and is now being epistemologically reconstructed.




[Image 1] "I am Lillou, a single mother, 29 years old. I was raped at 11.” Lillou Shalev in a campaign ahead of SlutWalk 2017 in Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein

[Image 2] "It only hurts you when you’re comfortable, he said and kept going.” Avital Hedva Eshel in a campaign ahead of SlutWalk 2017 in Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein

The vast majority of body writings in the Israeli SlutWalk movement seek to put the subject over their body. Lillou Shalev, a longtime SlutWalk activist, wrote on her body things that identify her as a subject: “I am Lillou, a single mother, 29 years old. I was raped at 11” (see image 1). Avital Hedva Eshel also chose to write the story of her personal trauma on her body: "It only hurts you when you’re comfortable, he said and kept going” (see image 2). The looked turned at Shalev’s and Eshel’s bodies, with the aim of consuming them as sexual objects, is forced to reckon with its own fundamental logic, unable to make a distinction between the body and the subject, the person in it. Using this practice for the campaign preceding the march, alongside texts written by the women featured in it – as well as the use of this practice while marching, shouting, speaking, laughing and materially existing along the march – stress the subjectivity of women and their bodies, visually connecting the body, read in everyday life as a sexual object, with a human story that evokes empathy. When the phallocentric gaze ignores the face and the subjective feelings it expresses, the decision to let the body, which is the subject of the gaze either way, tell the story of the hurt subject, does not allow for a reading that is only sexual: The look is drawn to the text thanks to the body and thanks to the performative march, but can no longer see it as a sexual object as easily as it had.



[Image 3] "No means no.” Aliya Ben-Arosh Partush at SlutWalk 2018, Tel Aviv. Credit: Mooli Goldberg

[Image 4] “Don’t think like a rapist.” A protester at SlutWalk 2016, Tel Aviv. Credit: SlutWalk

[Image 5] “Not asking for it.” Hani Haimovich in a campaign ahead of SlutWalk 2017 in Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein


Another way to challenge the phallocentric view still in the category of emphasizing the subject is a direct appeal to the objectifying looker, as many marchers did: The inscription “No means no” (see image 3) seeks to remind the looker that the woman, the subject that owns the body, has full authority over her sexuality, rather than her seen body or the person looking at it and dubbing it; “Don’t think like a rapist” (see image 4) appeals to the looker who interprets what he sees as sexuality that exists to pleasure him, and by doing so give the looker the responsibility for controlling his urges; Hani Haimovich chose to photograph for the campaign while pole dancing (see image 5), an artistic sport genre that has sought in recent years to shake off its pornographic connotations in culture. Hani’s body, which is in a pose that is culturally clearly associated with the sexual pleasure of the masculine gaze, invites a look, forcing the looker to read the sentence written on her leg: “Not asking for it”; Ella Amest, a longtime trans activist, wrote on her body at several marches: “Not your fetish” (see image 6), which tackles the phallocentric gaze, and specifically how it is turned at trans women. She wrote in the campaign preceding the march:


My first encounter with trans women [...] was in pornography. [...] Pornography created by a manly industry, for men consumers, and to live up men’s fantasies. [...] The only impression I had about the life I want for myself was that I have to play a role in a fantasy that makes me a sex toy.

(SlutWalkTLV, 2017)

[Image 6] “Not your fetish.” Ella Amest at SlutWalk 2017, Tel Aviv. Credit: Michal Eisenstein-Herrmann

The phallocentric look turned at Ella and other trans women is the reaction Haber discussed in the context of bodybuilders; it expands the definition of femininity to include women whose visibility deviates from the “real” and “right” femininity, subjecting them to the same objectifying look, while sexual attraction toward them is framed as a fetish. The inscription appeals to the person turning a gaze at her that fetishitistically sexualizes her body, and directly resists it.

All of these examples of protest inscribed on the body, as part of which protesters embed a subject into their body and choose its messages, challenge the rape logic described by Hill: If justifications for sexual violence and rape culture as a whole point to women’s mere visibility as a wanting, speaking subject, that “viewed subject” now adds to the woman’s refusal and refuses, too. In such a state, it is impossible to read a wanting subject off of a body that refuses any sexual attention, even if rape logic lets ignore a refusal expressed by the human subject. This practice, it seems, has a sarcastic air to it, as it supposedly plays by the patriarchal rules that separate the women as a subject from the “subject” of her visibility/body, in a way that does not let them be used against the woman. Using that patriarchal assumption, by which the woman and her body can convey two contradicting messages and the latter is prioritized – instead of insisting on giving the subject priority, the protesters align these two supposedly different messages, merging them into one visual and verbal message. This way, this practice shows how artificial rape logic is, by separating between the woman and her visibility, as two entities conveying different messages, and seeks to fight the patriarchal “divide and conquer” between women’s subjectivity, their “humanity,” and their material body. By doing this, they give voice and recognition to women’s human experience, being both subjects and material bodies at the same time.

The fact that the vast majority of marchers who employ this strategy of body writing use it to embed a subject can show that beyond its use to visually convey protest messages, this practice also fulfills the march’s more fundamental message in terms of content: Demanding recognition of women themselves as a human subject, and not just their bodies, and seeking an end to justifying sexual violence in that the perpetrator listened more closely to the “viewed subject” than the actual subject. On top of conveying the basic messages of the march, its demands also involve a performative speech act, a linguistic term that connotes a verbal expression that in itself is the action it describes, or a part of it: Writing the subject on the body effectively embeds it into the body; reading the subject off of a body does that too. Repeating these, therefore, is an act of visual education, or even training, seeking to carve women’s bodies as they are into the memory of the viewers (passersby, those expose to the protest on media and social networks, and marchers, too) as carriers of a subject, whether or not inscribed on them with temporary writings.


[Image 7] “Woman,” “Cocksucker,” “Fucker,” “Slut,” “Whore,” “Easy,” “Loose,” “Bitch.” Bracha Bard in a campaign ahead of SlutWalk 2017 in Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein


[Image 8] “Cheap commodity.” Anna Kleiman in a campaign ahead of SlutWalk 2017 in Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein

[Image 9] “Attraction,” “Worth fucking.” A protester at SlutWalk 2018, Tel Aviv. Credit: Shir Hakim

The second category of visual resistance in the practice of body writing in the SlutWalk movement in Israel is shock. Inscriptions like “object,” “whore,” “worth fucking,” “attraction” and “cheap commodity” (see images 7-9) seek to expose the meanings the objectifying look reads off of women’s bodies, which effectively reduces them into a sexual object pleasing the masculine class. This practice operates on a slightly different level to the inscriptions in the subject embedding category, as it seeks to expose the action of the phallocentric look and shock the viewer. This visual resistance technique, which seeks to bring personal and social awareness of injustices by voluntarily committing it against a human body, is common in various fields of activism and particularly among animal rights groups. As part of this, activists voluntarily and performatively apply on their own bodies the mechanisms used in the meat, daily, fish, fur and leather industries, which are normally performed away from the public eye, in order to expose them and encourage people to stop consuming animal products. This practice and its use in the march seek to stress the severity of the objectifying look at women, and by doing so to undermine the banality and normalization of the cruelty the patriarchal power exerts on women, as well as its construction as “natural.” The phallocentric look at the marchers’ bodies cannot avoid being exposed to its own harsh and destructive meanings, leaving the viewer shocked at a human body so clearly objectified and dehumanized.



[Image 10] “It’s not your fault.” A protester at SlutWalk 2021, Tel Aviv. Credit: Theia Yam Frank


[Image 11] “I believe you.” A protester at SlutWalk 2021, Jerusalem. Credit: Shahar Galor

Feminist demonstrators use their bodies’ “to-be-looked-at-ness” also in order to address other women: “You’re not alone” and “I believe you” (see images 10, 11) are expressions meant to show recognition of the sexual assault experienced by the women exposed to this message, while resisting the separation practices the panoptic power forces on women. This practice of conveying a message using the body, unlike the previous ones, does not relate to the subjectivity of the one bearing it, but the subjectivity of the one reading it; in doing so, it seeks to heal the culturally normative attitude toward survivors that sees their body as accountable and inviting sexual attention. The protester’s body appeals to survivors as a subject directed at a subject, offering a corrective experience of the sexual violence they had experienced. The protester’s body becomes a subject that not only sends a message to the onlooking survivor, but also sets a gaze on her, only this time, it is one that recognizes her humanity by its inability or refusal to refer to her specific visual features, the same ones that according to rape logic had summoned sexual attention. On the level of it, it is a statement from a woman to a survivor, supposedly irrelevant to anyone who has not experienced sexual assault (and in the case of “I believe you,” which is normally inscribed on protesters’ bodies without gendered diacritic signs in Hebrew, it also refers to survivors of sexual assault who are not women.). However, it is clear that when phallocentric looks wherever they may appear, and specifically by the objects of the protest who seek to maintain gender hierarchy, take the “to-be-looked-at” bait at the foundation of this practice of body writing; by reading slogans and words that recognize the subjectivity of the survivors and question the existence of a visible wanting subject at the time of the assault, they become witnesses of a conversation that is held without their participation, This public recognition of the survivor subject creates and reaffirms a different approach to survivors, an non-patriarchal norm in the making.



[Image 12]“Feminazi.” A protester at SlutWalk 2017, Tel Aviv. Credit: Walla!

[Image 13] “Witch.” A protester at SlutWalk 2018, Tel Aviv. Credit: Luba Fein

[Image 14] “Feminist terror.” A protester at SlutWalk 2018, Be’er Sheva. Credit: Nofar Eyni

The fourth technique activists employ is embodying exaggeration, by using sexist slurs hurled at women in general and feminist activists in particular, at the march and elsewhere: “Witch,” “Feminazi,” Feminist terror” (see images 12-14) all seek to deny the feminist cause legitimacy. Ironically, these slurs that are meant to delegitimize all make reference to the marchers’ great power, which automatically puts the objects of the protest – people who commit and justify sexual violence – in a place of helpless victims of these powers. Some would see reclaiming of slurs in this practice, a form of instilling positive meaning into these powers and accepting them; I argue the objective of this technique is to ridicule the meanings associated with the slur, and as a result ridiculing those who hurl it at them. This practice stresses just how much redefining the meanings that women’s bodies carry undermines those who seek to preserve a sexist gender hierarchy, just how terrified they are of undermining the hierarchy, their superiority or their familiar place in it. At the same time, it also shows just how fragile gender hierarchy – and the masculine superiority that is a part of it – are; undermining the hierarchy at the march is nothing more than a non-violent demonstration, even approved and secured by the local police. A marcher announcing herself a feminist terrorist or some type of a feminist fascist, while calling rhyming slogans, raising a banner or just marching, seeks to underline the gap between the protest’s non-violent nature and its framing by critics as a clear intention to kill its innocent objects, use supernatural elements with malice and even systematically annihilate all men.



[Image 15] “Not a slut, a fucker!” A protester at SlutWalk 2015, Tel Aviv. Credit: Amit Zinman

Finally, a fifth technique I identified is reclaiming sexuality. It is interesting to note that even though the name of the march may imply it would be its most common practice, I found only one clear example of employing this practice at the marches in Israel, while the vast majority of slogans written on the protesters’ bodies employ the subject embedding practice. The protester in image 15 wrote across her body, “Not a slut, a fucker!” – “fucker” in the feminine form; the masculine would be a positive, empowering description of a sexually active man that preserves and justifies the superiority of his class. This way the protester establishes herself as someone whose sexual activity does not take away from, but even add to her social status and human value. In addition, the choice of the word “slut” is extremely common. It is an interesting example seeing as it does not fit into one exclusive category of resistance: The social-literal interpretation of this slur, which refers to sexuality that takes away from its owner’s value and justifies the inferiority of her class, proposes seeing its writing on the body as reclaiming sexuality as a positive thing, taking out its sexist sting, and this is certainly how it is read by the onlooker. However, it must be taken in the short-term historical context of the march, in which identifying as a “slut” became popular particularly because it became a brand, marking a prominent annual feminist event; belonging to it creates a sense of community and solidarity.

The panopticon model allows for an analysis of the patriarchal power as an oppressive power based on activating looks; therefore, using the visual level and stretching its legally and socially acceptable boundaries is, to borrow Audre Lorde’s activism terminology, using the master’s tool in order to break down and dismantle the master’s house. This frequently quoted imagery, which makes a distinction between liberal feminism strategies and radical feminism strategies for social change, could also put the effectiveness of the SlutWalk into question. However, seeing as the march does make waves, drawing thousands of counteractions – some, like comments on social media, are more measurable than others, like people yelling at the marchers – Lorde’s metaphor, together with the terms coined by Mulvey, allow for a more nuanced analysis of the march’s protest strategy. The march put an emphasis on the visual level, the master’s tools given to the participants within a limited demonstration, because these tools of the master are the only ones that they have. The emphasis on the SlutWalk’s visual features, and specifically using the seen body as a protest technique, whether created intentionally and knowingly or shaped over the years by communal dynamics, blurs the lines between legally “legitimate” appearance and “other” appearance that may make authorities disperse the protest. The movement’s visual emphasis ignores the policing imposed on the marchers’ bodies, referring directly to the issue at the core of the entire movement: women’s inherent “to-be-looked-at-ness” and the social hierarchy it supposedly proves and justifies. The wide use of the visual level and the blurring it creates make it a level of protest that is very difficult to police or curb its effectiveness in undermining patriarchal social norms. Going back to Foucault’s metaphor, these are “prisoners” defiantly leaning against their cell bars, confidently smiling at the guard tower; as Butler said in one of her interviews: “This is not freedom, but a question of how to work the trap that one is inevitably in" (Kolz & Butler, 1992, p. 84). With Lorde’s argument in mind, we are reminded that the master’s hammer still is a rather useful hammer.

While this is clear self-scandalization, it would be too simplistic to read the visual way in which women show ownership of their bodies at SlutWalks to mean “self-objectification” and “voluntary policing” stemming from false consciousness, as has been claimed more than once. Women, as Butler argued, at a SlutWalk or any other day, have no choice but to select clothes from a global wardrobe that was designed, marketed and sold under the patriarchal power’s realm of influence, and to draw a sense of self-worth from their choice, whatever it may be. Any piece of clothing women would choose, for a SlutWalk or for any other day, whether it is “provocative” – associated by the patriarchal power with policed female sexuality, like corsets or pantyhose – or “everyday,” “summery” or “regular” – like jeans or T-shirts – will be perceived as the tool with which women market themselves as goods, as a woman’s speaking subject, which is heard louder than the woman herself and dubbed by the onlooker according to his own interests (Hill, 2015, p. 27). In fact, I claim there is no fundamental difference between choosing what to wear on a normal day and what to wear to protest at a SlutWalk. The negotiations with the patriarchal lexicon the marchers engage in in choosing what to wear to the march are the same ones they make every day when they choose what clothes to wear. According to rape logic, all women’s clothes in the public space are “provocative,” “arousing” and “inviting sexual attention,” so long as a woman’s body is being read as an inherently desiring subject; any woman’s existence in the public space is a SlutWalk, where she chooses her appearance from what she is given, and expects to be treated like a subject that is just as human.



Summary and conclusions

This essay mapped practices of visual resistance to sexual violence, rape logic and victim blaming in the Israeli SlutWalk movement. I presented body writing as direct resistance to women’s inherent “to-be-looked-at-ness” in the patriarchal panopticon. The theoretic conclusions of my study expose the social dichotomies concerning “right” and “wrong” women and femininity as fundamentally misguided. While “right” femininity means existing for the visual and/or physical sexual pleasure of the male class without any resentment and dissatisfaction, actively and enthusiastically participating in her sex slavery in service of the superior male class, a woman who dares complain, show pain or express discomfort at the patriarchal oppression and its various expressions is shunned, no longer worthy of visual consumption, and declared “provocative” and “slut,” that is, existing in a “wrong” way for the male gaze. Slut is now understood as a gender marker, a platonic idea or visual genre women are expected to denounce, making it an effective tool in policing and disciplining individual behavior.

The practice of body writing at SlutWalks effectively creates a parody of the slut, defined solely by being “allowed” (and therefore also “to-be-looked-at”). The parody lies in the visibility of a woman, who looks like a woman but is also a human subject – two mutually exclusive definitions in the eyes of the patriarchy. The visual level at SlutWalks is a means to expose the sexism that enabled “slut” and refuse it; the public uproar with which the march’s images are met every year in Israel proves that the class hierarchy was indeed undermined, as it negates the very core of the patriarchal power relations, which is that men are free to use women. Furthermore, I argued that there is no difference between visibility as it exists at a march and as it exists in everyday life. The parody the marchers present is made possible due to their demand for human attention, a demand and an expectation that could potentially be fulfilled all the time and in all spaces, for any body and any type of visibility; the more types of women’s visibility there are, the more levels of skin exposure or styles of clothing there are among those marching under the social marker of “slut,” the more its very existence is undermined. The march ridicules the term “slut” and its local versions, stressing its inapplicability to any female visibility, because in fact no slut, at the march and elsewhere, is for use.




Anna Kleiman is PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam. She has been a feminist field activist and LGBTQ+ rights advocate for over a decade, produced the Jerusalem SlutWalk and co-founded LOTEM – the Counter Gender-Terrorism Unit. Her research explores the role that visibility and femininity play in a modern social discourse that normalizes sexual violence and justifies it, through protest art and social and media scandals surrounding visual images of women, and the connections between them.




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