SlutWalk protests need to consider common sense

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 3:14am

"SlutWalk" is a contentious name for a campaign, but it is provocative for good reason: what a woman wears, where she goes and how she behaves is never justification for rape or sexual harassment. The conservatism of Hong Kong was bound to give the arrival of the cause to our city a different twist, with marchers at the weekend wearing not skimpy clothing as elsewhere, but full-length bodysuits and everyday attire. Amid debate that there should be women-only compartments on rush-hour trains to keep sex pests at bay, it was a timely protest. But as admirable as it may be, it is also somewhat simplistic.

There are, after all, laws and unwritten codes everywhere in the world about appearance and behaviour. In some places, they are stricter than in others. Toronto - where the SlutWalk campaign began 19 months ago after unthinking comments by a judge and a police officer - has a high degree of acceptance of attitudes and beliefs. Hong Kong, a deeply traditional Chinese society and, therefore, conservative despite its international veneer, is less accepting of some of those ways.

We are free to dress as we wish, but there is guaranteed to be stares and scorn if what is being worn veers from what is considered acceptable. That does not give anyone the right to lay a hand on someone perceived as being dressed provocatively, of course. There are laws about such things and authorities have to be informed and action taken against the offender. There is also a common-sense reality, though: there are bad people among us and if the circumstances are to their liking, they will take advantage of a situation.

That is why we lock the doors to our homes when we go to work or to sleep at night, and why we do not flaunt our wealth in parts of our city with a reputation for being less law-abiding. As restrictive as it may seem, this reality also has to apply to how we dress and behave. SlutWalk educates us that rape and other sexual offences are never deserved. But that should not detract from the reality that until society changes the way it thinks, we also have to exercise common sense for our personal safety.