Desperate for acceptance

Barbara Kay, National Post · Jun. 22, 2011 | Last Updated: Jun. 22, 2011 2:02 AM ET

A while ago a Toronto policeman had the misfortune to suggest publicly that women who didn't wish to be raped should stop dressing like sluts. It's too bad he exaggerated. Obviously real rapists are not so fussy in their choice of victims.

But the impulse behind his remarks was not altogether wrong. In his bumbling way he meant to say that normally it is women's dress and behaviour that set the parameters for the social barrier between men and women, and that women who dress modestly usually won't be harassed by men. But even that nuanced comment may have spawned enough outrage to create SlutWalk -a growing protest movement whose message is that women need never be ladies, but men must always be gentlemen.

Last week, while presenting at Moses Znaimer's annual Toronto ultra-marathon for the mind, IdeaCity, I had the unusual opportunity of spending one-on-one leisure time with a professional slut.

St. Louis-based Kendra Holliday, a fellow IdeaCity presenter, is not only, according to her bio, "a passionate sexplorer ... of kinks, fetishes, BDSM, swinging, polyamory and perversion." Kendra is also an active evangelist in the moral laundering of sexual obsession. She evangelizes on her blog, The Beautiful Kind (not for children or the sexually squeamish), and whatever media will indulge her. Why the need to go public? In a word, honour.

In his illuminating book, Honor: A History, media critic James Bowman defines honour as "the good opinion of those who are most important to us." According to Bowman, honour is an intrinsically human preoccupation, always linked to one's sex. For men honour is inseparable from physical or moral courage. For women honour is inseparable from circumscribed sexual behaviour. Too much male honour results in burkas and honour killings. Too little female honour hyper-sexualizes society.

For decades honour as a driving force for any behaviour at all has been considered a retrograde encumbrance to social progress. Cultural changes seem to have vindicated this view, for Western women's control of their own bodies is now effectively absolute, while manly courage -apart from pious encomiums to male victims in the protective professions: dead soldiers, police and firefighters -is mocked or ignored.

Kendra Holliday is the poster woman for this sea change in our culture. She has a 10-year old daughter (to whom she claims to be a "goddess mother"). But motherhood doesn't deter her a whit. Her aggressive promotion of sluthood in the media has prompted her ex-husband to sue for full custody, and Kendra admits that in her socially conservative environment, his odds of achieving that goal are good.

In her talk Kendra said she was kicked out of her daughter's Girl Scouts program "because I have sex." No. Nobody cares what she does in private; it is her relentless publicizing of her raunchy activities and fetishes, publicity that is likely to impinge negatively on her daughter's life, that turns mature people off.

Why is it worth losing her child? I think her yearning for the good opinion of "respectable" people is trumping her self-interest. Kendra wants to have her cake and eat it: Like prostitutes whose legal battles are mostly about social validation, Kendra wants to be a slut and still have the respect of people who aren't, or have contempt for, sluts. Kendra wants to believe sluts can have honour. But they don't.

Kendra is fixated on "honesty" as the highest virtue. But discretion with children around our adult sexual activity is not dishonesty, it is our way of protecting children from tooearly sexualization.

I think Kendra was disappointed in the polite, but rather tepid applause following her presentation, which included taped voiceovers from her daughter testifying to the value of honesty. (Kendra's cheerful reference to the belly dancer she provided as entertainment for her daughter's birthday party was a bad judgment call.)

But her talk went down very well with the organizers of SlutWalk, which seeks to extort validation from those trying to lead honourable lives for a word whose connotations have always been pejorative, and never honourific. Kendra has been asked to participate in the next Toronto SlutWalk program. She spoke of this invitation with pride. She doesn't get it. Groucho Marx's famous comments about membership in clubs springs to mind.