Sunday, November 21, 2010

Slut Shaming


Just as the homophobic-fueled bullying of some children has made them so miserable and hopeless that they have chosen to end their lives to escape it, slut shaming does this as well.

What is slut-shaming exactly? It takes on a lot of forms, but is basically the harassment of a girl for being perceived as slutty. She could have actually been sexual, or simply have been the victim of rumors. (And to be clear: being sexual should not be perceived as shameful in the first place.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Slut: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation is a great book. Bullying of any kind is terrible and unacceptable, but slut-shaming is a really abhorrent type. Firstly, it reinforces the incorrect and sexist idea that women shouldn't be sexual and should be ashamed of being sexual. Um... it (often) takes two people to complete a sexual act, and girls often come out of it with the short stick. Talk about your double standards... this is the big one. Teenage boys who have sex are heroes while teenage girls who have sex are whores. Doesn't that seem a little... uneven? As teenagers usually have sex with other teenagers, shouldn't the treatment of those sexual acts be equal? They're both whores!! Nah, just kidding... they're both fine! As long as they're using protection.
they look so silly in neon colors...

The second part of slut-shaming that is really awful is that it is often girls doing the shaming. Girls are often the first ones to police each other's behavior, and it is us who often keep ourselves from progressing. And I've quoted it before and I'll quote it again, as Tina Fey says in Mean Girls, "You have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores! It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores!" We, women, girls, are the ones affected by this language, so we have to eradicate it. That's the simple part.

I just watched Easy A, and I have to say that I loved it.


The nub and the gist of the story is that Olive (Emma Stone) helps a gay friend escape further torment by pretending to have sex with him at a party. After that, he's saved, and Olive descends into ostracism, but getting payment from the sad and the lonely to have fake sex. While her male customers all benefit from this fix, Olive gets sent farther and farther into the social tundra of Slutland.

One of the things I really liked about this movie was how strong Olive is. First of all, Emma Stone is hilarious and Olive was a really strong, female character. Even though the movie is about how she let all these people believe things about her, she remains funny, and mostly positive. When the slut-shaming does start getting to her, she then does take some action and webcasts her confession of... not having done anything. Except lie.

Another thing I thought the movie did really well was make the sexual double standard for men and women really explicit. At the party, Olive's gay friend exits their pretend tryst to high-fives and people looking at him in awe. When Olive exits the room and walks down the same hall, people look at her pityingly. Olive's best friend is quick to believe the rumors, and her condemnation of Olive is seen as really bad. People picket Olive... but no one pickets the guys who claim to have been involved with her.

The It Gets Better campaign has done a great job at getting high-profile people, and regular ones, to make videos telling young gay kids that while it may suck in high school, life does get better. As noted in the Bust post,
Just try and imagine how wonderful it would have been if folks like Madonna (c'mon, MADONNA!), and President Obama, and Ellen Degeneris, and CBS, all had come out with a message for young women that slut-shaming is bullshit, all people are sexual and if the other students can['t] deal with a girl who has sexual desires, it means they are sexists, which is just as bad as racists or homophobes?
But also that,

We discussed starting a similar "it gets better" video series here at BUST, and when I asked what we might want to call it, one editor shouted out "how about, 'it doesn't get better but you won't care as much.'"

So... yeah. While videos supporting the victims of slut shaming might be heartening and nice, what I think should happen is a campaign to change young people's attitudes about sex. Wanting to wait to have sex isn't a bad thing. But taking that belief and making it the cornerstone of a woman's worth is one of the worst social forces out there, and it is literally killing girls. We need to get rid of purity balls and slut shaming and the whole idea of purity all-together. People are people. You'd be hard pressed to find pure water anywhere, let alone a pure person. Instead of teaching girls that their self worth exists in the condition of their hymen, we should teach them that self-worth exists in themselves. In their abilities to be good people. In their actions. In their friendships. Sex is a part of life, and if you want to take part in it, you're not a bad person. And if other people want to have sex, good for them. As long as they're using proper protection. All this bullshit about counting sex partners and fabricating self-worth through a person's perceived sex life is unhealthy.

As Olive said at the end of Easy A, before she rode off on a tractor with Penn Bagdley, "I think I'll lose my virginity to him. Maybe in five minutes, maybe tonight, maybe six months from now, or maybe on the night of our wedding. Either way, it's really none of your business."

11 comments:

  1. Another great piece, Liz! Way to tie together bullying, Taylor Swift's woman-hating shtick, and a wonderful recent movie. While I wouldn't declare homophobia and slut-shaming, or any two separate spheres of bullying, "equal" since they're all distinctive, people do each other a great disservice by not recognizing that they're all *harmful.*

    I'm especially happy to see another feminist praise Easy A. I loved it too, and discussed its message (and specifically, how it trumps a certain "purity"-praising novel) at http://neccogelfling.livejournal.com/37370.html . I'd love it if you took a look!

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  2. Hi. I'm a guy. So, correct me if I'm wrong- if a woman uses her freedom of choice to have sex with many different men, then it is liberating and empowering? But if a man uses his freedom of choice to fall in love with I a woman and start a family or long term relationship, then he is a controlling, sexist, insecure jerk? That's not fair at all. And since when did natural feelings become equated with the denial of civil rights? Women can sleep with whomever they want. And men can choose to place as much importance on sexual history as they want. Where is the confusion in this? Geeze, aren't there qualities that women generally look for in man for a companion or to start a family with? So, why is it wrong for men to do the same? Wow, you folks are on quite an ambitious endevor to alter the instincts of men. Also, not for nothing but this sort of feminism has empowered men in ways unthinkable before the sexual revolution. Desirable men now have access to easy commitment free sex qnd then a huge supply of family oriented women that find meaning in sex. So, thanks to feminism we can have our fun, and stull settle down with a good woman when we are ready. Thabk you feminism!

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  3. I'm not sure where you're getting this information, Dave, but clearly you have missed my point. Every person, male or female, should be able to have sex or have relationships with whoever they want without judgement. There is nothing wrong with being in a long term relationship or starting a family either. I don't see why a woman who wants to date and have sex with her partners (perhaps, testing out their abilities to be a successful and quality long-term partner) can't be a family-oriented woman as well. I think it is sad that you think a "good woman" and a woman who is sexually liberated are mutually exclusive. This is not true. This is also not male instinct, this is a learned cultural expectation. We can change culture.

    Fortunately for women, you appear to have a very superficial understanding of relationships and the value of people, so you will probably miss out on many "good women." Thank you, jerkface, for being so transparent.

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  4. Dave, that's not how you spell "Jeez," "endeavor," or even "thank" and "...and." I actually do have qualities I look for in a man, and while sexual history doesn't really figure into it at all for me, general intelligence and not being illiterate do rank high on my list.

    I also was interested in your definition of "good woman," but Liz makes a good point that you will apparently be taken off the radar of most people I would consider "good." A man never lost the freedom to settle down with the woman he loves -- in fact, I would argue that it is quite encouraged -- but what Liz was critiquing was the criteria by which said lovable woman is deemed acceptable. I know many people who have sex, and I don't know any who never, ever want to meet someone, fall in love, and settle down.
    So, yeah, check your instincts and your facts, I guess. And your spelling. Or no one will want to have sex with you....

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  5. Ok, fair enough ladies, can you at least acknowledge that you are advocating an ideology and not justice? I have 7 sisters and mother that I adore. I was never indoctrinated or conditioned to think a certain way about woman and their sexuality, contrary to what you would like to believe. Like many men, I found out how I felt about woman, love and sex after I went through puberty and started feeling an attraction to woman. Point being, a man's feeling towards a woman's sexual history is instinctual. I don't know why its there....I'm assuming it has to do with millions of years of evolution....the same process that gave us fight or flight, jealousy, happiness, sorrow, etc. These are not conditioned feelings, they are natural. Sure, you can learn to control these feelings but they will alwyas be there. So, you view judging a woman for her sexual history with is. a learned chararter trait, when in reality is it a natural propensity.


    P.s. I wrote this on a smart phone, hence the spelling errors.

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  6. Dave, Dave, Dave. Clearly this is something you feel strongly about, and I do not think I can change your conservative mindset, but I will try my best to explain to you what you seem to be missing:
    1) Judgement about sexual history is not an instinct. It is a learned concept and varies across cultures.
    2) This post was not advocating rampant free sex... this isn't the 70s. The sexual liberation movement happened. This post was to highlight the problematic double standard that judges men and women differently for their actions. Why women can have sex and be called sluts, while their male partners receive no backlash. This attitude is dangerous for teenagers especially, because a rumor can really ruin the social life of a teen. This is about fairness.
    3) Slut shaming is not exclusively a male activity, if you had read this post you would see that women are also active policing the private activities of other women.
    4) Having sex outside of marriage does not mean that it is emotionless or without some sort of attachment. In fact, I would gander to guess that most sexual interactions are between people who do have deeper feelings for each other than simple, carnal urges.
    5) The words "liberating," "empowering," and "sexual equality" do not necessarily tell women to go out and have as much sex as they can. They are words that empower women to have sex or relationships as they want because they have the freedom to run their lives as they want.
    6) I am not a man, so I cannot know deeply the pressures and socialization that create American masculinity. However, I am not completely ignorant of it. I am not a feminist who hates men, I am a feminist who hates inequality. Men and women make up society, and it is both men and women that will change it for the better.
    7) I suggest you read "Slut" by Leora Tannenbaum, it is really a great resource on how judgement and sexuality identity is constructed. As I mentioned in the section on "Easy A" in the post, some women develop reputations despite actually never having had sex. This is because people (men & women, boys & girls...) are quick to judge women because we have been taught to value the sexual experiences of men and women differently. A rumor may be enough for a guy to get a high five and for a girl to loose all her friends, and for both that boy and that girl, whether or not that rumor is true doesn't matter.

    I suggest that the next time you want to rail against the sexual liberation of women, you find an appropriate outlet to do so. This post was about slut shaming. Did you read it?

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  7. Liz,

    Why is the so-called "double standard" such a mystery? I recall on a couple different occassions with women that I have slept with telling me afterwards she..."decided last time we saw eachother that we would have sex tonight." Point being, she had the power to decide when she will have sex and with whom and under what circumstances. That's powerful stuff! Do you know what men would give to have that power? You do realize women possess this power, right? And you do realize that men see women every day they want to sleep with, and think about sex all the time. But, in order to actually have sex and relieve themselves of the throbbong organ between their legs, we generally have to work hard for it! We need to be intelligent, witty, funny, strong, good looking, confident, successful, sensitive, romantic, masculine, or whatever it may be. Its hard work for a guy to have lots of sex with multiple partners (attractive one's at least). Hence, a man is a stud when his efforts pay off. Its an accomplishment. I didn't write those rules, I'm just forced to play by them. Women on the other hand, its simply a matter of deciding when you want to have sex. For men, you must understand, we have to work for it, so we get praised by society when we do get a lot. And liz, what would you make of the fact that woman praise men who have a lot of quality partners? One thing I've noticed is that the more women I sleep with, and the more women percieve me as being in demand, the more intrigued they are.

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  8. I would trade in the double standards and all the
    percieved benefits of being a man, for the power that a w
    oman has any day. Most men would. Does this at least make sense to you? And a very big misconception is that if a man sleeps with a lot of women he is admired by other men. Lol, no, no, no! The studs are men who are praised for sleeping

    with selective women. A man that sleeps with women who
    s
    leep with lots of men is not praised, becuase its not



    much of an accomplishment.

    My fiance has been with 10 people before we met at age
    28. I'm comfortable with it, and have never given it a thought. I say this to show I'm a normal guy, I'm not religious, I don't want a virgin and I'm not controlling in any way. She had a couple experinces outside a relationsip and decided it wasn't for her.

    I'm just completely confused as to how a man's choice of qualities in a woman has anythinbg to do with civil righ. ts, equality, or justice? Its a very personal matter, and each has his own feelings towards a woman's sexual history.

    When men have the power that women have, to choose when they can have sex whenever they want it, then its fair to completely do away with the so called double standard. Fair enough? A
    hhhh....but you want both, right? Yes, wouldn't life be grand if we could all eat cake and never get fat. Yes, when I can show up at a bar and have hoards of horney women plying me with drinks and using all their best skil


    and effort to compete to have sex with me, then this is a fair world. This would be the equality you are speaking of? I would love a society like that! I'm sure after years of living like that, yes, society will change. But until men are afforded the same powers and benefits that a
    woman possesses, then how could there really be equiality? Maybe men should start a movement that fights for this sort of equality as well? Do you know what it feels like to have a penis? The sex drive that men possess? I say its down right cruel that woman deny men this equality.
    slut shaming is what women do. Men love women that give it up without forcing you to do the ewhole song and dance to get them in bed. If guys know a woman is available for sex, then watch how friendly they are towards her. Men love promiscuous women. Theuy are a great time. I love a high testosterone, intelligent, sexy woman. Fact remains though that most men are reluctant to devote their heart and soul to women that has been with many other men. If you'd like to get into all the reasons, I'd be glad to offer them. To be completely ignorant of this fact is to be rather clueless about men. Heterosexual women want a man to make them feel like a woman, right? Well, same thing for men, and when you devote your life to a woman, and make all those sacrifices for her, well, you feel good when you know your not the schmuck that bought the cow when the milk was free and delicious for dozens of other men. If you can't understand this, then you really don't understand the nature of men. Come on liz, are you telling me that woman don't have feelings about particular issues regarding men, that we men do not agree with? Of course! The difference is that I don't question why women want this or that because I am not a woman! It would be ludicrous to believe that I could tell a woman to think like a man. That's what you are doing.

    I'm sure society is a lot harder on women who desire sex from many men. And I'm sure its easier for woman who naturally yearn for affection and commitment before sex. I can appreciate this. It must be hard, and although I applaud your effort to make things easier for promiscuous woman, I believe you go to far by believing there is even the most remote possibility that men will stop thinking like men. Nature is a force much deeper than any ideology.

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  9. I'm pretty sure sexual double standards are not mysteries... they're pretty well documented. Women hold the power in deciding when to have sex because otherwise that would be rape. However, there are instances when women are ready to progress to a more sexual relationship with a man before the man decides he is ready, so then the have to wait. That is what consensual sex is.

    Again, I don't think you read this post, which is about slut shaming and teenagers. Men also engage in slut shaming. I suggest you find a better hobby than trolling feminist blogs for teenagers on Friday nights, Dave. I don't really feel like engaging in your clichéd ranting anymore. I have homework.

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  10. In my opinion , it is ok for them to be sexual in the right way by using safe methods (protection ) , by not taking part in risky behavior and with one person at a time. They can wear whatever they like but if they are taking other girl's boyfriends by trying to seduce them and trying to snog and sleep with every guy in the room , they get what they deserve , of course they will get unwanted attention , so people will end up noticing of the girl's actions . They may end up pregnant , with STD and worse people could harm them . Well when I was growing up I was told to save myself for someone special not for the hole world to see.

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  11. The difference is that men in general have to work harder for sex than women. Men have to stick their necks out on the line and face rejection from women. Women don't stick their necks out and face rejection from men. As a result, men naturally are given more praise since he had to jump through hoops, his his charisma, wit, intelligence, and deal with rejection before he finally gets laid. The woman only sits, picks, and chooses. It's a rather privileged position for women. It works both ways.

    I notice you didn't point out that particular double-standard which favors women. It seems a lot of feminists want it both ways -- for men to still be the primary receivers of rejection and the ones who jump through more hoops in the courting process -- but want it to be equal on who gets the praise for getting laid. It just won't naturally work that way. Men (and society) would have more respect if women did initiate conversations and ask men out on dates first. Especially when we're living in a time where we're supposed to be "equal." Most women work and have their own incomes yet still won't pay for dates. Try looking at it from the male perspective for once.

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