Friday, October 5, 2012

Advice Corner: Slut Shaming


Recently we got asked a question on FOXJUICE about slut shaming. I have reposted my answer here, but you can read the original at FOXJUICE
Anonymous asked: Should a girl feel embarrassed or ashamed if a guy thinks she's a slut?
The sad part of the question is that no matter what I say, the girl will still probably feel embarrassed or ashamed if she is called a slut. That is how name-calling works.
When the It Gets Better project started two years ago to reach out to LGBT youth after a tragic spike in suicides among kids who had been bullied about their sexuality (or perceived sexuality), a lot of feminist bloggers brought up the idea of doing a similar project about slut shaming, which unfortunately also has prompted a number of suicides among teenage girls. Bloggers generally liked the idea but in general didn’t know what to say. Like, being slut-shamed feels bad right now… but someday it won’t suck so much?
I like logic, so here goes my attempt to logic-away some of the sting: “Slut” is a derogatory and gendered term. While in recent years it has become somewhat normalized and is thrown around “affectionately” by friends, occasionally applied toward males (often as “man-slut” or “man-whore”) it is almost always used on women. There is no male equivalent. Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut! Growing up Female with a Bad Reputation has a handy guide to gendered descriptors, and lists terms for women that are positive and negative and terms for men that are positive and negative. The list of negative terms for women (slut, bitch, floozy, whore, etc.) is much longer than any of the other lists, and unsurprisingly, there are few terms that are complimentary toward women in regards to their sexuality. Men, on the other hand, get bachelor and ladies’ man and all sorts of other “positive” reinforcement for exploring sexual behavior.
The use of the word “slut” is tied to the antiquated idea that somehow a woman’s sexual behavior makes up her self-worth. That is why when Kristen Stewart cheats on her boyfriend she gets called a Trampire and skewered in the media, and when various male celebrities cheat on their wives, beat their girlfriends, solicit prostitutes, or engage in any sort of unsavory behavior, we tend to forget about it. Women are under an intense amount of scrutiny for their sexual behavior (and often simply their perceived behavior, Tanenbaum writes about girls who are virgins or simply have big boobs as being called sluts out of jealousy or simple adolescent spite) and it is not fair. It is not fair under any universe. It is a word that can have devastating repercussions for a girl’s reputation, especially in the age of the internet, where every terrible thing has the potential to be posted online, shared, commented on, and exacerbated.
Whether you have had sex with 0, 1, or 100 people, you are not a slut. You are not a whore, you are not a ho-bag, you are not a floozy, a tramp, a bitch, or a cunt. You are not promiscuous, loose, or easy. You are not a bad person, you are not deserving of ridicule, and you are not lesser. You are a human being with integrity and worth and promise and a goddamn right to your sexuality, however you wish to express it. Whether you wait til your wedding night or have sex in the back of a car when you’re in high school, your sexuality is your own and it is your own business. And you should never feel ashamed of your right to express your sexuality.
If you get called a slut, it will simply not feel good. Whether it is a boy or a girl who does the name-calling, you will probably feel embarrassed or ashamed, because that person is specifically calling you out for something that is private and shrouded in complicated social dynamics. This person is denying you your humanity and your right to your body and your choices. Perhaps you then feel embarrassed—question the clothes you were wearing, think about the boys you were talking to, or feel ambivalent about the experiences that you have had. In the harsh society that we have, that is natural. We have conditioned ourselves toward these responses. But I ask that you also feel ashamed and embarrassed for the name caller because he or she does not have the good sense to leave people alone. He or she does not have the integrity to allow you to exist unscathed and un-judged, probably because they did not have someone to tell them how to be a respectful person. And maybe he or she is insecure about something within their own life, and they are taking it out on you because they see you as an easy target, or they don’t like you, or they just feel like it. They are using an utterly uncreative word on you, a word that you do not deserve, to try to degrade you. This kind of cruel behavior is embarrassing. It is shameful.
I hope that you do not get called a slut. I hope that the people around you are better than that. And I hope that if you do, you have friends who will support you through it. I hope that you do not feel embarrassed or ashamed, or at least for not too long. I especially hope that if you know someone who has been called a slut or is repeatedly harassed and slut shamed that you reach out to her and let her know that she is not a slut. But what I hope most of all is that you never call anyone else a slut. I hope that you hold slut shamers accountable, and do not give them the power that they do not deserve. You are better than that.

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