In light of recent (and common) events, I feel the need to speak out about this topic mostly because our community actively encourages it.
Slut shaming… *sigh*
Slut shaming is a common problem that generally targets girls, often from a very young age. To slut-shame means to “degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity.”
It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.
What our society actively participates in is the slut shaming of underage girls. Whenever a girl disappears from home and it is reported, it is often dismissed by the general public that she is by the house of an older man.
There are two things wrong with that; (1.) A minor cannot consent to sex. Regardless of if she pursued him, he as the adult should know better and decline her advances. In order for sex to occur, two consenting adults must consent to engage in intercourse. Without consent, it is rape and if the second party is a minor it is statutory rape. In our society, a number of older men pursue girls who are underage without fear of the law or public opinion. After these girls have been made conquests, society would view these girls as sluts where as the men would not be viewed as paedophiles.This would fall under rape culture and that would be explained that in another post.
(2). It dismisses what might have actually caused the girl to run away from home in the first place. Children often run from home due to abuse (domestic violence, alcohol/drug, sexual, etc) in homes from parents, family members or family friends. At least 1 in every 7 children between the ages of 10 to 18 years old will run away at some point. Because the focus is on the girl’s alleged sexual activity, she is no longer seen as a victim but someone to be made feel inferior. Her case may even be discredited because of said alleged promiscuity.
Calling someone a slut may seem harmless. Slut-shaming may also seem to be useful as a kind of cautionary tale — helping “good” girls from making sexual “mistakes”, or even being sexually assaulted and/or raped, by making an example out of the “bad” girls. But, in fact, the very opposite is true:
“A reputation acquired in adolescence can damage a young woman’s self-perception for years. She may become a target for other forms of harassment and even rape, since her peers see her as “easy” and therefore not entitled to say “no”. She may become sexually active with a large number of partners (even if she had not been sexually active before her reputation). Or she may shut down her sexual side completely, wearing baggy clothes and being unable to allow a boyfriend to even kiss her.”
[Leora Tanenbaum (Harper Paperbacks, 2000.): Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, p. 229.]
The consequences of slut-shaming go beyond the personal, shaping societal discourses on rape, abuse, and harassment:
“How many times has rape been discounted because a woman was deemed a slut? How many times are women called whores while their partners beat them? How often are women’s sexual histories used against them in workplace harassment cases? The sexual double standard is a lot more dangerous than we’d like to think.”
[Jessica Valenti: He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut: The Sexual Double Standard]
Slut-Shaming Can Have Serious Repercussions…
For some young women, the stigma of “slut” is so hurtful that it leaves their lives in ruins.
Take Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, who was allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online. She was afterwards bullied and slut-shamed mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.
Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC, “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped. People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’ Girls texting, saying, ‘You’re such a slut.’”
This story is a modern tragedy, fueled by cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. The girls and boys who taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly probably had no idea how deep their words cut until it was too late.
Why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did other girls – some of whom conceivably had endured similar experiences (because hell, they live in this messed-up society, too) – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?
While the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists, it is possible that if Rehtaeh hadn’t been labeled a “slut” and endured the cruel bullying that she did, she might be alive today.
Tragically, this type of cyber-slut-shaming is not uncommon among the younger generations.
Imagine how it would feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls. To have hurtful names like “slut,” “whore,” and “skank” assigned to you by people who barely know you. To be judged harshly and without caution for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do.
These young women were intensely slut-shamed, and had their very traumatic experiences invalidated by judgment from their peers. Their very worth was brought into question because people chose to side with the rapists instead of the victims.
Slut-shaming is rape culture, plain and simple. And for some people, it is utterly life-destroying.
Slut-shaming doesn’t end just because we grow up….
Whether in the dating world, the professional arena, education, or in friendships, adult females are not immune to slut-shaming either. As with many sexist phenomenon, women aren’t just the targets of slut-shaming, they are often the perpetrators as well. The first thing to realize when talking about women slut-shaming each other is that infighting among oppressed groups is a necessary part for keeping those groups oppressed; ergo women are encouraged, through internalized sexism, to distrust each other and fight for male approval. In other words:
“Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways that women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means.”
[Nine Deuce (Rage Against the Man-chine): Sluts!.]
It is also important to keep in mind that, in a patriarchal society, “male approval” translates into a form of power (albeit a limited one).
Most of us, whether we realize it or not, have judged or degraded someone (usually a woman) for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage.
Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.
Any woman who has had sex can be a victim of slut-shaming. A virgin can be a victim of slut-shaming. Indeed, as long as gendered slurs like “slut” continue to be weapons casually wielded against girls and women by both people from all walks of life, any female who acts in a way that another person doesn’t like is at risk for being slut-shamed.
We may not be able to change the way that others talk to each other right away, but we can start by presenting an example with our own behavior.
This is why I encourage everyone (including myself) to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.
I also encourage everyone to not engage in cyber-bullying by posting or sharing malicious social media posts regarding alledged sexual activity of minors (and adults). These posts ruin reputations and can lead to suicide. Let’s make an effort to do better.