Archives for posts with tag: slut shaming

confused

Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism.

Morning: a man shuffles out of a cab in last night’s rumpled suit, holding a pair of dress shoes in his hands that have begun to pinch. The neighbors stare. This is the walk of shame.

Afternoon: a man skips lunch and pops three aspirin before heading into the waxing salon, preparing to endure searing pain for a clean, hairless nether region. This is the beauty routine.

Evening: a man leaves work to attend his kid’s school play; his all-female management team judges him for “putting parenting before work” (even though many of them have kids too). This is the double standard.

…Just kidding.

In reality, the man gets a high five from his doorman, drinks a beer while enjoying his lunch break, and rests easy because he knows his coworkers won’t criticize his work ethic just because he’s a dad.

From unrealistic beauty standards to slut shaming for promiscuity, there are a lot of things that women think about every day that men have never once had to consider. From the workplace to relationships, simple by being male, men experience privilege that makes their lives easier –and that they (usually) don’t even notice.

So we call out that privilege.

Not to castigate men for being born into it, and not to shame them for benefiting from this privilege—but to make them aware of how it affects their everyday lives and the lives of the women with whom they interact.

Because it’s not their fault that they aren’t conscious of it. Our patriarchal society works extra hard, day-in and day-out, to make sure that men aren’t aware of their privilege.

Let’s look at some examples of questions men don’t need to ask themselves – and how they make a difference in our lives.

1. Why am I expected to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on my looks? And why do I get condemned as vain and superficial for doing so?

“Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”

While this quote is satirical and full of stereotypes, Tina Fey has a point. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards that are impossible to meet.

And if she spends all that money, works out relentlessly, shuns fattening food, and achieves something akin to the patriarchy’s idea of “perfection?” Well, then she’s just vain and self-obsessed.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t choose to meet these standards, she’s a slob and doesn’t care about herself or her appearance.

There’s really no way to win, is there?

2. If I smile at people, will they interpret my friendliness as a sexual invitation? If I don’t, will they tell me to lighten up?

On a regular basis, many women have to deal with catcalls and degrading sexual offers from men as they walk to a meeting, the grocery store, the gym, the mailbox—you name it.

If she smiles or appears friendly, these offers and salutations will usually become more pronounced and gratuitous – almost as if she is expected to follow up on a simple smile with a blowjob.

But if she walks with her eyes forward and no smile on her lips? Then men will tell her “smile, sweetheart,” or “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.”

How many men are told on a regular basis that they should smile? Especially by perfect strangers?

Not many, that’s for sure. In our patriarchal society, men are allowed the choice of how to portray themselves to the world – without the same level of judgment that women receive.

3. If I wear something that shows skin, will I get harassed?

From an early age women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies—men, not so much. Therefore, men don’t grow up believing that in order to be virtuous, they must cover up – or pay for it with degrading comments and behavior from others.

And although some men get criticized for their style of dress, it is much less likely that they will be sexually harassed for what they are wearing – I mean, men can walk around without even wearing a shirt and no one blinks an eye.

Conversely, women who choose to reveal skin are consistently sexually harassed, slut-shamed, or fat-shamed for showing off their bodies.

Simply put, society does not police men for how much skin they show. Unlike with women, the decision of what to wear is left up to them, not considered fodder for public discussion.

4. If I wear sexy clothing and enjoy partying, will people accuse me of provoking sexual harassment and/or assault?

“Why was she wearing such a short dress?” “Why was she out so late?” “How much did she drink that night?” “Why didn’t she know better than to hang out with those people?”

When we discuss a burglary, we never assign blame to the victim by saying that the beautiful garden in front of her house “tempted the robbers in.” Obviously, that would be ridiculous. But in the case of a woman being sexually harassed or raped, people often justify the crime by putting the onus on her provocative appearance, level of intoxication, or “improper” behavior.

Men aren’t held to these same standards (although sadly, they deal with an entirely different degrading patriarchal construct involving sex and consent).

As mentioned above, men aren’t criticized for showing off their bodies –and conversely are encouraged to drink to excess by the ingrained fraternity culture of our society.

5. If I have sex with him, will everyone think I’m a slut?

No one calls a man a slut for having sex. But women run the risk of being called sluts just for kissing a guy.

It’s simple: the sexual double standard still rules in America. Men can have promiscuous sex and be congratulated for it. Women who are sexually promiscuous are rarely viewed in a positive light.

6. If the condom breaks, will I get pregnant? If so, what then?

This is a no-brainer. No cis man has ever wondered this – and barring some very intense scientific advances, no cis man will ever have to. They will never have to worry about having to choose between aborting the child or having their whole world change as their body accommodates a new life.

Before anyone gets up in arms, let me state: this is biology, and no one would ever blame cis men for not being able to conceive. But it’s just one more example of how sexual choices affect cis men and cis women very differently.

7. If I reveal my gender, will I receive the same level of respect?

In an experimental Yale study, a group of scientists were given the same application to review for a lab position. Half of the scientists received the application under a female name, while the other half received the exact same application with a male name attached.

Across the board, the scientists rated the “male” applicants higher in competence and hireability, and offered them higher starting salaries than the “female” applicants.

For the exact same application.

And that’s just one small example.

Because of the myriad ways that women are discriminated against in professional, academic, and social circles, some women take to hiding their gender in order to be accepted into the “boy’s club” and to receive more respect from male counterparts.

Especially in the professional world and academics, but also in other online forums, women often have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men, because of society’s gendered expectations.

8. If I become upset at work, will they blame it on PMS?

We’ve all heard it a million times: “We can’t have a [cis] female President because she might go bomb Russia when she has PMS!

As ludicrous as this idea is, it’s still talked about.

Here’s a little dose of reality: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) does not make us irrational.

Can PMS make a woman feel more moody? Sure. Physically uncomfortable? Hell yes. But hands down, PMS does not change a woman’s brain chemistry enough to make her irrational or less competent.

Because cis men don’t menstruate, they don’t have a recognized equivalent syndrome that their rash behavior can conveniently be blamed on. On the contrary: when men display anger or intensity at work, they are often thought of as “strong,” “alpha,” or “dominant.”

9. Will I have less of a chance of being hired or promoted because of my gender?

The good news is that sex discriminationwhich involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of that person’s sex – is illegal in the US.

The bad news is that it happens all the time anyway.

Studies show that the majority of industry managers (especially in male-dominated industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and STEM fields) tend to look for masculine stereotypes when hiring and awarding promotions.

Because of these male-biased hiring and promoting practices – which spring partly from a lack of diversity in the industries themselves – it is often extremely difficult for women to excel and move up in the company.

10. If I don’t do well at my job, will people take it as a sign that people of my gender shouldn’t be doing this line of work?

Sometimes the system keeps women from succeeding at their jobs.

For example, women working in male-dominated industries are often subjected to huge amounts of pressure to conform to the same masculine traits exhibited by their male counterparts. If they don’t, they are usually viewed negatively and kept from advancing in the company. And as we already know, the system – from hiring, to awarding raises and bonuses, to achieving managerial status – is stacked against women, making it much harder for them to rise to the top.

Sure, there are certainly individual women – just like there are individual men – whose particular talents aren’t suited for these jobs.

But using a couple of examples as reason to write off an entire gender is foolish, uneducated, and sexist – and fails to acknowledge the success of female leaders everywhere.

11. If I do well in my company, will people say that I slept my way to the top?

When men in high-power jobs succeed, it is generally presumed that they worked their asses off to get there. But women who reach the same level of success are often accused of sleeping their way to the top, despite the falsity of the claims.

This is because society often dismisses a woman’s hard work and perseverance, and reduces her to an object only valuable for bringing sexual pleasure to others.

12. If I have kids, will people assume I don’t care about my career anymore?

For years, studies have shown that working moms are discriminated against in ways as small as being left out of meetings, to as substantial as losing promotions – or even their jobs.

In September 2014, the federal government reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo over allegations that the banking giant discriminated against pregnant women, new mothers, and women on maternity leave.

Studies also show that working fathers simply do not deal with this level of discrimination. But because many people still believe that a woman’s place is “in the home,” they pigeonhole working mothers and discriminate against them unfairly.

13. If I don’t want a family, will people assume there’s something wrong with me?

Barren. Cold. Unloving. The crazy cat lady.

People make a lot of judgments about women who decide not to have children or get married. This is probably because the belief that women exist to be mothers lives on to this day in the assumption that a childless woman must be lonely, or unhappy, or that she should be pitied for not having been able to find “the right man.”

When a man decides to do the same, there may be some similar pity – but he is also likely to be venerated as a successful bachelor who “can’t be tamed” (think George Clooney).

In reality, having a family is entirely a personal choice – and there is no reason why men and women should be judged differently in relation to that decision.

***

These are a few examples of male privilege at its most insidious – patriarchal norms working below the surface to uphold sexist double standards in society.

Yes, everyone has a different life experience, and some men may, at some point in their lives, ask themselves some version of these questions. But that does not negate their male privilege.

We can all learn more about how patriarchal structures perpetuate this privilege. And the more we know, the better we can change how people respond.

Because even though men don’t generally have to think about all the things on this list – and so many others – they should.

Just by acknowledging their male privilege, men can start chipping away at it. And that’s a damn beautiful thing.

slut-a-woman-with-the-morals-of-a-man

Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

How would you describe that low-cut, tight dress you just bought for your best friend’s party? Would you call it sexy? daring? fun? Or would you use a more negative term like “slutty?”

And that fun one-night stand your neighbor had last weekend – would you describe her actions as adventurous or “skanky?”

The word slut is a common slur in our modern day vernacular. No doubt, it still carries weight if said with malicious intent.

But in recent years, the word has become deeply ingrained into our culture to the point where people say it too easily and too casually.

As innocuous as using pejorative terms may seem when used in reference to clothing or the activities of others, they undoubtedly still imply negativity surrounding female sexuality.

And using them just validates the societal standard of a perfect, virginal-until-marriage, demure woman as an ideal.

I’ve often asked myself “What can we do about this nasty, negative word choice that is so standard in our culture?” Maybe learning more about the word itself – and more empowering words we can use instead – is a good start.

What Are We Really Saying?

Many of us have been called a slut at some point in our lives — or have thrown the epithet at someone else. But what does it really mean?

The word “slut” originates in Old English, meaning a “messy, dirty, or untidy” woman or girl. Because of this, it was frequently used as a term for kitchen maids and servant girls. By the 15th century, the word took on the meaning of a “promiscuous woman” as well.

Think about it: Have you ever called someone a slut, whether in jest or seriously? What did it mean to you? And what do you think it meant to the person it was directed toward?

Slut-Shaming: Are You Guilty, Too?

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.”

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.

It happens all the time. That young celebrity who wears something more daring than her usual attire is automatically described in terms of “her slutty side.” We see a beautiful woman who is wearing heavy makeup and comment on how she is lovely, but she looks like a stripper. We condemn our sexual thoughts as slutty instead of explorative.

As a culture, we are quick to use words that paint female sexuality as disgraceful – even if we don’t realize that we are doing it.

Think: Have you ever called yourself (or someone else) a slut when your true feelings weren’t ones of disgust or disapproval?

Did you even consider using an alternative word? Or was slut the first thing – almost the natural thing – that came to mind?

And more importantly, what consequences do your words really have?

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.

Women are not only the favored targets of slut-shaming, but very often the perpetrators as well. Due to generations of internalized sexism, women often reject their sexually promiscuous peers as worthy companions or friends – even as adults.

A Cornell University study puts this theory to the test, revealing that college-aged women are much less likely to form deep friendships with promiscuous women.

When most of us have spent our childhoods being taught that gaining male validation is the route to power, and even happiness, it is not surprising that many women will view their sexually explorative peers as threats. This may cause women to lash out against other women in an attempt to rise above the competition.

And this isn’t the case only in heterosexual dating either. Many bisexual women are considered “greedy” or “slutty” for the mere fact of their bisexuality.

Is any of this fair? No.

Is it valid? Hell no.

Does it hurt women of all races, ages, and sexual orientations? Yes.

Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.

Sluts Versus Studs

The double standard remains: Why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut, but a boy who has sex is a stud/player?

In movies, on television, in magazines, and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” willy-nilly when talking about women. But men are held to a very different standard.

As a society, what are we teaching our children? that a girl or woman is a dirty, unclean, and unworthy because she has sexual desire? that because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? that women should ignore or otherwise not act upon sexual desires even though men should and do?

Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

It’s simple: The word slut is a decidedly female insult, and using it enhances gender discrimination.

Dumping the Word Itself

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 to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.

I have spent the last few years working on this: if I catch myself about to describe myself, one if my choices, or even my outfit, as slutty or skanky, I make a concerted effort to replace that language with something more empowering.

For example: The other night, my friends and I were talking about one of our favorite TV shows and discussing how the characters have changed over the seasons.

One of my friends mentioned a female character who started out as a virgin, and has embraced her sexual side throughout the show by having various partners and experiences. Unsurprisingly, my friend simply said: “She’s gotten really slutty.”

I refuse to accept that ideology, even in casual conversation. There are so many sex-positive alternatives that we can use.

  • She was exploring her newfound sexual desire.
  • She was experimenting with what she likes and doesn’t like.
  • She was taking a defined step into adulthood.
  • She was opening herself up to new possibilities.
  • She was – simply – trying something new.

I stand by my next statement: No harm can come from being more sex-positive and less chauvinistic in our speech patterns. I dare each and every one of you to give it a try.

***

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard by using positive descriptive language.

Try to remember that everyone has a personal choice. While you may not lead a similar life to someone else, it is unfair and unjust to ascribe your values to their character.

And moreover, it sets a terrible example for future generations.

Some women wear sexy dresses and choose to have multiple partners. Others wait until marriage and dress demurely. And some are in the middle.

That doesn’t mean that Group A are sluts, Group B are prudes, and Group C have hit the perfect moral high ground. All choices are both fabulous and individual.

Let’s take the word slut out of our vocabulary – not as a solution to a social epidemic, but as one small step towards eradicating patriarchal double standards.

shaming
Photo from Voice of Russia

So, there is this disgusting, misogynist, homophobic loser website called Return of Kings, and their contributor “Tuthmosis” (oooh, big man, using a fake name and all!) wants to educate us all about how you can tell if a girl is a “slut” or not in his article “24 Signs She’s a Slut.” I won’t degrade my blog by linking to it and giving him more web traffic, but a few of the most memorable “signs” include:

  • Having a tattoo, non-ear piercing or dyed hair follicles
  • Using swear words
  • Having divorced parents
  • Not being ticklish (because, of course, that means that she has been HANDLED by a lot of men)
  • Calling herself a feminist

This is what he SHOULD have written, because this is what he really wants to say:

How to Tell if She’s a Slut

Is she female? Then, boom! You’ve got your answer – she’s a slut.

I also have a response post for Tuthmosis:

How to Tell if You’re a Clueless Asshole with Shit for Brains

Did you just call someone a slut based on your own personal chauvinistic views of gender roles and pathetic ideas about how women should behave? BOOM BOOM! You’ve got your answer! Automatic Asshole. (Congrats!)

I know it makes more sense to simply ignore sad misinformed losers like this dude and everyone who contributes to the ROK website (which, coincidentally, also features articles entitled “All Women Are Sheep” and “How to Control Your Woman’s Diet”). But there’s something about the way it was written that made me stop. And that worries me.

It’s just that I can imagine a large number of people I know – both men and women – reading this and not being bothered. Not that I think they would wholeheartedly agree with his 24 Signs of Sluttiness (some of which are just SO ridiculous it’s hard to believe he didn’t write the post as a parody) – but that they might not see how wrong it is foster this type of sexist, slut-shaming mentality in the first place.

I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again. STOP slut-shaming! Shaming women for their sexuality is counter-productive. It leads to lower self-esteem for everyone. It perpetuates archaic gender stereotypes. It takes away any semblance of free will and choice that women have in their sexual lives and unfairly labels them as either a Madonna or a Whore.

That’s why I’ve stopped using the word “slut” entirely.  If you ever hear me slip up, please notify me. It’s a word that serves no helpful purpose in our society and only works to keep misogyny alive and well.

I mean, really…if YOU aren’t comfortable with SOMEONE ELSE’s sexual behavior, shouldn’t you be looking at yourself and wondering why what they are doing makes you so freaked out?

Why can’t you just go about your life the way you want and let others do the same, as long as they aren’t causing harm to anyone?

Sounds like a personal problem to me.

rehtaeh

When I heard about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, I was devastated. We’ve lost another young girl, who – after being allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online – was bullied mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

A year-long investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was closed when it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.” Insufficient evidence– although many people saw the photos taken of the rape (which occurred when she was only 15), knew of the attack and witnessed Rehtaeh being bullied at school.

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.” Things got so difficult that the Parsons moved to another city, but the bullying had taken its toll. Rehtaeh’s parents watched their once lively and high-spirited teenage daughter become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. After the move, Rehtaeh made some new, more supportive friends and heard from some of her old friends, who relented and decided to stand by her. But it wasn’t enough to undo the damage. Last March, she checked herself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. And then on April 4, she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom.

Since her death, the police have reopened the investigation based on new evidence and a witness who is willing to verify the identity of the suspects and cooperate with investigators. Cyber-activist hacker group Anonymous has also claimed to have evidence that one of the attackers has admitted to raping Rehtaeh although he knew she was too intoxicated to defend herself.

Everything about this story is tragic and misguided – from the crime itself to the police’s handling of the case. But what also stands out to me is the bullying – the girls and boys that taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly that she ended her life. “People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’” says Leah Parsons. “Girls texting, saying ‘You’re such a slut.’” Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their maturity and this level of harassment is (sadly) not surprising. But why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did so many other girls – some of whom may conceivably have endured similar experiences – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

Undoubtedly, the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists. But if Rehtaeh hadn’t endured the bullying that she did, she might be alive today. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  According to Yale University studies, bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And technology such as cellphone cameras and social media have made bullying that much easier for teenagers. Snap a picture, and it can be distributed to the whole school with one click.

This type of cyber-bullying is not uncommon. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Steubenville case: the rape of a 16-year old girl; photos of the night gone viral on the internet; months of constant bullying from her peers; and the subsequent conviction of two star football players for the crime. Steubenville garnered a lot of attention. But what about Audrey Pott, a 15-year old Northern California girl who killed herself after allegedly being sexually abused by three young men who released explicit photos of the rape on the internet? She committed suicide just days after the photos went viral.

How does it feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls? To be called a slut/whore/skank by people who barely know you? To be judged for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do? For some girls, it is utterly life-destroying.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, have slut-shamed before – shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage. I’ve seen people do it countless times. Sadly, I’ve done it to others in the past, and even to myself. But I want to change that. The double standard remains: why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut but a boy who has sex is a stud/player? In movies, on television, in magazines and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” in reference to women willy-nilly. But how many of them think about what their words imply? That a girl or woman is a prostitute because she has sexual desire? That because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? That women should ignore/not act upon sexual desires even though men can/do? Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard. If we support one another – and remember that we are all human beings just living, learning and changing over time – we just might succeed in changing this societal mindfuck.

Sign this Change.org petition to get justice for Rehtaeh by launching an investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the case.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.