A Gentlelady’s Guide to Ending Slut Shaming

Feminism, Politics

We at Broad! have realized that many of our submitters are young adults in high school, which means that many of the people who read this blog are probably young adults who are dealing with this issue of “slut shaming”. Not that the conversation around shaming women should be limited to high school. Definitely not: I want to include everyone, men and women of all ages, in this conversation. N.B.: I use “woman” in this post to refer to any female-bodied or female-identified human who has gone through puberty, and therefore transitioned from girl to woman, however young. It’s science. 

As for me, I’m in my twenties, going on fifty, so I listen to NPR a lot, and on NPR recently I heard this segment by amazing  sixteen-year-old journalist Temitayo Fagbenle titled “Online ‘Shaming’ a New Level of Cyberbullying for Girls”. The piece made me think that being in high school is maybe a little harder for young women now than it was when I went there, because when I went to high school phones didn’t have cameras, so a guy couldn’t secretly videotape a woman having sex with him and then post that video on Facebook without the woman’s permission, and their peers couldn’t then comment on it and repost it all over the internet, effectively “slut shaming” the woman who didn’t even know she was being taped. So yeah. We didn’t have to deal with that, although people in my high school definitely knew how to participate in the timeless sexist tradition of shaming women for their sexual activity, clothes, and behavior. Adults participate in this too; clearly, since just last month internet celebrity Jenna Marbles posted her video “Things I Don’t Understand About Girls Part 2: Slut Edition”. The video reinforces so many sexist assumptions about women and sex that I’m not even going to link to the whole thing, but instead will show you parts of it through the response of Sex+ vlogger Laci Green, who debunks Marbles’ slut bashing myths. Note: both vloggers use crude language in this video. Not safe for work.

If you watched the video, hopefully you’re clear on what slut shaming means and why it’s dangerous, and if you didn’t, here are some takeaways:

  •  Slut shaming is based on a societal tradition of women “earning” respect and approval through “good” (i.e. monogamous) sexual behavior.
  •  Slut shaming is based on a double standard and is a punishment for women who exercise the same sexual freedom as men.
  • Slut shaming is not about “self respect”. It’s about controlling women’s choices.
  • Slut shaming leads to victim blaming in cases of sexual assault, and perpetuates rape culture.

We at Broad! do not condemn or shame women for the clothes or makeup they wear, the photos they post online, the number of sexual partners they have, or what they do with those sexual partners. Nor do we blame victims of assault or rape for what they were wearing, or where they went, or any drugs or alcohol they might have consumed, because the fault is always that of the person who chose to assault or rape the victim. Why do we not participate in slut shaming and victim blaming? Because we’re gentleladies, and gentleladies have manners, dear. And also because we are committed to working toward a future of gender equality, which includes a sex positive culture for women and their choices, and the end of the rape culture we have now.

But I didn’t say it was easy. Standing up for women is always hard in a society that rewards slut-bashing, victim-blaming, rape culture behavior and silences feminist speech. Standing up for yourself and others is especially hard if you’re in high school. Still, here are some things you can do to stop slut shaming.

1. Don’t participate in making mean comments on photos or videos of women who are being “slut shamed”. It’s pretty easy to avoid commenting or “liking” something that is meant to bully someone else, so one of the best things you can do is just not participate.

2. Redirect others who are participating in slut shaming by pointing out how hurtful it is for the person being shamed, and how their sexist comment or action plays into rape culture. Urge them to respect individual womens’ choices and resist judgmental thinking.

3. Drop shaming words from your vocabulary: slut, whore, skank, bitch, c—, etc., etc. If there isn’t a true male equivalent for a word like this (and there usually isn’t), then by using the word to describe someone else, you’re participating in a double standard that actively shames women for exercising the same freedoms as men. “Manwhore” just doesn’t have the same connotation as “slut”, and honestly, you’ll do just fine in life without using either of those words.

4. Get new nicknames for your female friends. I used to sit next to these two women in a college class who would greet each other with “What’s up, whore” and “hey, slut”. It was…endearing? And showed how much they loved each other? Seriously, I’m all for reclaiming words the way SlutWalk wants to reclaim the word slut and the LGBTQ community has reclaimed the word queer, but something tells me that wasn’t the point for these two. Unless you’re actively reclaiming a shaming word to give it a more positive connotation, maybe greet your female friends with words that don’t invoke such negative stereotypes.

5. Encourage male friends to respect women, and discourage their slut shaming comments or actions. In the NPR segment, Fagbenle interviewed a friend who said he received 2,000 Facebook friend requests after publicly posting an intimate photo of a young woman he knew. He felt good about participating in slut shaming because of all of the positive attention it got him. That kind of positive attention for men who do sexist things is part of what perpetuates rape culture. Men who discourage other men from slut shaming, and encourage them to respect women instead, will have an especially powerful influence on their peers.

6. Educate yourself and others about sexism, victim blaming, and rape culture. Here are some websites to start with: Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog; Women’s Media CenterRAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network); and Sexual Assault Center (counseling and education).

7. Participate in activist gatherings like SlutWalk and Take Back the Night. These can be empowering and help you build a community of people who respect women and women’s choices. You’ll be able to make your voice heard and work to end sexism, rape culture, and sexual violence.

8. Participate in the conversation right here, in the comments section! We’d love to hear about your experiences with these issues and listen to your opinion.

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