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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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Confessions of a Former Slut-Shamer

Confessions of a Former Slut-Shamer

“What do you call Britney Spears in pigtails?”

“A blowjob with handles.”

This joke appeared on a Britney Spears hater site back in the late ’90s, a site that looked amateurish and pathetic even by the decade’s standards — back when geocities was still a thing. It was one of my favorite websites, one that I visited every night when I finished my homework. Filled with jokes about the singer’s alleged boob job and alleged promiscuity, and numerous essays about why she was generally terrible, the site was a Britney hater’s dream come true. One time, I even contributed a parody song called “Oops! I’m Pregnant Again,” in which Britney was a “dumb slut” who kept sleeping with guys who knocked her up and left her. It was accepted and published on the front page.

I don’t exactly remember when my Britney hate began, but it was part of my obnoxious phase in high school where I hated and rejected anything that was popular just because it was popular. Britney wasn’t even the first celebrity I hated. My Leonardo di Caprio hatred lasted a good year – somewhere between Romeo + Juliet and Titanic – before “Baby One More Time” hit the airwaves of Z100 and played approximately seven thousand times per day.

But the most I ever said about Leo – loudly and often to people around me, regardless of whether or not they wanted to hear it – was that his Romeo was too whiny, Titanic was stupid, and Matt Damon was better looking and a better actor. And I drew mustaches and thick eyebrows on pictures of him that I found in magazines.

Britney was a different story. She wasn’t just a singer I didn’t like whose voice sounded like a goat on helium. She was a slut. She showed off her body in her music videos and she spread her legs for whoever wanted it. She was stupid and her boobs were fake and she was the worst. Never mind that I didn’t actually know whether the rumors about her sexual history or plastic surgery were true. Never mind that Britney had done absolutely nothing to actually earn my hatred. Never mind that I was called a slut by neighborhood bullies for months on end back in seventh grade. (I was about as sexually active as a mothball and they knew it. They only called me “slut” ironically. They may have been the world’s first hipster bullies.)

None of that mattered. What mattered was that Britney Spears was a celebrity I didn’t like, and that made her fair game for any nasty comment that came to my mind.

And I knew I could get away with those nasty comments. Already, I had internalized the lesson that “slut” was a perfectly acceptable word to use on girls you didn’t like.

There’s something about the word “slut” that gives a power trip to the person saying it. Just the sound of it – the S and the L rolling on my tongue, followed by the guttural U and punctuated with the harsh T – is devastating in ways that “bitch,” “whore,” “twat,” and even “cunt” don’t quite convey.

“Slut” is such a versatile word. It stands for “your sexual promiscuity offends me.”

It stands for “you won’t go out with me and I’m jealous of the guy you are dating.”

It stands for “I disagree with your opinion.” (Exhibit A.)

It stands for “I hate women who express their opinions.” (see Limbaugh, Rush)

It stands for “It’s your own fault that you were raped.” (Always “you were raped.” Always passive voice. Never “someone raped you.”)

It stands for “I’m scared people will call me a slut, so I’m transferring my fear onto you.”

In my case, it stood for “Boys think that you’re pretty and they tell me that I’m ugly. It makes me feel better to pretend that their actions are your fault.”

The initial impulse behind the use of “slut” may change. It may be motivated by misogyny or insecurity, or a combination thereof. But the intent is always the same – to shut a woman up, to dismiss her, to communicate, “You don’t matter. You are worthless.”

“Slut” is the go-to insult for the misogynists, the insecure, and the lazy. It’s also the go-to insult for burgeoning feminists who care about equal rights, but who have still absorbed the lessons of our culture about the best way to demean women.

The Britney Spears hater site in all of its tacky late 90s glory was only one of my favorite websites back in high school. The other favorite site was SmartGirl.org, a community for teenage girls to share their thoughts through discussion boards, essays, and creative writing. It was a place for young women to express themselves and support each other.

On the night I submitted “Oops! I’m Pregnant Again,” to the Britney hate site, I wrote comments in a Dawson’s Creek discussion board in appreciation of the character Jen Lindley. Jen was my favorite character on the show, a girl with kindness and intelligence and a rebellious spirit, a girl the world treated too harshly.

They judged her because she had a checkered sexual history. Because she was a slut.

And it didn’t strike me as fair that a girl who wasn’t vicious, nasty, or cruel was ostracized and shamed because she had sex at a young age.

Yet the compassion I had for Jen, a fictional character, didn’t extend to Britney Spears – a real person, even if I didn’t know her personally.

Because I didn’t like Britney. And therefore, Britney was a slut.

Written by Theresa Basile

  • Angela

    This article brings back memories of the late 90s and early 00s. The hate Britney got for wearing sexy clothes and/or not being a ‘good role model’ was ridiculous. I was a young fan, only 10 years old, and I thought it was sexist and a complete double standard (yes even in 5th grade). I always pointed out on the AOL fan message boards back in the day that the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC would grind, gyrate, hump and even simulate sexual moves on stage. How that was okay for young girls
    to watch, but women who wore a crop top was not? I was ahead of my time, what can I say.

    It’s funny, at the possible height of the Britney Spears slut shaming during the 2000 VMA performance (they even did a MTV documentary on it called ‘When Sex Goes
    Pop’ and interviewed people about it) NSYNC had hundreds half naked female back up dancers during the second half of their performance. I couldn’t understand why/how older teens and adults didn’t see their hypocrisy and unfair treatment of Britney.

  • http://loveashley.net Ashley

    That’s funny, I just wrote a post about my former slut shaming days. I didn’t mention it in my post, but I was also a huge Britney haters. I hated the fact that she used her sexuality as a main focus of her career. I thought to myself, “If I whored my body like that, I’d be the world #1 pop princess too.” I also knew damn well she had lied to the public about her virginity. That really pissed me off. To this day, I disagree with a lot of personal choices Britney made and if it were me, I’d do things much differently. Having that said, I do think Britney has matured since having her kids. I think the whole Kevin thing really humbled her and settled her. But I still do see my attitude towards her as being a bit harsh.