Last year, a former friend called me a “whore who ruined her chances at happiness” on Facebook. A few months later, someone else accused me of “screwing around” and claimed I was “going to screw my life up” after I went on a dinner date with my boyfriend. These situations are only two examples of the innumerable times I have become a victim of the ubiquitously accepted and grossly insulting practice of slut-shaming.
Slut-shaming occurs when a source attempts to elicit feelings of inferiority or remorse when attacking a woman’s perceived or actual sexual behavior or feelings. Sources might include friends of any gender, family members, other respected adults, classmates, coworkers, and even pop-culture or the media.
When people and media endeavor to evoke feelings of inadequacy, such sources try to convince a victim that she lacks the purported maturity, emotional stability, intelligence, physical strength or je ne sais pas necessary to make any informed decisions concerning one of her most private and basic needs – sex. This is not okay. Those who call a woman a “slut,” “whore,” or comparable pejorative suggest that woman, when left to her own devices, behaves in a sexual manner deemed socially unacceptable; furthermore, women described as “sluts,” “whores,” and the like need outside guidance, ranging from better familial role models to government regulation, to conform successfully to societal norms.
Um, hello, I’m pretty sure that, as a college-educated twenty-something, I’m capable of deciding for myself whether I want to someone’s dick to invade my vagina’s personal space.
The use of slut-shaming to imply women require outsiders’ guidance signifies the existence of a salient problem: slut-shaming promotes an oppressive male hegemony. Think about it this way: The only people who provide women with an outsiders’ perspective on sex are those who are not women, also known as men (shocking, right?). If men remain the only people on the planet with a solid-enough grasp on society to dictate when, how, and with whom women acceptably might partake in one of the most intimate and personal acts of her life, women surely cannot be trusted to make decisions that more obviously affect others.
Well, it’s time to wake up. Many of a woman’s decisions make a much greater impact on society than her choice to engage in or avoid sexual relations. For example, when a woman decided to vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama this past November, she influenced the ultimate outcome of the United States’ presidential race and the potential for the country to encourage specific diplomatic, economic, and political actions. Even when a woman chose to shop at an organic farmer’s market instead of Wal-Mart, she made a significant contribution to society by promoting small and sustainable farming practices while simultaneously condemning commercial crops.
If only men retain the ability to make decisions regarding women’s sex lives– and, as an outgrowth of such constraints, prohibit women from making more important choices that influence more people – women ultimately become powerless objects. They would lack both control over their own lives and the ability to contribute to greater society. That would, umm, sort of be a waste of half the potential workforce, not to mention be a permanent sexist insult against all women ever.
In addition, slut-shaming encourages women to base their self-image on labels created by others. When someone calls a woman a slut, that woman might begin to consider herself a slut. She might think, “Well, if he says I am a slut, then I must be one.” Other females might use a rumored “slutty” woman as yardstick to define themselves a “slut,” “whore,” or “prude.” Once a woman adopts or rejects such a label, she might attempt to meet the expectations associated with her newfound reputation. That woman might begin behaving in risky and promiscuous ways she heretofore avoided or she might abstain from sexual practices she once considered safe, fulfilling, and enjoyable to convince others to define her the same way she labels herself.
Women who try to maintain or reject a label oftentimes behave in a stereotypical fashion that restricts personal exploration or growth. For instance, women who are afraid of being perceived as “slutty” might be too afraid to explore what makes them feel good sexually via such currently taboo practices as masturbation, oral, or anal sex. These women, likewise, might be too worried about their reputation to assert themselves in the bedroom and, consequently, they might lack the ability to achieve sexual satisfaction. Conversely, women who proudly repossess labels like “slut” might use sexual relations subconsciously as a tool for validation rather than empowerment and independence.
To prevent the negative consequences of slut-shaming, we first must stop this infuriating and degrading practice. Women need to lead by example and stop using sexualized labels to demean our friends, our enemies, and ourselves. That’s right. I told you to stop calling that obnoxious girl with the big teeth in your Spanish class a whore because she slept with your ex-boyfriend. You’re too good for him, anyway. You also need to lay off greeting your BFF as “super-slut” before she starts thinking she is one.
In addition, we need to educate others about the conspicuous harms that can stem from such a berating practice. When we hear colleagues or classmates participate in such a practice, we need to ask them to stop using such terminology and explain why it’s problematic.
Moreover, we must reject media, which is regularly considered the best litmus test of social norms, when it suggests women should be defined on the basis of our sexual choices rather than our myriad abilities. Lastly, we need to encourage our little sisters, the girls we babysit, and the young ladies we teach or coach to reject stereotypical labeling. We must instead provide these future women with different labels like “female,” “athlete,” “artist,” and “musician” they can use to define themselves as strong, powerful, unique, and equal to men and protect themselves from a society that describes them simply creatures with sexually deceptive, overactive, or underactive appetites.
Written by Amanda Travers