Now Playing: Shelter by Birdy (I still want to drown whenever you leave, please teach me gently how to breathe, and I'll cross oceans like never before)
A new three-part series (I am something of a fan. Blame my English teacher; he got me started on this whole tricolon, power of threes thing) on sex & shame. I just wanted to talk to you all a little bit about three major elements of shaming sexuality in our society; slut shaming, virgin shaming and fat shaming.
Soooo...what is a slut?
A slut can be defined as:
- a woman who has 'too much' sex
- a woman who is 'overly' interested in sex or is openly sexual
- a woman who likes and actively facilitates sexual intimacy
- a woman who behaves outside of acceptable social attitudes towards female sexuality
From this negative attitude towards women and sex emerges the slut monster - a mythical being of immoral and insatiable sexual lust who is incapable of steady, healthy relationships, manipulates, abuses and destroys men and their 'good' relationships with 'good' women and are unworthy of our respect, the right to be safe in their sexual escapades, or sympathy and support in the event of sexual assault or rape.
Sluts and slut monsters, incidentally, only exist in the fevered imaginations of the darlings of patriarchy. There is no such thing as having 'too much' sex, or being 'too interested' in sex; there's nothing wrong with being openly sexual or actively facilitating sexual intimacy and social attitudes of acceptable expressions of female sexuality can go collectively fuck themselves.
Slut shaming is a many-headed monster and here are some examples of slut shaming:
- Making claims that women who dress or act a certain way are 'asking for it' or 'don't respect themselves'
- Forming an opinion of someone solely based on their sexual behaviour and/or how they present themselves
- Physical, emotional and verbal abuse of a 'slut'
- Ostracisation, stigmatisation or open disdain for and negativity towards a 'slut'
- Mocking or showing lack of concern for rape victims because they were 'slutty' or 'asking for it'
- Sympathising with rapists for raping 'sluts'
- Using the word 'slut' as an insult
- Spreading rumours to exaggerate somebody's sexuality or sex life to encourage the idea that someone is a 'slut'
SLUT SHAMING. ALL OF THE ABOVE. DON'T DO IT.
BUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH! I HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE AN OPINION!
Freedom of speech isn't freedom to abuse. Our opinions and attitudes about sexuality should really only govern our own sexual choices and nobody has the right to abuse someone based on who and how often they fuck. Really...not a hard concept...guys...
What harm 'harmless' slut shaming does:
- Slut shaming encourages negative attitudes and stigma surrounding female sexuality
- Slut shaming perpetuates a myth that women are not sexual beings, and that women who are sexual beings are weird
- Slut shaming can cause deep insecurities, trigger mental health issues, body image issues, self-esteem problems, behavioural problems, social problems and relationship drama in people who could potentially be perceived as 'sluts'
- Slut shaming silences and stigmatises victims of rape and sexual assault
- Slut shaming reinforces harmful and sexist attitudes towards women and female sexuality
- Slut shaming normalises, encourages and facilitates sexual violence towards women
Slut shaming & fear of female sexuality
Slut shaming is one of the many by-products of patriarchy's fear and contempt for female sexuality. This idea that sexual behaviour is inextricably linked to morality, the idea that there is something dirty or shameful about a woman who enjoys sex and has lots of it, is all about reducing women into obedient, sexless creatures and only viewing female sexuality in the context of male pleasure or procreation. The slut monster is created out of this totally false misconception that most women don't have that much sexual desire and that there is something wrong about women who do, or that there is something questionable about a woman's intentions when she actively facilitates sexual activity.
Slut shaming & female bodies as public spaces
Our society is obsessed with making female bodies public spaces - we dress women up, we strip them down, we comment, touch, criticise womens bodies as much as possible; women at large in the traditionally male spheres of public life are considered fair game. The fact that people feel entitled - or even obliged - to constantly comment and criticise on a woman's personal sexual choices is evidence of how little we esteem women in our society, and how little faith we have that each woman is uniquely capable and entitled to make her own choices about her own body and life and relationships.
Slut shaming & victim blaming
With almost every rape case you hear about, you also hear something along the lines of a victim 'asking for it', 'not being careful enough', 'sending the wrong message', or something else that implies that someting a rape victim said or did excuses a rapist, or even places the blame of a sexual assault on the victim instead of the perpetrator. This is known as victim blaming and can lead to unhealthy attitudes towards sexual violence, acceptance and even sympathy for rapists, as well as silence and stigma instead of support and sympathy for rape survivors and sexual assault victims. The idea that sluts 'invite' rape stems from the idea that sluts are not worthy of expecting consent to be a factor in their sexual experience, and that just because someone is up for a lot of sex that they are up for all kinds of sex with all kinds of people, including sexual assault with rapists. Patriarchy is constantly on the lookout to defend the hegemons of society, even if that means transferring the blame of rape from mostly-male rapists to their mostly-female victims by saying that 'he wouldn't have done x if she hadn't done y'. In reality, it should be 'he isn't allowed to do x if she didn't say YES' - no matter what she was doing and how she was behaving. I think victim blaming also comes about with a misunderstanding of what consent is; consent in our society is normally implied, a secret message encoded in what we wear and how we act and what we say, which is evident in the language surrounding rape apology such as 'she was totally asking for it' or 'she really was into it'. We like to think of the sexual assault of sluts is just a normal sexual encounter and then a woman regretting it and crying wolf when in reality, sexual assault occurs when there was no clear, distinct, enthusiastic YES - and last time I checked, fishnet tights don't talk.
Slut shaming & female sexuality as a commodity
People refer to sluts as 'cheap' or 'selling themselves' and reinforces this idea that female sexuality is a commodity. Female sexuality is like money to the hegemons of society - something to exploit, invest in, pass around amongst mates, give and take as favours at mates rates. Another way of looking at the commodification of female sexuality is the toxic idea that female sexuality is a finite resource and that women are either like batteries - can only be used so many times before it runs out - or like cars - value decreases with each use. This idea of 'using', 'selling' and 'buying' women for 'cheap' is a shocking example of how women are sexually objectified and the consistent failure of our society to recognise that women are human beings with the right to express their sexuality however they damn want, to say yes or no to whatever they like, to call the shots in whatever they do and that they are not disrespecting themselves or decreasing their value by having sex!
Something that is a finite resource that is connected to female sexuality are ova; a woman only produces a certain amont of eggs in her lifetime and human eggs are the most expensive resource in the world. I have heard a lot of bullshit equating the relative scarcity of female eggs and the relative abundance of male sperm to the idea that men can have lots of sex and it doesn't matter but a woman only has a certain number of sexual experiences and she should be careful of when and where to have those. BULLSHIT. Orgasms are not eggs or sperm, my friend, and sex is so much more than just procreation and the resources we have to procreate.
Slut shaming & trivialising, dehumanising and objectifying women
Our society seems incapable of viewing women as being human beings and sexual beings simultaneously, even though being human and being sexual are inextricably interlinked. This is why women who aren't very sexual or suppress their sexuality are seen as 'good' and 'respectable' and women who openly indulge their sexuality are purely viewed as sexual objects devoid of any redeeming qualities. Because our society is so accustomed to viewing women in a sexual light as sexual objects rather than sexual beings we apply this toxic outlook to women who are sexual without the sole intent of pleasing men, with disasterous results. And because our society has conditioned us into believing that it's sexy and appealing for women to be objectified in sexual situations we fail to give sluts the respect and dignity that they deserve, even in times of crisis.
My experience with slut shaming
I experienced quite a lot of slut shaming throughout grade school because I have always been interested in sexuality, both as an academic pursuit and as a facet of my life as a human being, and people have constantly given me crap for that. I felt really guilty and shameful for being as interested in sex that I was and continue to be and felt like there was really something wrong with me or that I was setting myself up for some (deserved) trouble. I've been a nerd for pretty much my whole life and I watched as people struggled to see me as both a person with academic and non-sexual interests as well as a person with nerve endings and sexual desires and interests, and more often than not I was either treated as this totally sexless bookworm or as some kind of cheap whore. I tried to keep slut shaming to a minimum by feigning total disinterest in sex, but not only was that totally contradictory to who I am as a person it didn't stop me from witnessing a lot of slut shaming which was almost as intimidating as experiencing it first hand. Because I was so intimidated and frightened by slut shaming and bullying I suppressed a lot of things which kind of...fucked me up. I didn't understand how to deal with sexual and romantic relationships and fucked a few of those up, plus I refused to admit to myself that I was bi until, well...this year.
Stay tuned for Part II of sexuality & shame, where I look at the equal and opposite pressure of virgin shaming, and Part III where I discuss fat shaming and our society's massive body image problem. Stay tuned and stay beautiful!
PREVIOUS SPEAK NOW