slut-shaming

The Unslut Project

Emily Lindin posts her journal entries from her sixth-grade year, when everyone at her school decided she was a slut. Terrifying and sad, but it's a bold effort on her part to inspire and achieve catharsis.

He said, “Why not? Come on.” I told him I wasn’t sure I trusted him enough, and he promised me he wouldn’t dump me. During this chat, it became perfectly clear to me that he was drunk. Those few shots we had had earlier in Matt’s dining room had really done a lot for him. [...]

But he was on top of me and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

Via XX Factor.

Girl in Maldives Faces Flogging For Premarital Sex

A court in the tiny island of Feydhoo last week sentenced the 15-year-old to 100 lashes after she admitted to having consensual sex, a court official said on condition of anonymity because he had no formal approval to speak to the media.

The official said details of the consensual sex emerged when police investigated her complaint against her stepfather and another man of sexually abusing her.

No mention of a flogging sentence for the two men, which tells me just about everything I want to know about this country for the time being.

Via The Frisky.

74 Years of Irish Slavery

From 1922 to 1996, more than 30,000 young women were sent to live in church-run laundries, where they worked unpaid, prohibited from freedom of movement, usually for offenses like unwed pregnancy or being regarded as morally loose. On Tuesday, Irish Senator Martin McAleese released a report indicating the government’s guilt in enabling the enslavement.

The key findings are:

  • More than a quarter of the women held in the laundries for whom records survived were sent in directly by the state. This numbers at least 2,500 women.

  • The state gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with fair wage clauses and in the absence of any compliance with social insurance obligations.

  • The state inspected the laundries under the Factories Acts and, in doing so, oversaw and furthered a system of forced and unpaid labour, in violation of countless legal obligations.

Shameful. For additional details about the conditions these women suffered, see this article at The Irish Times.

Via The Frisky.

♀ A Streak of Red For Every Woman

Photograph by  Gage Skidmore  via  photopin   cc .

Photograph by Gage Skidmore via photopin cc.

Recently my wife and I have been watching Once Upon a Time, a TV show peopled with characters from well-known faerie[1] tales and stories. The premise of the show is that an Evil Queen has cursed the inhabitants of the faerie world, sending them to a world where magic does not exist (our own) and causing them to forget their own identities and backstories. Using a split timeline, each episode follows the characters through their real-world existence while gradually revealing bits of their previous lives from the “story” world.

I recently realized something while watching one of the final episodes of season one: nearly all the women in both timelines dress “modestly”. That is, they wear knee-length or longer skirts and rarely show much cleavage. The main character, Emma, wears mostly pants and leather jackets or sweaters, with only the occasional tank top or camisole that shows a little more skin. “Mary Margaret”, the real-world name for the Snow White character—who is more or less the actual protagonist of the story—dresses in shirts that button up all the way to her neck.

Of course, women should feel free to cover up as much of their bodies as they like, so if I could say that “all” the characters dress modestly instead of “most”, we wouldn’t be talking about this. Unfortunately, the show—deliberately or not—uses modesty codes to reinforce slut-shaming stereotypes about women’s sexuality, correlating a lack of “modesty” with misbehavior of other kinds. Only three characters (in season one, which is all I have seen so far) consistently deviate from traditional modesty: Ruby (or Red Riding Hood), The Blue Faerie (a nun in the real world), and the Evil Queen herself.

The Evil Queen is, of course, evil. In the real world, where she is pretending to be a good person, she dresses in business attire—suits with buttoned-up shirts. In nearly all the faerie world stories, though, she shows amounts of cleavage ranging from, “So, here are my breasts” to “How do those stay in?!” Sometimes she accompanies this with skirts that open all the way up to the thigh, but not always.

I could write this off as simply adherence to convention. Similarly, The Blue Faerie wears the same low-cut blue dress in all her scenes, and this may not represent overtly bad ideology on the part of the show’s creators.[2] But I want to talk about Ruby, because the show deliberately uses her sexuality and its sartorial expression to communicate ideas I think are negative and hurtful to women.

In early episodes of the show, Ruby generally wears very tight red shorts of the “Asking For It” length and a white button-down shirt with only the middle two buttons fastened and the tails tied up to expose her midriff. In colder months, she swaps the shorts for tight red pants that she should really have left back in 1994 where she found them. She has a brilliant red streak in her otherwise brown hair and wears a shade of lipstick to match, along with heavy, dark eye makeup.

Despite no evidence that Ruby is even sexually active, the show portrays her as flirtatious, oversexed, and vaguely disreputable. She works as a server at her grandmother’s diner—a social center of the town—so she crops up frequently even in episodes that don’t feature her character. In one episode, when Mary Margaret goes to the diner on a date, her male companion earns her disfavor by continually ogling Ruby from across the room when he should be paying attention to Mary Margaret. Ruby generally has a snarky word for everyone and seems to lack empathy or regard for her low reputation—except in one episode where she helps a pregnant teen, claiming she doesn’t like people judging the girl.

Partway through season one, Ruby grows dissatisfied working at the diner and, after a fight with her grandmother, takes a different job as assistant to the town Sheriff. Although she performs well in this position, she realizes it isn’t for her. She humbly returns to the diner and reconciles with her grandmother, who reveals that she has been grooming Ruby to take over the business. Having gained confidence from her success in another venture, Ruby appears to embrace her new role as up-and-coming manager of the diner, finding the work more fulfilling than before. Consequently, she begins wearing less revealing clothing and lighter makeup. She lets the red streak fade from her hair and adopts a more serious and friendly—and less sexualized—demeanor.

So, what do we learn from Ruby’s arc in the first season?

  1. Women who wear revealing clothing are choosing to present themselves as sexualized and rightly earn disapproval for this.
  2. People will consider them to be promiscuous without any additional evidence beyond their attire.
  3. They will tempt men away from other, more virtuous women.
  4. This behavior probably stems from immaturity or psychological problems.

These ideas represent a few facets of the multi-layered concept called “Slut Shaming”. Reductively, slut shaming attaches negative character to women who are—or are perceived to be—sexually promiscuous, who openly enjoy sex, or who dress or present themselves in a way that is deemed overly sexual according to societal norms. The widespread practice of both overt and backhanded slut shaming hurts women because the standards to which they must adhere to avoid the moniker of “slut” shift constantly and exist at times only in the minds of those doing the shaming. For example, “sexually promiscuous” is a completely subjective term. How many sexual partners must a woman have to be considered “promiscuous”? Five? Ten? Fifty? The number is indefinite, meaning that any woman known to have had sex even once with someone who is not her husband can qualify as promiscuous, particularly in socially conservative subcultures.

When it comes to dress, the lines blur once again; one person’s prudish is another’s proper. Most people, and particularly men, interpret the intentions of a woman’s clothing choices according to the reactions produced in themselves. Thus, a woman might choose to wear a short skirt because she finds it flattering to her silhouette, but a male viewer could all too easily attribute sexualized motives to the decision, assuming that the sexual response he feels when he looks at the woman reflects her reason for wearing the skirt. Since men quite frequently experience a sexual response to even women in relatively formless garments that hide everything except their face and hands, this “standard” places women in a lose-lose position, where literally nothing in their wardrobes can, with absolute certainty, protect them from slut shaming.

Now, I am not suggesting that women never wear revealing clothing because they feel insecure or want inappopriate attention, or because they are acting out in response to a psychological problem, or because they really do have a cavalier attitude toward sex and are hoping to attract lots of potential sex partners. What I am saying is that women might have any number of other legitimate reasons for wearing clothing you think is too revealing, and you have no idea what they are. So the appropriate response when encountering a woman in revealing clothes is not to inwardly or outwardly slut-shame her but to assume that she is three-dimensional person who makes choices about her attire that have nothing to do with you or your own standards of dress.

Messages to the contrary litter entertainment media. Keep your eyes open; you’ll start to see them everywhere. I don’t bring this up to ruin all the things you like; I haven’t stopped watching Once Upon a Time, and I don’t plan to stop. But I do like to be aware of the messages my media choices are sending; I can’t combat bad ideology in myself or others until I perceive it.




  1. Yes, that’s how you spell it. Get off my lawn.  ↩

  2. Of course, both these tropes also have sexism at their roots, but that is beyond the scope of this post.  ↩

"The Best Interests of Prostitutes"

This profile of a Polk County, Florida Sheriff at The Daily Beast bothers me. It paints the man, Grady Judd, as an unorthodox but well-intentioned demi-hero because he rigorously enforces prostitution laws and frequently posts pictures of the arrested johns online. Witness this glowing excerpt:

Now, despite criticism that his stings wrongly target consensual adults, Judd is happy that his operation has become a national model. More and more communities have been conducting such sweeps, often publicizing the names of johns and prostitutes on the Web, as Judd does. (See here, for example.)

“People say you shouldn’t mess with prostitutes, but they don’t know about some of the mean, nasty folks who try to procure them,” Judd says in his own defense. “We save girls’ lives because they were arrested by us and there wasn’t some weirdo who killed them.”

If you click through to the example, you’ll see that Judd does indeed post pictures not only of johns but of prostitutes. How does that help those women? By exposing them as sex workers, a group many already despise? By shaming them for engaging in sex for money? Or, alternatively, if the Sheriff believes these women engage in prostitution against their will, does posting their mug shots help them break free of forced labor? I just can’t think of any benefit to be gained for prostitutes by posting their images online.

Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that even posting the johns’ mug shots online constitutes a violation of their civil rights, but I suppose that varies from county to county and state to state. I can, though, at least make a devil’s argument for the social good this might do. I can’t say the same thing about posting the prostitute’s pictures.

Also, I do not submit to this idea that prostitutes are better off being outed publicly by the Sheriff’s department because this definitely prevents them from returning to sex work and ultimately being murdered by a “weirdo”. Let’s see some data, Judd.

School Advocates Breast Reduction For Bullied 13-Year-Old Girl

Tammie Jackson phoned a Missouri school district to say that her daughter Gabrielle, 13, was routinely harassed because of her large breasts. But the alleged response from an employee horrified the already worried mother.

“The lady on the phone said they could transfer my daughter and said her boobs were so large she will always get teased. And the only suggestion she had for me is to have my daughter get a breast reduction.”

You can’t see it, but this is me making my angry face. To begin with, as Jessica Wakeman points out, a 13-year-old girl cannot have breast reduction surgery because her breasts are probably still developing. More importantly, this is slut-shaming—telling a sexually-appealing woman the unwanted attention she is getting is her own fault for being sexually appealing.

Slut-shaming a 13-year-old. I wish I could say I was surprised.

Skirt the Issue

Creative grassroots activism at its best: 25 Indian men spent this past Saturday wearing skirts as protest against the belief that women’s “immodesty” bears partial responsibility for rape.

One man said: “Please don’t judge a woman for what she wears, it’s more important that you respect her for her character and what she is. Whatever she does, please leave it to her.”

"I Don’t Find Anything So Horrible About That."

I assume it’s now some sort of GOP hazing ritual to have to make an ill-advised remark about “legitimate rape” in an interview, so it doesn’t really surprise me much that Rep. Phil Gingrey, chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said this on Thursday:

“I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true,” Gingrey said, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. “We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right wasn’t he?”

I pretty much expect that of Republican legislators now. Call me cynical. But the [more?] outrageous part of Gingrey’s remarks comes when he tries to interpret what he thinks Todd Akin actually intended to say:

What he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’

Here are two reasons this is still offensive: 1) It reinforces the patriarchal culture that tells women they need to be ashamed to admit they’ve been sexually active, and 2) perpetuating the trope of the woman who lies to cover up her sexual indiscretions betrays an underlying mistrust of women and assumption that they lack integrity.

This is what the Republican party seems not to get about the entire conversation. They keep focusing on whether Akin’s remarks about women’s bodies and rape were medically accurate when it almost doesn’t matter, because the misogyny at the root of this thinking is what’s actually costing them the female vote.

The New Scarlet Letter

A 16-year-old girl reports on the slut-shaming practices growing in prevalence among high-school students:

A recent Facebook posting I saw had a picture of a half-naked girl, lying on bed. The boy who posted it tagged the picture so that everyone could see it and go to the girl’s page. Within less than an hour, the photo had about 443 likes and 261 comments. Comments like “your life is officially shot LMAO,” and “I think she gonna cut her veins when she see this.”

I could relay a story like this pretty much every week, but the perspective of the writer makes this specific article particularly compelling, I think. Lacking the sophisticated perspective and sociological vocabulary of an adult feminist, Temitayo Fagbenle relates these quotes and anecdotes in a bald, simple style that drives home just how lacking teens are in tools that could help them constructively process this sort of pervasive, low-level misogyny.

Via The Frisky.