With the growth of women’s liberation over the past century and the greatly expanded roles women have taken on in society, it might surprise you that many women and girls still feel trapped in traditional gender roles.
While this feeling doesn’t always expand to career or educational spheres of life, where women are given a lot of freedom these days, they frequently crop up where dress or sexual behavior is concerned.
Slut shaming is when members of society, either men or women, shame girls or women for having a sexual identity, for being sexual or expressing sexual feelings, for protecting themselves via birth control methods, having more than one sexual partner (or even just one) and for dressing in a way that society considers to be overly sexual or provocative.
Slut shaming occurs within many different facets of everyday life.
The fact that slut shaming takes so many different forms makes it particularly insidious. If, for instance, a woman is raped or sexually victimized, someone might ask her, “Well, what were you doing? Were you walking alone at night? Were you wearing provocative clothing? Were you acting like you wanted it?”
These questions, to the asker, might seem totally natural, but to the woman they send a singlemessage — this is your fault.
Other methods include making deprecating comments about how a woman is dressing. If she’s wearing a short skirt or a midriff shirt, for instance, a teacher or even another peer might make a comment such as, “You better be careful dressing like that. You might get what you’re asking for.”
This implies that a woman actually wants sexual attention she shouldn’t want, or that even if she doesn’t want it, she would deserve to get it for the way she’s dressed.
Note that these types of comments are very different from a parent expressing concern over the way a child is dressed, or explaining to a young girl how such modes of dress might be perceived, even if that isn’t acceptable. Still, parents too must be careful not to engage in victim-blaming behavior.
Perhaps the most obvious means of slut shaming is simply to call a girl or woman a slut. This critique may stem from her clothing, her behavior with men (or women), her views on birth control or her attitude about sex in general.
When a man or woman calls another woman a slut, it entrenches societal norms about sexuality that no one but the woman herself has the right to define.
The sad, honest consequences of slut shaming.
Slut shaming has many consequences. For one thing, it deepens the culture of blaming women for the things that happen to them. As long as we put blame onto the victims, we remove blame from the actual perpetrators. That is an unacceptable way to think and behave.
Slut shaming also causes social isolation, especially among young girls. There’s still a strong culture of genteelness that pervades our society, and with it come expectations that girls won’t “give it up,” that they won’t sleep around and that they’ll guard their bodies carefully.
Often, parents or social groups even put pressure on girls to wait for marriage, despite what their bodies are telling them to do. Unfortunately, this creates distance from needed support groups, potentially compromising girls and leading them to make ungrounded choices (which is very different from them making knowing sexual choices with the support of their communities).
Lastly, slut shaming covers up the real issue — our society is deeply dysfunctional about sex and needs to be healed.
Women and girls need to feel secure in their own sexuality in order to make good, informed choices. They need access to sexually liberated information and tools, such as sex ed and birth control. And they must feel comfortable talking to their parents, teachers, mentors and peers, or else they’re at risk.
Slut shaming isn’t foreign to the media spotlight.
One of the most commonly discussed cases of slut shaming involves a police officer from Canada. Michael Sanguinetti went to Osgoode Hall Law School to give a talk about personal safety to the students there.
Though only a small number of students showed up, there were enough to land Sanguinetti in the media spotlight for his comments:
“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” he said as reported by the Guardian. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this — however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
The comments sparked a firestorm of criticism from women across Canada and the United States, and were the impetus for Toronto’s nationally recognized SlutWalk, which protests the culture of blaming rape victims for what happens to them.
Sanguinetti’s comments were typical of slut shaming tactics, implying that if women don’t want to be mistreated or disrespected, they must stick with normative styles of dress and sexual expression.
How we can help stop the spread of slut shaming, once and for all?
In many ways, open dialog can help stop slut shaming, including active and respectful listening. Start by:
- Never jumping to blame a woman for something that happens to her.
- Accepting other women’s sexual choices and needs as their own.
- Refraining from criticizing a woman’s outfit, aesthetic or body.
- Providing support to women who are raped, victimized, abused or slut shamed by others.
- Being open about birth control and other sexually protective choices.
- Being open about your own sexual urges, thoughts and choices.
- Consciously acknowledge the sexual desire of women in order to help women develop healthy senses of sexuality as well as healthy boundaries.
Slut shaming is detrimental not only to women and girls, but to boys and men as well. Males deserve sexual counterparts who aren’t afraid to express their sexuality, who feel confident in who they are and what they want, and who have been taught to respect sexuality in all its forms. Naturally, women deserve all these things for their own sakes too.
If you’ve noticed slut shaming behavior directed at you, your friends, your female family members or even strangers, it’s time to take a stand and help end the culture of sexual disparity.
You can make a real difference by understanding what slut shaming is and how it’s harmful, while using the strategies above to help stop it in its tracks.
If you want to learn tips and techniques on how to make your sex life more exciting and fun, then I highly recommend that you check out techniques and tutorial videos on my site, the Bad Girl’s Bible.