Proud2Bme | 4 Ways We’re Taught to Slut Shame and How We Can Stop

  • Body Image
  • Body Positivity

4 Ways We’re Taught to Slut Shame and How We Can Stop

By Palmer Hipp--In a video for Vogue, Taylor Swift was asked, “What’s the one thing you wish you knew at 19?” She replied, “You’re gonna date just like a normal 20-something should be allowed to, but you’re going to be the national lightning rod for slut-shaming.”

Taylor Swift is constantly ridiculed for being needy or “boy crazy,” and for writing songs about her love life. It seems to me that Taylor Swift, and other women, receive a majority of this type of criticism. Seriously, someone tell me this is not gender-biased, and I will show you a person in denial.

I consider slut shaming to be the shaming of a woman for acting in a sexual way, for exhibiting a sexual behavior that is deemed acceptable for men (but not for women), or for not adhering to gender stereotypes. This is probably not the textbook definition, but this is what I see from our culture. Basically, slut shaming means: double standard.

How did we get here? What made our society think it was okay to slut shame others? Sometimes we even slut shame others unconsciously—in a culture that accepts and promotes the shaming of women, it’s no wonder!

Here are a few of the ways our society teaches us to shame:

1. Madonna/Whore Concept

I could get into Sigmund Freud’s whole spiel on this concept, but basically women are separated into the “Madonnas,” or good girls, and the “whores,” or the bad girls. To quote Freud: “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love."

Freud paints a picture in which men view women as members of one of two groups: saints or whores. According to the theory, men cannot be attracted to the Madonnas and they cannot respect the “whores.” This concept can go beyond sex and include how a woman speaks, acts, eats, what she wears, anything. This sounds extreme, but it is very present in our society.

Women are shamed and criticized for being sexual, and told that in order to be good enough to appeal to men, they must be pure and innocent. Growing up, we may have heard this from our parents or even in sex ed. There’s even a scene in Mean Girls in which the sex ed teacher says, “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and you will die.” Sadly, this is very similar to what is being taught in some schools.

Sex is shamed, so those who have sex are also shamed—but a double standard exists, and women are typically the ones who are shamed for having sex. Both men and women are told, “Don’t do it,” but we often hear, “Oh, boys will be boys.” Men are often rewarded and praised for having multiple sexual partners, but the moment a girl acts in the same manner, she becomes worthy of a scarlet letter. A girl cannot act like a guy without being labeled a “slut.”

2. Dress Codes

Schools and workplaces implement dress codes. While dress codes can be important, the practice can also create double standards. Dress codes police women’s bodies and create a way for society to tell women what is “right” and what is “wrong.” BuzzFeed published an article, “All The Items of Clothing Women Have Been Told Not To Wear in 2014,” and I think just about every article of women’s clothing is included in their list.

Terre Des Femme, a women’s rights non-profit based in Europe, started a campaign to address the judgment that accompanies women’s clothing choices. The group used ads to send the message that a woman’s value is not based on her clothing. Their slogan, “Don’t measure a woman’s worth by her clothes” perfectly illustrates the need to make dress codes equal. We must treat women with the respect and freedom given to men and not base one’s value on the type of clothes they wear.

3. TV and Movies

Much of the media narrative reinforces the idea that women must improve and change in response to men’s needs and desires, while simultaneously shaming those who behave sexually. TV—especially reality TV—is a common hotbed for slut shaming. Kaitlyn Bristow received a ton of hate during her run on The Bachelorette for being a “slut.” In kids’ Disney movies, many of the story lines play on the “damsel in distress,” with the prince coming to save the princess. This  men are the end game, the ultimate goal. This also means women may not do what is in their own best interests, instead molding themselves to please men.

4. Celebrity Criticisms

Sometimes I want to give celebrities a hug. Every day it seems someone is calling out a celebrity for expressing their sexuality. For example, America’s “it-girl’ Jennifer Lawrence was attacked after a hack of celebrity iCloud accounts exposed nude pictures of the actress. Other celebs, like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Amy Schumer, Kim Kardashian, and Vanessa Hudgens, have all been slut shamed as well. We see posts and hear comments like, “They should know better,” or “I hope they learned their lesson.” Shouldn’t the lesson be that these women are embracing their bodies and no one should violate another person’s privacy or right to express themselves?

We can stop this behavior by not participating in slut-shaming conversations. Call out people who are slut shaming and inform them how harmful their words are. Stop saying shaming words: slut, whore, bitch, skank, ho (you get the idea). Challenge the status quo; just because shaming women for their sexuality and restricting women to predetermined roles has been the norm, it does not have to stay that way. Shake things up! It’s time for people to value women beyond their bodies and the clothes they wear. 

Image courtesy of Flickr

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