On Slut-Shaming, Angrily

I wish that someone would tell every adolescent girl that she’s normal (we’ll get back to that – normal is the wrong word), beautiful, and worthy.

I didn’t get those messages – and if I got them, I was unable to internalize them properly – and as a result, spent much of my adolescence feeling confused, ugly, and not letting myself believe that I could get what I deserved. Hell, at that point, I didn’t even know what I deserved. I was intelligent and curious, but the teenage fragility usually got the better of me.

Thankfully, I eventually realized that I am (and always have been) valuable, beautiful, unique, hilarious, intelligent, relevant, and most importantly, worthy. (Fuck normal, by the way. There is no normal. Nothing you do will ever be normal. Your normal is someone else’s weird.)

Worthy, though, is important. It’s something we forget, it gets swept under the rug, especially because we’ve got a society that objectifies women. Our dominant culture and many of our sub-cultures see women as either an alien demographic or an accessory. We are often reduced to a collection of parts. It’s hard to respect parts.

Sexuality is an integral part of being a human being. Sexuality is one of the most repressed parts of our society – and that repression is arguably one of the most detrimental things to our young people. We’ve got two sides to this problem: the over-sexualization of nearly everything – magazines, celebrities, music, campaign ads, products, clothes, etc. – and we’ve also got the modesty movements that make sex into something shameful and dirty, not even worth teaching about.

Why is that a problem? Sex sells, and while it’s used to get both men and women to buy, only men are allowed to engage in sexuality activity. Women are expected to look the part but not act it. As a teenager, all of these mixed messages get confusing.

But at the end of the day, it’s not the messages that really matter (it is, but it shouldn’t be). Teenagers are going to have sex. They’re going to have sex whether or not we tell them how and provide them with information about how to do it safely. They’re going to have sex whether or not they have to be home at a certain time. They’re going to have sex because their hormones are telling them to and because they’re curious.

Yes, some teenagers won’t. And yes, some teenagers will wait until they feel ready and confident. But some won’t. And regardless of their own feelings about the emotional impacts of sexual activity, they might try it. That’s not the problem. As long as they’re having informed, safe, and relatively awkward, inexperienced sex, everything should be all right.

The problem is what happens after. The problem is that our society hasn’t figured a lot of this out. The problem is that there are far too few open dialogues about sexuality and self-worth and self-esteem and value and human emotions for our kids to engage in.

This article about a girl who was “slut-shamed” and bullied about someone she’d dated makes me sick. To a certain extent, I believe that suicide and self-harm have become so glorified that they can become a romanticized ideal in the mind of a young person, but I won’t address that in detail here. Because no one should be pushed to the point where they see death as the only way out. Never. Especially not because of someone who they’ve dated.

So here’s the deal: when a young woman enters into a sexual relationship with someone, there’s an implicit amount of trust given over to them. That person has the responsibility to take care of that trust. Granted, teenagers aren’t always the most responsible or mature of creatures, but I think that too often, we let them get away with a tremendous amount by allowing for the excuse “boys will be boys” and others like it.

This is where girls get into trouble. This is where we aren’t supporting them enough. This is where we need more positive messages. This is where we need support and care and understanding.

Instead, we’re met with messages of consequences, messages that treat us more like chattel than the decision-makers that we’re capable of being. Adolescent girls become a collection of parts, rather than a whole person.

If you’re still struggling to understand what I’m trying to say, let’s look at a relevant example:

The GOP has run into some issues this year with their inability to keep their mouths’ shut regarding the issue of rape in our country. Rape is a big fucking deal. The consequences of rape are a big fucking deal. And yet, the collection of cells that may be turning into life in a woman’s body is somehow more important than the woman herself.

And yet, women are “asking for it” when they wear the clothes they want. Or the clothes they see in magazines.  And yet, some women “rape so easy.”

=

Yes, it’s like that. Even today, Pepperdine has published a piece warning girls about rape as a result of their slutty costumes. Men should be outraged, too! The argument that scantily clad women will incite men to rape infers that men are incapable of self-control, that they are little more than beasts.

What messages are we giving our girls, between the magazines urging them that self-worth comes from clothing, between the politicians fighting to remove uterine rights, and between our own self-consciousness when it comes to discussing sex?

Our teenage girls are scared. Our teenage boys are scared. And they handle it differently. Teens succumb to peer pressure. They treat others the way they think they should treat them. Perhaps if we were able to re-frame the conversations about sexuality, about our bodies, about ourselves, we’d be better able to head off slut-shaming behaviors that our kids aren’t going to grow out of. The kids who bully and slut-shame at seventeen don’t grow out of it. They grow up and become adults who bully and slut-shame and legislate.

I wish that someone would tell teenagers, particularly girls, a few things:

First, the guys that you like now won’t be the guys you like in ten years. The guys who are cool now might even be unemployed and still living with their parents. (I’m not wrong.)

Second, don’t take shit from anyone, especially not someone you’re dating. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Sixteen year old me didn’t understand how much power I had. Don’t let people put you down, and draw the line and then stick to that line, no matter what.

Third, prepare for your future. Take the time to become an interesting, educated person. That’s going to get you laid more often down the road than any amount of body glitter and brow-shaping tips. (Although, you know, sixteen year old me also could have learned the lesson “don’t over-pluck your eyebrows,” so perhaps I should have been reading more girly magazines. Also, body glitter is just really messy. Don’t buy it. Ever.)

Fourth, fuck ’em. Seriously, if someone has an issue with you, don’t listen. I know it’s really hard to ignore bullying and mean-spirited commentary, but the less you care, and the less you let anything affect you, the less power people have over you. Love your own life, and people will start to love it too. And if they don’t? Fuck ’em. (Not like sexually fuck them, but fuck ’em, in the sense that they’re not worth your time or energy.)

Fifth, you’re worthy. Whoever you are. Not everyone is going to like you. You’re not going to like everyone. But at the end of the day, as long as you love and respect yourself, you’ll be happy. And don’t forget to love your weird. Embrace it. It’s what makes you you.

3 thoughts on “On Slut-Shaming, Angrily

  1. I love this piece. It’s so true and honest! There needs to be more dialogue about this issue and the consequences of the “Bystander Effect”, which compels passersby to do nothing when someone else is in trouble (or being bullied).

  2. Pingback: Expectations and the end of shame « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  3. Pingback: Dear B and J, the Girls I Slut-Shamed « Confessions of a Latte Liberal

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