Slut Shaming: A Primer

Photo by Perla Farias

It’s sticky and precarious, forming at the tips of our lips: slut shaming. Photo by Perla Farias

In a weird way, it’s hard to define something that happens all the time. I want to just list a definition of slut shaming here, one that will be thorough and perfect and will help everyone understand just what I want to say. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Slut shaming can be a slippery thing to define, because it happens so often and takes so many different forms. I want to start with an example of slut shaming from my own life because I’m just as guilty of doing this as anyone else.

My freshman year at ASU, I was convinced that all of the girls here were too “different” from me to ever be my friends. I was bitter about coming to ASU, and constantly thought about how much better my life would be if I were at an enormously expensive liberal arts school. I went to parties and saw girls in their going out gear, talking excitedly to boys, and all that I could think about was how much better I was than those sluts. I was smart, I was funny, and I did not need to wear a dress that short to get some attention, thank you very much. Somehow, I became convinced that the clothes these women wore would reveal the entirety of their identities to me. That girl in my anthropology class who wore tiny cutoff shorts every day? She was clearly an idiot. The girl in my poetry class who had long hot pink nails and chatted up the guy next to her? There was no way she could write.

Slut shaming is as unavoidable as not trying not to judge a book by its cover. It's all the same. Photo by Perla Farias

What people say behind each others backs still leaves an imprint.
Photo by Perla Farias

Of course, the joke was on me. That girl in my anthropology class got an A, and poetry class girl was an incredibly talented poet. Eventually, I learned that making these silent judgments about other girls based on what they wore or how they acted around guys was idiotic. I wasn’t better than them because I wore t-shirts instead of fancy dresses, and they weren’t all that different from me. I clung to my idea of what it meant to be smart and not slutty, because I couldn’t accept the reality that I wasn’t some special snowflake who deserved to be going to a different college with different people. When I decided that looking, acting or dressing a certain way made girls “slutty,” not smart and not worth my time, I was slut shaming.

I’m not the only one who’s ever done this. Slut shaming happens all the time, especially on college campuses. Every time a girl gets dressed in something other than a giant sweatshirt, every time she has a sex life, and every time she flirts with someone, even the slightest bit, there’s someone ready to make her feel bad about it. I’ve had guys reassure me that they don’t like slutty girls, they only date the smart ones — as if those two things are mutually exclusive, as if a girl who has a sex life must never be smart or worth getting to know. Underlying statements like this is the assumption that a “slut” will always be easily identifiable — she’ll look like a slut, act like a slut and walk like a slut.

Most of the time, slut shaming doesn’t even have to do with making a girl feel bad for having a sex life, although that does happen. Often, when we slut shame we are simply making assumptions about a girl’s sex life, and then judging her for that. As adults, we should all be able to understand why this is wrong on so many levels. For the unfortunate few who still do not understand, I’ll break it down for you: what a girl does with her body is none of your business. What she wears, how she acts, and what her sex life is like are all decisions that she gets to make, independent from the opinions and advice of anyone else. None of these things have the ability to affect her intellect or her worth as a human being.

I’m always reluctant to talk about slut shaming, because I want so badly for us to be past it. I am so tired of feeling like a girl can’t make her life her own or make decisions about her own body, without other people stepping in to tell her why she’s wrong. I’m tired of talking about this, but I also know the importance of breaking the silence. Ultimately, I keep talking because I want women to be able to get dressed and go out and meet people and flirt and have sex (or not) without feeling bad about it. I want women to walk into a classroom without having their intelligence questioned because of what they’re wearing. I want to stop giving women respect only when they act exactly the way that we want them to. It’s not that hard to stop slut shaming and start treating women like human beings — I know, because I used to be part of the problem.

 

Reach the writer at jlpruett@asu.edu or via Twitter @jlpruett