As you all know, I just turned sixteen last month. This past year has been a really big one for me and I've discovered a lot about myself that's made me more confident and happy as a person. And this past year, I began actually thinking and paying attention to the world around me in a way that I should have been for a long time. It's been difficult for me to verbalize all of my thoughts cohesively, so I'll try the best I can to make them all make sense together. There's something that's really important to me that I'd like to talk about, now that I've finally had the chance to think through everything racing through my head.
Slut shaming, victim blaming, and rape culture.
When I was young, I asked my father what about me was the thing I was most likely going to be made fun of for, and his answer was my last name because it has the word 'slut' in it. And he was right. Around fourth grade, when kids actually began understanding what bad words actually, really meant, I was teased mercilessly for months, and I think that had a big impact on the way I am today. Just the other day I was laughing with my friend about how they can't even enjoy making fun of my last name anymore because 'everyone that's ever met me knows that that's the complete opposite of what I am.'
I hate the word slut, and I hate the word whore, and I hate when they are thrown about without people understanding the consequences.
A long time ago I caught one of my close friends giggling with someone over a picture on their phone, and it was this one:
|Picture by Rosea Lake|
You've probably seen it; it's been floating around the internet for a while now. I found a good article about it on Huffington Post Canada. And it may be shocking, but guess what?
I hate this picture.
I'm really trying to get my point across in the most objective way possible, but I just get so angry every time I see this. What this picture is is a product of a culture that often associates slurs and derogatory terms with women that dress a certain way. The labels 'prudish' and 'old fashioned' imply that the woman should be showing more skin to keep up with the times, and not be called a prude. I was often called this by someone who used to be a close friend of mine whenever I felt uncomfortable changing around her. I was a young girl with developing breasts, and I was being told that I'd better start showing them off to fit in. Yet the labels on the woman's leg quickly become negative again. The skirt hits the 'cheeky' mark and quickly descends into 'asking for it,' the implication being that at a certain point, it becomes the woman's fault if something happens to her; that she's a slut because she choose to dress herself in short skirts.
I was introduced to the term slut shaming (when women are insulted because the express their sexuality in a way that you don't approve of - definition credit to this video by lacigreen) last year when I read an article on Rookie, an online magazine, about SlutWalk and the writer's experience marching in one. I was immediately interested, and spent the next few hours looking up the origin of SlutWalk, and stories from women who had walked in them all over the world. The exact quote that propelled this march to existence was that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." And that sounds way too much like the labels above for me to be comfortable with this, especially coming from a police spokesperson.
|The first SlutWalk protest in Toronto, 3 April 2011|
Slut shaming becomes victim blaming in situations like this, where an 11 year old girl was gang raped and the blame, according to those quoted in the article, was placed on the child and the mother. While it is unfortunate that a young girl spent large amounts of time in a dangerous place, the fact that "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s" shouldn't be a central point. This is much better explained in this Salon article and by chescaleigh in this video. When I was younger, I was always told to tell a grown up if I was ever touched in a way I didn't like. I was told that the police, investigators, and authority figures always side with the victim. Why, then, are there so many people that don't report rape for fear of being blamed?
And all of this plays into the rape culture of our society. A recent and very publicized case is the Steubenville Rape case. There's an entire Wikipedia page about it and, like many other people, I was horrified by its news coverage. The constant talk of these bright young men whose futures had been crushed by being on a sex offenders list for the rest of their lives made my stomach turn. What about the victim? Does anyone care anymore? She was completely unconscious. An absolute inability to say yes is always an absolute no.
Fighting against slut shaming is something that I've found I'm passionate about. I want to change the way our society sees the sexual expression of women without degrading them. And I feel like one of the first places where learning about all of this should start is in high schools.
In my school, the words slut and whore are thrown around all the time with almost no repercussion to the person saying them. They are the default for any girl that is even slightly sexually active, and anything else about them. Why is not being a slut so important to all of us? Why do we feel the need to put down anyone that doesn't use their body in the same way that we do? Educating high schoolers about slut shaming, victim blaming, and rape culture should be important, what with all of the new anti-bullying laws being put in place. I think learning about this would be a great addition to any comprehensive sexual education class or curriculum.
Slut shaming is something that many girls will have to deal with. As of now, its a part of our culture. But I really believe that we can do something to change this, and that is a huge goal of mine.