Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

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Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming

“Sexy pirate” costumes and Brazilian-cut bikinis are not the issue. The issue is that women aren’t the ones taking ownership of their own sexuality.

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In the US, we are experiencing some serious moral confusion over women’s bodies. The confusion is borne out of the intersection of hypersexualization in the media and the conservative agenda that pushes abstinence and demands decreased funding for Planned Parenthood. Whether women are being told to be pure and chaste, or being cast as sexual objects in the media, the message is the same: our only value lies in our bodies and what we do, or don’t do, with those bodies.

Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming

This is most commonly described as the virgin/whore dichotomy and can be seen in nearly any establishment or ideal that focuses on women. Take beauty pageants, for example. Many contestants tout traditional values such as abstinence until marriage and female purity — immediately after strutting around in a bikini on stage. However, the very fiber of these pageants is, well, beauty, and outward appearance. Like any other realm that places females in a challenger role, from running for president to auditioning for a movie role, the foundation is built upon the notion that sex sells.

One telling example of this disturbing dichotomy is former Miss California Carrie Prejean, who gained favor because she promoted herself as a virgin, waiting for marriage. Americans all over the country ‘respected’ her for her purity while drooling over the breast implants that the Miss California organization subsidized for her. Then, when some racy photos of her came out, the Miss California winner lost her crown due to “breach of contract.” This story is rife with contradictions and is a very telling example of the short-circuit we encounter when it comes to women and their sexuality. Are we supposed to be pure …or are we supposed to be sexual objects? I propose that much of this dichotomy is derived from fear of female sexuality.

Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming

Women are hidden behind burqas or victim-blamed in rape cases because the idea of self-possessed female sexuality is subconsciously threatening.

In a Jezebel interview with Jessica Valenti, author of ‘The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women,’ answers a question about the intricacies of female sexuality and the complexity of the female orgasm. The supposition being that these “purists,” or people obsessed with female purity, simply do not understand female sexuality. This leads to fear, and fear leads to ignorance, anger, and sometimes violence. A sexy woman is less terrifying if she’s only an image in a magazine; a sexual object without feeling, desire, or all the mysteries of her sexuality. But God forbid it’s a real-life woman taking ownership of her sexuality.

And the lack of information from a young age does not help. In the US, the government allocates funding for abstinence-only sex education in public high schools. With federal funding, which many schools need, and pressure from religious groups in the US, many schools choose to teach this abstinence-only sex education. Not only is abstinence-only education harmful to teens in that it paradoxically promotes more teenage pregnancies, the spread of STDs, and abortions, but it often aims its rhetoric at young girls.

Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming

In The Purity Myth, Valenti outlines some strategies used by abstinence only sex educators to push the purity agenda on teen girls. One method involves a male volunteer from the class and a piece of tape. The educator places the tape on the boy’s arm and pulls it off again. The piece of tape is presented to the class and the educator exclaims, “See how dirty the tape is? This is what happens when you have sex before marriage.” The idea being that the girl is the tape, and when she comes into contact with the opposite sex before the sanctity of marriage, she becomes “dirty.” This and many other examples of defining a woman’s virginity as a “gift” for her future husband, only to be unwrapped on the wedding night, is the cause of misunderstanding, fear, and the perpetuation of chastity as the standard of female morality.

And this is the real issue. Women wearing itsy-bitsy bikinis or “sexy pirate” costumes on Halloween is not the issue, and these things certainly do not make women sluts. The issue is that women aren’t the ones taking ownership of their own sexuality.

Valenti talks about the overlap between the agendas of the virginity movement in America and the feminist movement. The question being that both movements are against the hypersexualization of women: “The big difference, of course, is that, with feminists, we’re choosing what kind of sexuality we’d like to put out there; with the virginity movement it’s adults (and a lot of men) deciding what appropriate sexuality is for younger women. It’s anyone and everyone except young women themselves defining young women’s sexuality.”

Examining the Motivations for Slut-Shaming

Shouldn’t we be deciding for ourselves what’s appropriate without the fear of slut-shaming? The thing that many people seem to forget is the will of each individual woman. What if the mostly nude woman on the cover of Vanity Fair reached her lifetime ambition by posing in front of that camera? Is that any less valuable than a woman achieving her goal of becoming a neurosurgeon? Does a woman’s sexuality really define her morality, her intelligence, or her humanity?

We don’t need to to tear down the models in the magazines, or slut-shame the women wearing mini skirts, or tell young women that they must be modest in order to set the balance of men and women at an even keel. The only way we can ever hope to overcome the prejudices against women is to completely divorce the idea of sexuality with morality. We can all start by examining our motivations. So the next time you think about calling a woman a slut for any of the myriad of pre-conditioned reasons, stop, think, and try to see this woman as more than just her body.

Ariana is a writer and world traveler. Her writing covers her three main passions: women’s empowerment, travel, and culture. The beauty of the world is not just in scenic mountain views or turquoise waters; it’s in doing the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. For Ariana, that thing is stringing words together. Email her at ariana@thewaywardpost.com and follow her journey on Instagram @surrealife.

Reader Discussion: 42 Comments

  1. I despise people who same women for wearing clothes that they deem as inappropriate. Especially when mothers tell their daughters to “cover themselves up,” because their uncles are coming home. I mean, why should the uncle have a problem with what a little girl is wearing? Unless he’s a pedophile…then the problem is with him, not the girl.

  2. Sarah Ubitel

    wow, this is so powerful. Sad Sad Sad, the crap women have to go through in this male dominated world….

  3. Ariana Rhyder

    In my experience it definitely is an issue that not just men participate in. One of my earliest experiences in online clusterfucks was a woman who was complaining about, in her own words “skinny bitches” who go to comic conventions, because obviously they don’t actually like superheroes or sci-fi and are just there looking for dudes to hook up with…

    • Charleen Washington

      I’m never surprised that people, regardless of their gender, are horrible. For some reason, the immediacy of social media, which can come with the ability to say awful things with little to no consequence, brings out the worst in people.

  4. Slut shaming is an awful thing. Just because women dress sexy doesn’t mean they are asking for harassment, are being slutty, or are telling men “fuck me!”. A person can admire another without being a crass disrespectful douche bag. I’ve had plenty of men that still somehow managed to act respectfully towards me while still seeing me as sexy and wanting to have sex with me. “Testosterone” is not an excuse to treat a person like shit just because you think they’re sexy.

  5. My biggest pet peeve is the way school dress codes are phrased- I have a boy and two girls in public school. My boy has never had to worry about dress code- everything he owns falls within the school dress code. The girls have rules about skirt length (even with leggings underneath), about strap width and how much shoulder is shown on a dress or shirt, etc. The reason given is that the girl dress code is to reduce ‘distraction’ in the classroom. It makes me beyond angry that my girls are receiving this message as young as kindergarten. I have a friend who basically makes the argument that it’s about ‘self-respect’- if you respected yourself, you would dress extremely modestly at all times. You know what? I respect myself… I respect myself in shorts above the knee just as much as capris. The idea that anything a girl/woman wears is subject to being sexualized and then criticized makes me angry! And I think the dress code rules have gotten more stringent with time, at least where I live. I never had this level of dress code scrutiny when I was in public school.

  6. Lucretia Asher

    Funny how slut-shaming has little to do with actual sexual activity. Rather, it is largely a function of gossip, cliques and social control. And though it might be tempting to dismiss the topic as the stuff of pubescent drama, in reality, the practice has hefty political import.

  7. Lena Dzeko

    Don’t call women sluts and don’t call men fuckboys. I believe that it will take centuries to change this behavior because people are slaves to previously established social standards, like a herd of sheeps. ?

  8. What aboout the reverse?? How in media, a female virgin is a wholesome, beautiful woman and a male virgin is a complete loser? People think there’s obviously something wrong with him, he must be a greasy creep or have a tiny penis, no wonder girls don’t want him. Probably a closeted homosexual etc. That is so wrong too but nobody bothers even bringing that issue up!

  9. Lana Urie

    What is even a “slut”, and why do people care? Before the agricultural revolution and before we mastered animal husbandry we were worked under the system of the alpha gets the best or most mate, and we weren’t monogamous. Monogamy didn’t come into place in human relationships until organized religion changed it. Religion did it in order to give men stake in the creation of a civilization. Before monogamy only 60% of men mated with women and men who couldn’t mate simply checked out of society and ventured into the woods somewhere instead of being oppressed by the alpha males and their harems. It seems the whole world is brainwashed by these so called “ethical rules” religions have been feeding them.

  10. Jennifer McSween

    I always assumed the “slut shaming” stemmed from a mix of jealousy/competition between women & men not wanting to raise children that they don’t know whether or not is theirs throughout certain cultures, particularly the ones based around Abrahamic religions. That need to discourage women from having sex with more than one person inherently places a value on sex with a woman which makes a man who has sex with more women seem like someone who has accomplished something. In reality he’s just a dude who happens to have had more sex partners. There are plenty of examples of cultures that do not “slut” shame, by the way!

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