Terms you should know

Terms You Should Know #2: Slut-shaming

Feminist lingo can be a bit bothersome to deal with. That’s what we aim to fix with our series Terms You Should Know. Today’s term you should know is “slut-shaming.”

Slut-shaming is shaming a woman for her sexual behavior, which may include anything from dressing provocatively, to having lots of sex, to having “unorthodox” sex or sex with multiple partners, etc. etc.. It is punishment for women who deviate from whatever the cultural norm for female sexuality is in a particular society.

Sexual behavior and preferences are extremely personal, and so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, none of these things should be a public concern, or something which others feel they are permitted to weigh in on.  People who slut-shame imply that they know how a certain woman should behave sexually better than the woman does herself. They often do not hold men to the same standards as women, which is additionally problematic. The only person who can know what is appropriate for themselves sexually is that person alone – how a woman dresses, or what she prefers in the bedroom is not anyone else’s business, any more than one’s paycheck or medical records is someone else’s business.

Even so, you might wonder why it really matters if you overhear someone in the dining hall snickering about a female student’s cleavage, or convincing one of his friends that a girl isn’t good enough for him because she sleeps around too much.  You might think that these are just words – no one is getting hurt, right? Wrong. The slut-shamers of the world are huge contributors to the (unfortunately) popular conception that a woman is partially at fault for “getting herself raped” if she was dressing provocatively, or behaving flirtatiously (this idea is known as victim-blaming). In turn, slut-shaming teaches perpetrators of sexual assault or rape that provocatively-dressed girls, or flirtatious girls are “asking for it,” and therefore promotes rape culture.  Slut-shaming also reinforces the general patriarchal notion that women’s bodies belong to society.

Counterintuitively, slut-shaming is related to street harassment. It pushes the idea that women’s bodies are inherently sinful and sexual.  By shaming women for displaying themselves, it upholds the notion that a woman’s body is paramount, rather than her intelligence, psyche, or the multitude of human qualities she possesses. Street harassment is harmful for this very reason – it is a snap judgment of a woman’s appearance that reduces her to “tits and ass”.

The basic idea behind slut-shaming is “don’t be a judgmental asshole” towards other human beings, which, hopefully, seems like a no-brainer. Especially when your judgment reinforces a pernicious culture.

Luckily there are organizations attempting to combat slut-shaming. See Slutwalk and The Unslut Project.

For a more in-depth discussion of slut-shaming, visit Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog.

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