Adventures In Sluttiness: Sluts, Slut Culture, and Slut Shaming

I wrote an entire essay breaking down my thoughts and opinions on sluts, slut shaming, and how I think young women should want dress.

Then I remembered a quote from Lena Dunham’s show on HBO, Girls, said by the character Jessa. She said “I don’t like women telling other women what to do, or how to do it, or when to do it.”

Damnit, Lena Dunham. Alright, so I have opinions. That doesn’t mean I’m right all the time, and who the hell am I to tell people how to dress? I can barely dress myself!  So, below I’ve tried to organize my thoughts the best I can, but since this is such a diverse and complex topic, I’d really love to hear what everyone else thinks about this down in the comments.

Let’s try to break this down. The word “slut” is a word I do not like. It’s not a word I think we as women should want to reclaim. It’s never been used as anything but an insult, to shame and embarrass women as a way to control their sexuality.

I also believe that the idea of “slut” being a “woman who is empowered” is too easily misinterpreted, especially by younger women, tweens, teenagers and college students. I think even if a woman calls herself a slut and claims “she owns it” the message is still a lot different than if she said “I’m a woman who enjoys sex.”

I also believe that women should to be able to dress provocatively and be explicitly sexual without being punished for it is incredibly important. Go Slut Walk. Yes. A woman should be able to walk down the street naked, and not have to assume she should expect to be raped.

I think if what you’re wearing makes you feel confident, and respected, and sexy, and projecting an image of yourself that you want to project, then you should wear whatever the hell you want. Wear a bikini to the bar. Dress like Cat Woman at comic-con. Wear a potato sack. If it makes you feel good about yourself, and is saying what you want to say, then yeah, I agree, that’s true empowerment. Understanding why you are dressing the way you are is an important part of that self-empowerment.

Yet, when we get into the idea of the “slut,” this is something different. From here on out, I will be addressing sluts and the idea of “slut culture” from the definition of the word as it is used most commonly: a woman who dresses provocatively and is sexually promiscuous.

I’m going to share a story from my not-so distant youth-ier youth, a story that I feel is probably a very common experience among young women.

I’ve always been a more conservative dresser (i.e “sexy” would not be a word I would use to describe my fashion sense.) Yet, in my first year of University when I would go out to the clubs or bars with my girl friends, I would look at the girls the boys wanted to dance with, and I looked at myself. Those girls, to use base language, looked like sluts. I looked like me. Apparently me wasn’t good enough.

Part of me wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel sexy. I wanted boys to want to dance with me and buy me drinks. So, next time we went out, I “went for it.” Tight jeans, low cut top, makeup galore. I pretty much followed “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking” step by step. Looking at myself in the mirror, I knew I would finally fit in with the hot girls at the club.

When we got there, I felt pretty exposed. I felt like people could see ALL of the things. Yet, low and behold, there were so many different boys trying to grind their dick against my ass that I felt like the prettiest girl at the ball!

No. I didn’t feel pretty at all. I mostly felt gross. I may not have had to pay for any of my drinks, but when I thought about that I felt grosser. I was exchanging beer for being a dry humping post.

I don’t know what I expected. I suppose this was the type of attention I thought I wanted, and I guess it took getting it to realize that this kind of attention isn’t about you.  It’s purely how you look- and the look is saying “if you’re lucky I might sleep with you.”

Here are the facts: I didn’t dress like that to empower myself, or to project self-respect, or to “own my body.” I was dressing like that because I thought I had to if I wanted to fit in with this crowd and to get boys to notice me. Some girls will argue that they like this kind of attention, it makes them feel sexy and in control. Maybe for them it does, but not for me. I know for a fact I’m not the only young woman out there who feels this way.

I’m in a much different place than I was 4 years ago. I’ve grown up a lot, I’m more confident, and more comfortable with myself, so I’m not embarrassed to share this story. Nobody is immune to peer pressure, which is why I think it’s so important to talk about what expectations we put on young women, at an age where they are still trying to figure all this dumb life stuff out about themselves.

This is what I would describe as “slut culture.” Slut culture is almost universally subscribed to these days, so the question comes down to why this societal pressure exists in the first place.

The pressure to dress like a slut is prominent in every high school and university campus across North America. It’s relentless. Movies, TV shows, magazines.  Young women are told they aren’t worth anything if they don’t dress and act a certain way. Boys don’t want smart girls. They want sluts. And sluts are cool. If you don’t dress “sexy” then you’re probably a nerd or a prude, and don’t bother going to any of the parties because nobody wants you there. And there is no room for discussion on “what is sexy, exactly?” because there are very specific guidelines for what “hot” means.

This body image, peer pressure, wanting to be sexy thing isn’t new. But what is really freaking me out about this is that there is this really horrific pattern emerging of slut shaming, date rape, and humiliating and abusing these young women who fit into the slut category.

But… we wanted them to be sluts. And then we punish them for it.

This is so unbelievably fucked up I can’t even handle it.

This article introduced me to the concept of slut dropping, and also the terrible realization that while all young women are being told to dress sexy and be sexy, and to have sex, but we all also want to mock and humiliate them.

And before you argue that this isn’t true, remember Amanda Todd. She was pressured into showing her breasts on the internet when she was in 7th grade. Not her idea. She was told she should, so she did. She spent the rest of her young life paying for that one moment, because the man responsible for distributing the picture, and her peers that pressured her into it, felt the need to humiliate and punish her for it. This isn’t simple bullying. This is a direct result of a slut culture targeting young women at younger and younger ages, and the inevitable slut shaming that follows. In this case, the consequences were terribly tragic.

So, this is why I don’t like the word “slut”, and I don’t think we should be encouraging young women to BE sluts. Slut culture teaches young women to be objects, and teaches young men to treat them accordingly.

To reiterate, I’m not saying don’t dress sexy and express your sexuality if you are confident in yourself and how you want to present your image. To me, that is not describing a slut. That’s describing a strong, empowered woman. No matter how hard we try, the negative connotation of the word “slut” will always be evident, and it sends a mixed message to young people and how they should be expressing and experiencing their sexuality.

What do you think?

The “Friend Zone” Myth: By Guest Kraken Jerika Coleman

A post I recently saw on tumblr really inspired me to say something about the ‘friend zone’ trend, and how much it honestly pisses me off. The post read: “Slut is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say yes. Friend zone is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say no.” Reading that made me think. Because everybody is aware of the fact that women will be judged for having sex (she shouldn’t be judged, but she will be, and that’s a sad fact of society right now), but it’s not as often that we encounter the opposite: a woman who becomes a bad person because she won’t have sex. So, now, not only are women being punished by society for having sex with men that weren’t our friends, but we’re actually being punished for not having sex with men that are our friends. There are obviously very few, if any, ways for women to win in society when it comes to our sexual behavior and this friend zone thing is making it even worse. 

The friend zone has become a widespread internet meme. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it was essentially coined by many not-nice guys claiming to be nice guys, and who therefore believe that this entitles to them to sex with all their girl friends. There are six pages of definitions for it just on Urban Dictionary, most of which seem to be written by men who are just angry and bitter that they put time into a relationship without getting a sexual pay-off. Men collectively mourn their ‘fallen brothers’ who have ended up in the friend zone, and praise the ones who have managed to ‘escape.’  I’ve seen friend zone flowcharts with dozens of lines and layers trying to explain to men that they’re in the friend zone and how to get out of it, and holy shit I did not know that being friends was putting men through such a personal struggle. Guys got it real rough, y’all.

Search ‘friend zone’ on a website like 9GAG and you get a couple hundred results.  Some of them are relatively light-hearted, praising men like The Office’s Jim Halpert for being able to ‘overcome’ the friend zone and get a female friend to fall in love with him.  As if Pam was never a person to Jim, just an object to be achieved – as if any woman ever is just an object for a man to achieve, like a level in a video game. To men, we are all Princess Peach, and if you’re just good enough, and nice enough, we’ll let you come save us from Bowser, and you’ll win the game.

Some are much more violent, or angry in nature, like one I read that was written by someone claiming to a “Good Guy…or rather, a New Found Asshole.” He blasted his female friends for not wanting to have sex with him, a self-proclaimed great guy, and for instead choosing to sleep with men that he had deemed assholes. What makes this guy a great guy? Why, he’s always been nice to you! He’s listened to your problems, helped you out, and given you advice. What makes this other guy an asshole?  I’m assuming just the fact that he got to have sex with the girl.

Guess what: some of you may think its funny, but in reality, it’s actually sexist B.S. that further perpetrates our unfortunate rape culture. In 2012, that is literally the last thing that women need. For the love of God, are my female friends and I really going to have to go through the rest of our lives being treated like shit because we fail to meet male expectations? Really? In the 21st century, this sort of judging crap isn’t over with yet?  Because I am getting bored of it, and frankly, I want to have better things to do than worry about what people think of me.

The concept of the friend zone is depressing as hell, if you actually sit down to think about it, which hopefully you will after this. Judging by the concept of the friend zone, no man has ever actually wanted to be friends with a woman. Ever. Because friendship isn’t enough? The idea of a guy being friends with a girl is no longer a positive thing, it’s become a punishment. “Ugh,” men around the world seem to be collectively thinking, “this girl wants to talk to me, and wants to hang out, and joke, and share common interests.  What fresh hell is this and when the frig will it end?”

I just read a post on tumblr, ironically tagged ‘chivalry’ (leading me to believe that English classes are failing to teach people the actual definitions of words), written by a guy who claimed that the only reason a guy would stick around in a friendship is because he wants a romantic relationship, and eventually that guy will get tired and move on, ending the friendship. WHAT? NO! HOW? There are no actual friendships, there are only pre-sex relationships?  And the punishment for not having sex with a guy is that the relationship is over entirely? My friendship isn’t worth as much as my vagina? How is this okay? How is anybody (not just girls) okay with living in that kind of world?

Men are seemingly desperate not to be friends with women; I guess they’ll do anything to get out of it. So, shout-out to all my guy friends who I haven’t had sex with, so…all of you, sorry I’m so boring and clothed all the time, but thanks for sticking with me! I guess this has been really hard on you. Men just want to be friendly enough with a woman that she will eventually want to have sex with them. Judging by the rage that men feel when this fails to occur, men don’t just want to have sex with women, they feel as though they actually deserve it. The men who believe in the friend zone inherently believe that if they are just nice enough to a woman, that they should be rewarded with sex. That if they’re just a nice enough guy, that getting to have sex with a girl is their right.

That is what being in a rape culture means. In this day and age, very few people are going to come out and say, “yeah, rape is okay.” I honestly do believe that this is because most people actually know that rape is bad. I believe that given the opportunity, most people will not rape. The act of rape is not normalized within our culture as it is in others. But being in a rape culture means that men will still get enraged if they feel as though they’ve been denied a woman’s body; that a woman’s body can even be denied to begin with. Living in a rape culture means that men are brought up to believe that all they have to do is be a good friend, and they will be rewarded with sex. Almost every movie with a male hero ends with him getting the girl of his dreams – women are trophies for good behavior. Any woman who refuses to be this trophy is deemed a horrible person who needs to be attacked – most often verbally, but sometimes physically too.

That’s why men insult women. Some men probably are just prudish and backwards enough to think that having any sex at all makes a woman a whore (I have a male friend who was willing to label a mutual female friend of ours a slut simply because he’d heard rumours that she’d slept with TWO men). But I think that in the case of most men, it’s that they’re bitter and jealous. Most men are actually super-okay with women having lots of a sex, as long as all the sex they’re having is with them.  BECAUSE THEY EARNED IT, BY BEING A DECENT HUMAN BEING, DON’T YA KNOW.

Which is crap, because if you’re the type of guy who thinks just being a decent human being means that a girl has to have sex with you, you’re not a decent human being.  You never were. You’re just a tool. Odds are, she can tell. It’s probably why she doesn’t want to have sex with you to begin with. We’re not idiots. If you were actually a decent human being, you’d be okay with being rejected. That doesn’t mean you want to be rejected (nobody does), but it means that you recognize a woman has the right to reject you.  An actual ‘nice guy’ won’t go around insulting a girl because she ‘failed’ to fall in love with him.  We haven’t failed to fall in love with you, like it some goal that we all had that we just couldn’t achieve, we just don’t love you. An actual ‘nice guy’ would respect women, and respect our right to make our own romantic choices instead of complaining about them.

You know how I know the idea of the friend zone is sexist? Because there isn’t an equivalent for women. That isn’t to say that women don’t often have unrequited romantic feelings towards their male friends, because oh my god, do we ever. Should I show you my diaries all the way from middle school up until last week to prove my point? But girls don’t go in the friend zone. Because if a girl likes a guy who doesn’t like her back, she’s just labeled hopeless and needy. As far as I know, there is no large gathering of girls lamenting the fact that we were SO NICE and WHY AREN’T WE BEING REWARDED. A man isn’t judged for wanting to just be friends with a girl (lol guyz, she’s probably super ugly or something, its totes understandable – that was sarcasm, BTW). Society taught us that, if guy isn’t attracted to a girl, it’s the girl’s fault – we failed at making ourselves attractive or acceptable enough for him to like. And if a girl doesn’t like a guy, well, society says that it’s still her fault too, obviously. A man’s relationship choices are always valid, and never attacked, no matter what. Why are women attacked for wanting to just be friends with a guy, but very few people are sitting around saying, “uh, men, why do you want to just have sex with me, and not actually be friends?” (hint, because the rules mostly made by men, and they don’t want to be told how wrong they are). Men are allowed to choose their romantic partners without judgment, and women aren’t. That’s how I know the friend zone is sexist, and that’s how I know it’s wrong.

Nobody has any obligation to like anybody. Ever. Ever. There is literally nothing on this planet that somebody can do that automatically means someone else will have to like you. Stop, no, there is nothing, so whatever you’re thinking, the answer is no. You could always be there for me whenever I needed you, and that would be lovely, but that doesn’t mean I have to have sex with you. You could give me a billion dollars, and I’d frigging think you are the most awesome person ever, but I still have final say on what my vagina does and does not do, thank you very much. That just isn’t how attraction works. There is no one to blame when someone says that they’re not sexually attracted to you. So, stop blaming girls, and stop talking about the frigging friend zone like it actually exists. It doesn’t, it’s not legitimate, you’re actually not suffering, so get over it.  Start recognizing that you’re actually a little (or a lot) misogynistic, and then stop being misogynistic.

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You can find Jerika on twitter @dreamsofmarchesa