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?