This post is originally published on Everyday Feminism and is cross-posted with permission.
Most of you have probably heard of the phrase “slut-shaming,” but for those who haven’t, allow me to educate you about this unfortunately common and very hurtful behavior.
Slut-shaming, according to Wikipedia, is defined as follows:
“The act of making someone, usually a woman, feel guilty or inferior for having strong sexual desires, having “too many” sex partners, or acting or dressing in a way that is deemed excessively sexual, often by calling them a “slut” or other derogatory terms, sometimes just by implying that a person’s sexual “standards” are “too low” (i.e. that they are too sexually available).
Slut-shaming is based on the idea that there is something wrong with being sexually promiscuous. Slut-shaming can occur privately or publicly, between people in all types of relationships.”
Unfortunately, the act of slut-shaming is part of the double standard that has existed basically since the beginning of time that says women with multiple sexual partners are “worthless whores” and men with multiple partners are “sowing their wild oats.”
Fortunately, in the last several years we’ve experienced somewhat of a societal consciousness-raising surrounding the issue with more and more people and organizations speaking out against slut-shaming and events such as local SlutWalks that were created to foster awareness.
And while this awareness is great at a societal level, how do we bring it closer to our own lives? What do we do when it happens to someone we know?
When My Friend was Slut-Shamed:
When I was in high school, I had a close friend who was slut-shamed. It started in middle school after her first sexual experience and continued until college.
Men and women were ruthless in their attacks, calling her every derogatory name imaginable — such as “Open Box” “Easy Rider,” and the oh-so-original “Slore” (slutty whore).
I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Deep down I knew that what they were saying wasn’t right. The fact that she sometimes slept with random guys had nothing to do with her value as a person or as my friend.
But unfortunately, having not yet developed a feminist lens through which to view the world, I struggled with it. Sometimes I was a good friend, other times I wasn’t.
But in retrospect, I realize that I did learn a few things along the way, things I can use to help others who are going through a similar situation in their own lives.
How To Support Your Friend:
1. Remind yourself why she’s your friend. I learned that this is the first and most important thing you can do. Because when you remember why you love your friend, and all the fun you have together, then it’s much harder to let the opinions of others influence you, or to give in to that societal double standard that says being “promiscuous” is wrong.
My friend was a hilarious satirical comic artist. She loved ice cream, reading and musicals just like I did, and we had a hella good time jamming out to weird music together. What do you love about your friend? Make a list and mentally refer to it when the pressure to conform to the “popular” crowd rears its ugly head.
2. Stand up for her. I know, I know. Captain Obvious, right? In theory. But what sounds easy in theory becomes much harder in practice, especially when the temptation to fit in and go along with what others are saying is ever-present.
If you hear others bad-mouthing your friend (or see it on Facebook or Twitter), you should let them know that what they are saying is wrong and hurtful. Or at the very least, walk away and refuse to participate in their hateful banter.
3. Let her know you are there for her. Be supportive, not condemning. If the subject comes up, let your friend speak her mind and try not to judge. Avoid asking questions like, “Why do you have sex with so many guys? I’m just curious.” By saying this, you’re only placing judgment and upholding the status quo by saying sleeping with multiple partners is wrong.
Even if there is an underlying reason for her sexual behavior (some survivors of sexual violence become very sexually active in order to assert control over their sexual experiences), she will let you know if she thinks it’s a problem and wants to talk about it. Until then, continue to be the same BFF you’ve always been for her.
4. Educate others. Many people who slut-shame are also victims themselves. They’ve been victimized by a patriarchal society that tells them it’s okay for men to do one thing and women another. I am not excusing their behavior. What they say and do is clearly wrong (I mean, calling someone names? We learned not to do that in preschool.)
What I am saying is that they need to be enlightened. Start with your inner circle of friends. Share with them articlesthat describe what slut-shaming is and why it’s not cool like, this great article about the recent “Trampire” attacks on Twilight star Kristen Stewart.
Because once we become aware of what slut-shaming is and how it personally affects all women, the closer we get to eradicating it once and for all.
Have you or your friend ever been slut-shamed? How did you deal with it? Share below in the comments!
Shannon Ridgway is a contributing writer to Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). She dreams of effecting great change in the world by working for a nonprofit agency or an organization that works toward social revolution. In the meantime, she’ll just try to make people laugh. Follow her on Twitter @sridgway1980.