The Violence of Slut-Shaming

The Violence of Slut-Shaming

By Sophie Needelman

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I am frustrated and ashamed to report that I have officially joined the ranks of womanhood through an experience that many female-bodied people have on a daily basis: I was slut-shamed.

As my best friend and I causally walked through the aisles of our local grocery store looking for the latest snacks we should try on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the absolute last thing I expected to hear was the slur “sluts” said to us by a random woman passing by. In that instance, she didn’t even care to hide her slut-shaming with a whisper or by muttering under her breath, in another language, or out of earshot. That is the essence of slut-shaming though- it is meant to be heard by not only the object of criticism but also by other passersby.

Slut-shaming is a phenomenon that is often subtle yet profoundly influential in the world of alleged femininity and female empowerment. The official definition of this newly emerging concept (but nonetheless classic and historic act of criticism) is “making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional gender expectations”. In the instance I was slut-shamed, I was far from engaging in sexual behaviors- I was cruising the aisles of my local grocery with one of my best friends in pretty standard summer attire. I did absolutely nothing to draw attention to myself, and far from expected to be noticed at all let alone noticed and a sexual and sexually criticized way. The circumstances were all wrong: I was in a public and relatively domestic place, it was broad daylight on a weekday, I was not doing anything to draw attention to myself, I was in an extremely progressive and forward thinking city… and the person who let this slur slide was another woman.

The combination of these elements left me utterly dumbfounded. I was literally blown off of my feet, jaw dropped and brow furrowed out of anger. It took a few seconds after the slur was said for me to even register that it was directed at us, and especially that it was so seemingly unrelated to anything exhibited in reality. The most disheartening part about this experience for me though is that I was called a slut by another woman though. Aside from the fact that this slur was completely unwarranted, there is no reason women should be judging and criticizing other women- especially for the way they present themselves physically or the sexual behaviors they exhibit.

Women calling other women names like “slut” makes men think it is okay to call women and think of sexually active women as “sluts”. Women calling other women names like “slut” makes society think it is okay to reinforce oppressive standards of gender and sexuality norms that construct the conditions under which we are expected to perform our gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation. Women calling other women names like “slut” makes little girls think it is okay for them to one day be thought of as sluts- to be judged and criticized based on anything less than their quality of their character and authenticity of their actions. Women calling other women names like “sluts” reduces us to labels- labels that are most often based on warped interpretations of reality.

So to the woman who slut-shamed me in North Berkeley’s Andronicos on Tuesday afternoon:

Thank you for reminding me of how privileged I have been- I am 21 years old and that is the first time I have had to deal with any sort of harassment based on my gender or sexuality.

Thank you for reminding me that, unfortunately, I should never be too comfortable in my surroundings- at least, as long as those surroundings are informed by this misogynistic society.

Thank you for reminding me of the constant presence of female objectification, judgment, and criticism that absolutely needs to actively be combated at every given opportunity.

Thank you for reminding me to encourage and applaud all of the sexy, empowered, skin-showing, radical, loud-mouthed women in my life with pride and enthusiasm. I am honored to be among their ranks.

Thank you for reminding me of what is at the very root of slut-shaming itself, regardless of who it is done by and who it is done too. Because you are damn right: I luckily do engage in behaviors, sexual and otherwise, that deviate from traditional gender expectations… again, with pride and enthusiasm. And I will continue to do so regardless of the names you call me.