I Need Feminism Because of Slut-Shaming and Other Double Standards

I need feminism because I was called a "bimbo" and a "stupid cunt" for defending those that are victimized by gender norms/stereotypes (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).
I need feminism because I was called a “bimbo” and a “stupid cunt” for defending those that are victimized by gender norms/stereotypes (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

Almost every girl I know has been called a slut at least once, if not more.

I remember hearing the word “slut” for the first time in fourth grade. I was in a group of girls and one boy was gossiping about people in the grade that had graduated the year before. They began to talk about this one girl in particular who happened to be dating a guy that was in my year. As young as we were, this guy had three girlfriends, and was praised for it. But the girl that we were talking about was called a slut. Why? Because she was dating a guy who had three girlfriends, though she didn’t know this detail, and was also older than he was.

After that, I became aware that the word “slut” was actually quite ubiquitous. The girls that  developed faster than the rest of us were called sluts. The girls that had their first kisses already were called sluts. If a girl had the nerve to talk about sex, she was called a slut. If a girl’s shirt revealed the top of her cleavage she was called a slut. If a girl had sex with more than one guy during her high school career, she was called a slut and “easy.”

You get the picture?

But what no one seems to notice is how men are treated in these same situations. Some boast about the size of their genitalia or the new growth of their facial and chest hair. Others are praised for the amount of girls they “get with,” and if they haven’t had sex, it’s considered a surprise and actually as something NEGATIVE.

This is an example of what we call a double-standard. Many believe that these are only petty issues that can be taken with a grain of salt. But the issue goes much deeper than that.

Two weeks ago, our feminism class watched the documentary Very Young Girls, an exposé of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The average age of girls entering the commercial sex industry is thirteen, an age which a child is not even legally able to consent to sex, let alone sell her body. What really frustrates me about this documentary is that the Johns, or the men that buy these girls, are told to go to a workshop and stay out of trouble for a six month period. Once they do, their record of buying these girls is expunged. In addition, many pimps go unscathed by the law.

Yet the girls they are selling and buying are being treated as criminals and charged for prostitution. What sense does that make? Think about it, without the demand, there’d be no need for the supply.

Offensive and slut-shaming ad that is supposed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS Image Credit: HIV Foundation/AIDS Council
Offensive and slut-shaming ad that is supposed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS Image Credit: HIV Foundation/AIDS Council

As I was reading Ms. Magazine’s Spring/Summer Issue, I came across the No Comment section. In it, was an ad that particularly caught my attention: it was an ad that was sponsored by the HIV Foundation/AIDS Council. The ad portrays a scantily clad woman in lingerie with a location symbol, like the ones they show on Facebook, with a caption that reads: “Bill Johnson and 19 others were here.”

This may be an ad campaign about HIV/AIDS awareness, but that’s no excuse for the blatant misogyny portrayed here. This image is truly revolting, conveying a much more profound message about the female body and female sexuality.

As you can see in the image, this model is cropped, making her objectified and almost dehumanized as well. The focus of the image is her genitalia, even if it’s covered by her underwear. That’s a very deliberate choice the ad designer made. Worse still, her vulva is an indexed destination on a Google map image situated between her legs.

This ad is not offensive because Bill Johnson and 19 others had sex with this woman. Who she has sex with and how many people she has sex with should not matter at all. What’s toxic is this idea that these 20 men “checked into” her vagina as if they were playing a game on Foursquare, slut-shaming this woman as someone who sleeps around a lot. In addition, her private parts aren’t private at all, they’re public for male consumption quite literally. That’s the implicit message in this image, and it’s completely degrading.

This ad also communicates to the general public that having more sexual partners makes one more likely to have HIV/AIDS. The ad should be much more explicit about how to protect oneself, regardless if you have sex with one or twenty partners. We need to ask ourselves, where is the man’s responsibility in this ad? We don’t see his penis as the point of contention the way we see this woman’s vagina.

When thinking about double standards for women, I always think back to Gloria Steinem’s 1978 essay, “If Men Could Menstruate.” It’s alway something I’ve  wondered about for various situations women go through. Why should we be scrutinized for our sexuality? Why is it embarrassing  for a woman to leak on accident during her period?  Why is it that when women are frustrated or sad, she is mentally unstable because she is on her period, whether she is on her period or not? It makes me wonder whether men would boast about how heavy their flow was and how thick their pads would be the same way that they boast about their penis size.

Then I realize, there are things that make women unique, and there are things that make men unique. But instead of gender stereotyping, or giving either genders an excuse to have the right to do something or act a certain way and deny the other gender that same  right, we should be focusing on why we are different while making sure our differences are not giving one group of people more advantages than the other.

That, in my opinion, is the real definition of feminism.

3 thoughts on “I Need Feminism Because of Slut-Shaming and Other Double Standards

  1. Great post! It’s horrible, that fact that every girl I know has been called a slut and in some form been harassed by men – at the age of 16 it’s just plain wrong.

    The double standard among men and women is strong, however, as you wrote: “many believe these are only petty issues that can be taken with a grain of salt”

    I, like you, feel enraged by this !

    Your relation to Gloria Steinem’s piece, “If Men Could Menstraute,” helped further your point of the double standard faced by men and women.

    You ended your piece with a clear message and possible solution.

    You’ve done a great job and have made me even more concious of the double standard that I, along with every other females in the world face today.

  2. I love your first two paragraphs about the double standards of boys and girls. Especially in middle school, I recognized that certain things girls did or wore gave her the title “slut”, while if boys did the same thing, he would be praised. Although this is something most people recognize, it is rarely questioned. If you were to ask any preteen (boy or girl) why this was the case, I’m sure they’d give an answer similar to “it just is” or “because that’s what’s normal”. Just because something seems normal because that’s how it was “taught” to you it doesn’t mean it is right. I also thought it was really interesting how you said girls who physically mature faster than others are given the label “slut”. This one in particular shocks me. After reading this, I thought back and realized that in many situations this was the case. Girls can’t control how big their boobs are and it makes absolutely no sense to me why young girls would be called sluts for going through a natural phase of puberty.

  3. I agre with you, slut shaming is a prevalent problem because it creates a filter where people are afraid to be themselves or please their own sexual desires because of the societal consequences and isolation that comes with this.

    The key example we use is Hester Prynne, she commits adultery and is shamed for it the whole book, isolated, and branded and forced to wear this red A. Meanwhile the man she committed adultery with is kept in the circle of society and never suspected for it until he outs himself as the adulterer.

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