Problem with slut shaming women who are self-aware


Commentary


Here’s the problem with slut-shaming a woman who’s self-aware: She already knows.

Considering the fact that the word "slut" was coined to demonize women who advocate sexual activity in the same way that men do, calling someone a slut is the same as saying, "You have a lot of sex," but in a more derogatory sense, because that person happens to have female reproductive parts. When interacting with a woman who’s aware of this double standard, taking time out of your day to call her a slut serves absolutely no purpose for you. Frankly, what you're saying has essentially the same effect on her as it would if you went up to a car salesman and said, "Hey, you sell cars."

Perhaps the most humorous and simultaneously disturbing aspect of these interactions is the common thread of disbelief in every man’s reaction when he sees that the woman he’s targeting is unfazed. It's like he doesn't know what to do with himself, because it's almost as though he expects her to be ashamed when he calls her that. It's as if she has every reason to feel degraded, because as a woman, she’s just committed a cardinal sin: taking control of her own sexuality.

And that's the crux of it.

While it isn't always explicitly said, this notion that women exist to serve the needs (sexual and otherwise) of men is ingrained in us through the people we meet, the books we read, the movies we watch and the media we consume. We're taught that it's cute and attractive to be a girl who's unaware of her value, and although confidence is sexy in a man, insecurity is sexy in a woman. All the songs we hear about girls who don't know how attractive they are until they have a guy crooning it to them? That's just one example. This idea that in order to be attractive, a woman needs to be insecure and fall under a predetermined set of standards is everywhere, all the time.

Dress sexy. It's attractive to men. But not too sexy, because then they'll think you look like a prostitute. Wear makeup to make your lashes look longer, your lips plumper and your skin rosier. But don't wear too much, because men might see it as "false advertisement.” Hit the gym to sculpt your butt, but make sure you keep that thigh gap — men find it sexy when girls have slim legs and toned butts.

Everything is centered around what they find attractive. And when a woman strays from that establishment and decides to do things for herself, everyone suddenly gets shaken up. As if the very idea that she would dare do something without considering what a man's opinion would be is a sure sign of insanity.

This backlash is most clear when it's in response to a woman exercising sexual freedom. Every man wants a woman who appears prim and proper — pure, in other words — to the outside world, while simultaneously being a sex goddess behind closed doors for her man. It’s easy to see why men would find this fantasy attractive. It makes him feel unique, like he is a special little snowflake, because he gets to see parts of this woman that no one else gets to.

And for men and women who are into that, that's great. What your likes and dislikes are is your business, and as long as you’re happy doing what you're doing, it's all well and good.

The problem arises when people react negatively, even viciously, to a woman parting ways with the belief that she can't be sexual — when they see her being sexual because it makes her feel good, when they see that she can have one or multiple partners without being tied down to them and when they see her making sexual decisions based on what she needs and without feeling apologetic or ashamed about it. It is apparently a radical and dangerous notion that a woman can make decisions for herself, instead of worrying about what benefits men. This makes people react as if the very fabric of civilization as we know it is crumbling around us.

Which leads us back around to coining derogatory terms to represent women behaving sexually — in the same way that men do — as an attempt to shame them. See a girl sleeping with a guy who's not you? Slut. What about that other girl who doesn't really seem like she sleeps with anyone? Prude. And the girl who you were so nice to, but who turned you down when you wanted to sleep with her? Queen of the dreaded friend-zone. Any girl, anywhere, at any time, who isn't doing things according to male desire is branded with the modern day equivalent of Hester's scarlet letter.

The next time you or someone you know reacts with contempt to a girl dressed a certain way or behaving a certain way, take a moment to think about why it's so threatening to you. What's so scary about her feeling good about herself? Take a step back and assess critically why it's so important that a girl conduct herself according to these archaic rules and standards that have never applied to and will never apply to men. Give examples and show your work. It’s due on my desk Monday morning.

Sonam Sheth is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and statistics.


Sonam Sheth

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