slut-shaming

Don’t Buy Into Shame Culture

Photo of spray-painted word "shame" on a wallby Matilda Branson

When we talk about gender issues and gender roles, a recurring theme of gender debates is shame. A victim of sexual assault is blamed and shamed for wearing too short a skirt or walking alone down a dark alley drunk. A football player is scorned by teammates or fans as a “pussy”, for not being manly enough.  People of all genders are shamed in different ways for not conforming to overarching gender norms and expectations.

But why do we feel ashamed? When shamed, why do we feel this overwhelming emotion that is not only uncomfortable, humiliating and embarrassing, but an emotion that wounds a person to the core? What is shame?

Shame is a very powerful and public emotion. The common ancestor of Germanic derivations of shame is skamo and it is thought to mean “to cover”, somewhat fitting in that the natural expression of shame is said to be covering oneself, either literally or figuratively. Hence shame, when it remains covered, or hidden, can be coped with – it is when shame is uncovered – is seen in the public sphere – that it becomes humiliating and disgracing. Shame operates in two ways:

 

  • It is a failure of recognition
  • It is recognition of failure

 

Firstly it is perceived failure by you, the individual, to recognize the importance of toeing the unwritten cultural boundaries, to do what is expected of you by family, friends and your community. You have overstepped the mark, and there will be recrimination/anger/hurt at what you’ve done, as the wider community recognizes your failure to abide by cultural norms and sees this as bringing your shame on your family, community or society. When people say, “He’s/she’s got no shame”, it means the individual’s behaviour is not constrained by those cultural norms.

Shame itself is not only a personal reaction to knowingly deviating from cultural norms which people invest heavily in emotionally, but it is also reliant on public discovery and condemnation to have power.

It’s a not-so-funny thing, this shame business. It’s a state of anxiety, a loss of control and even identity. If you’re associated with shame, then the way in which you’re recognized by everyone else is not the way you want to be recognized. The carefully constructed outer image of yourself that you put on show for the public has somehow failed, and a very private part of the self is exposed because you have failed to control it. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, LGBT 4 Comments

My Reality: Interviewing for the Position of Wife

1950s housewife picture from adby Lisa Lo Paro

“I love your confidence,” he said, “One of the features I like best about you.” Thus I began a text relationship with a guy my friends and I met at a bar. He didn’t seem like the pushy type when he introduced himself with a boyish grin and confident charm. In fact, he seemed like the opposite of the guys my friends and I were used to encountering at the dive: he was playful, respectful, humble.

We made a fivesome, myself and my two friends and his friend. There were no “Hey, how you doin’s?” or “Can I buy you a drink, girl?” or pickup lines of any variety. We talked and laughed and even pulled a light prank on someone we knew from high school. The guy, let’s call him Simon, suggested we hang out again when he got back from Boston on vacation,  in three months. He seemed like a pal, so I gave him my number and the number of my friend so that he could call either of us. It seemed totally casual, completely platonic.

At four-thirty in the morning, when I was tucked into bed awaiting sleep, he texted me with the statement above. He loved my confidence, and he had added me on Facebook. He openly “stalked” my profile pictures and told me which three he liked best. “Delete the others,” he quipped. It was past 4:45 a.m. when he told me he was leaving for Boston in two days and asked me what I was doing “later today.” I told him I was working, that I didn’t think I was available afterward. I was surprised that he was so insistent so fast, but he seemed like a nice guy so I gave him a “maybe” and said goodnight.

The next day, the bluster began. While I was at work (I am a part-time waitress), he pestered me via text about what time I would finish. He asked me to tell him how much “better he is” than other guys. He described himself as “very persistent” but only with “those worthy.” He told me to be prepared “for me to keep trying to hang out until you wear out and say yes.” By this time I was turned off and planned to cancel our tentative plans, regardless of closing time. He just seemed so arrogant.

He wrote me, “Although I do think I’d be the best waiter in town. You’d probably get laid off if I applied at your restaurant”. Arrogant, and strangely attached to me.

“We would make such a cute couple,” he wrote. And I knew he had to be joking. It’s just…it seemed like he meant it. It was like he was using humor to mask his sincerity. I felt like I was being interviewed for something, and it got more personal as the days progressed. Personal perhaps isn’t the right word. Prying would be more appropriate.

Unexpectedly, during one particularly inane text exchange, he sent me this message: “I knew you’d be dating material the night we met.” Interested in what his definition of “dating material” was, I inquired how he knew such a thing. He replied, “There are certain qualities to be watchful of, such as kindness, attractiveness, intelligence, humor.” For example, he told me, “Sluts cannot be kind. Kindness implies they don’t sleep around. And they’re not smart. If they were smart they wouldn’t be sleeping around.” My enraged reply did nothing to stem his flow of antagonism against perceived “sluts.” I changed the subject but he quickly informed me he was able to guess how many men I had slept with. Simon was convinced my number was less than five and was satisfied that I was not, as he put it, “a whore.”

Simon then proudly told me his number of sexual partners. “Keep in mind,” he wrote, “that I am a 23-year old gorgeous male.” I told him he would think his number were high if it were a woman’s and he agreed. “That’s because there’s a double standard,” he wrote and I wanted to yell, “You’re guilty of it!” But I didn’t.

I gathered from his messages that he was comfortable sleeping around but not comfortable with women doing the same, since it apparently rendered them incapable of kindness, intelligence, even humor. He wanted a girlfriend but, and I quote verbatim, “no one is worthy.” Since he wanted a girlfriend, his solution was to connect with a girl he’s met once at a bar, form an opinion of her even though he doesn’t know her and she also happens to live four hours away. Read more

Posted on by Lisa Lo Paro in Feminism, My Reality 7 Comments

Open Letter to Paula Simons and Editors of the Edmonton Journal

protestThis was originally posted at the Edmonton SlutWalk blog. Cross-posted with permission.

The organizers of this year’s Edmonton Slut Walk we were initially delighted to hear you would be covering the emergence of posters which mock a well-established and successful anti-rape campaign. Upon reading your article, those feelings quickly changed to horror that an ally would use their large platform to spread misinformation about rape and false rape allegations.

Though your piece did appear in the “opinion” column, that isn’t license to spread an opinion that makes the world safer for rapists and harder for victims, and inevitably that is what you do when you focus on the behavior of the victim versus the intent of the rapist.

In a piece by the CBC, who showed demonstrably more responsibly in reporting on the posters, acting Insp. Sean Armstrong from the serious crimes branch of Edmonton Police said that false allegations are “extremely rare”. Armstrong goes on to say “I was sexual assault detective for 4½ years and in that time I only dealt with one, and I dealt with numerous files. Many, many, many files,”. Additionally, police fear the posters will deter victims from speaking out. “We want to encourage people to come forward and report these horrendous crimes,” Armstrong said.

“Let’s be clear.” You, Ms. Simons, write, “any man who’d have intercourse with someone passed out cold or too drunk to stand or speak is both a criminal and a loser” well, Ms. Simons he is also a rapist, and we believe in calling a lemon a lemon. The number of women from all walks of life who have been raped and have spoken to the organizers of Slut Walk individually is a high enough number to make your skin crawl and those are only the ones willing to speak about their trauma. We don’t dance around this issue anymore.

jusbecauseposter_21False rape accusations are terrible and they are destructive to people’s lives, it would be ignorant to pretend otherwise, and you do highlight some of the problems that occur in these cases including sexual agency. Yet, what your letter and the entire mocking ‘don’t be that girl’ campaign miss is that one of the largest obstacles to justice and healing for sexual assault victims is excessive disbelief. This skepticism of sexual assault survivor’s regularly sees victims lambasted online and in their communities. In the real world, rape very often happens without witnesses, or physical evidence of non-consent. Many rapes go unpunished. Statistics that float around on the internet claiming 41% of rape charges are false are based on bad data that was unable to be verified by any secondary sources. Quite likely the reason you made no citation about the prevalence of false rape statistics is because they are difficult to pin down. Researchers are often counting different things. In Canada the data illustrates between 2-5%. Instances of false reports of auto theft are higher. Read more

Posted on by YEG Slutwalk in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

My Reality: I Was the 6th Grade “Slut”

unslutby Emily Lindin

Intro:

I am a woman in my late twenties with a full, satisfying life. I live with my wonderful partner, I love my work, I have supportive friends and colleagues, and I maintain a great relationship with my parents. But about a year ago, during a visit to my childhood home, I discovered my old journals from fifteen years ago and was transported back to a time of intense shame and isolation.

When I was eleven years old, I was branded a “slut” by my classmates. For the next few years of my life, I was harassed incessantly at school, after school, and online. I decided to create The UnSlut Project in the hopes that by publishing my own diary entries, I could provide some perspective to girls who are going through something similar right now.

Since starting The UnSlut Project, I have been contacted by many women who want to share their stories, too. This is a chance for us to prove, through sharing the details of our own experiences, that slut shaming is a strong negative force that has affected the lives of many women. It’s also an opportunity to help girls who are currently suffering from this type of shame, providing them with hope that it will get better.If you have had an experience you’d like to share, or if you can offer some words of advice and encouragement to young women who need them, please contribute by clicking the “Share Your Experience” button.

Here is one of Emily’s diary entries as published on The UnSlut Project.

“Why did you all of a sudden hate me after we went to third base?”

March 12, 1998

Today in gym, Zach was sitting next to Maggie on the bleachers and I was sitting on the other side of her. Maggie was making a paper fortune teller. Zach and I started talking, and it started off as us throwing insults at each other but soon we got to something meaningful. Zach said, “You’re such a bitch!” [Like I said… something meaningful.]I said, “You act as if I did something wrong to you!” He said, “You did! You act all PMS-y towards me, telling me to fuck off.” I screamed, “Well, you used me!” “No, I didn’t!” “Then why did you all of a sudden hate me after we went to third base?”Matt walked by and snickered, “Hump ’em and dump ’em, right, Zach?” [Again, Matt with the perfect comedic timing.]Zach looked at me pleadingly and said, “I never said that.” I glared at him. He said, “Fine, you don’t believe me?” I could tell he was getting mad, so I said softly, “No, I believe you.” He smiled. “Good.” [I’d like to point out that this entire exchange took place over Maggie, who was just trying to make a fortune teller.]After school, he called me. He informed me that we were still going out: “I never officially dumped you.” I sighed, “Well, when you called me a whore you pretty much dumped me, and if you didn’t, then I’d only be in my right mind to dump you.”

He said, “Fine, then dump me.” “No…” “Why not?” “I don’t know how to dump someone.” “Just say, ‘I don’t want to go out with you anymore.’” “But I can’t…” “Okay.” He gave up.Then I confessed to him that I am bulimic (even though I am not) and so he decided to try to make himself throw up. I don’t know if he succeeded. So we’re on good terms now.

[I’m not sure what part of this last bit is the strangest: that I lied about being bulimic, that it could possibly be unclear whether the person on the other end of the phone had thrown up or not; or that this exchange somehow signified to me that we were “on good terms now.”]

Posted on by Emily Lindin in Feminism, My Reality 1 Comment

RIP Rehtaeh Parsons: Victim of Victim-Blaming

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

by Jarrah Hodge

Trigger Warning for rape, cyberbullying, suicide.

On Sunday Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents made the decision to take their daughter off life support. Three days earlier, the 17-year-old had tried to hang herself in the bathroom after being raped and then relentlessly cyberbullied.

According to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:

Rehtaeh Parsons had a goofy sense of humour and loved playing with her little sisters. She wore glasses, had long, dark hair and was a straight-A student whose favourite subject was science.

But that didn’t seem to matter to the four boys who her mother, Leah Parsons, says raped Rehtaeh at a party when she was drunk to the point of being clearly unable to consent. According to the Facebook page Leah Parsons has set up in Rehtaeh’s memory:

The Person Rehtaeh once was all changed one dreaded night in November 2011. She went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral. Because the boys already had a “slut” story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT. This day changed the lives of our family forever. I stopped working that very day and we have all been on this journey of emotional turmoil ever since.

Police told the CBC they investigated the assault but didn’t have enough investigation to lay charges, but Leah Parsons says the police waited too long to interview the boys and refused to act on the distributed pictures because they “couldn’t prove who had pressed the photo button on the phone”.

Reading this story I was simultaneously heartbroken and overcome with rage. It makes me so sad that we have yet another case of misogynist cyberbullying that has led to yet another senseless, tragic death, another family in mourning. Another young woman, a complex human being who had so much to offer the world, is gone because of the rape culture we live in and the cyberbullying that perpetuates it faster and more furiously than ever.

Toula Foscolos writes in the Huffington Post: “We, as a society, recoil in horror at such tragedies, but fail to see the triggers that normalize violence against women. We shrug them off as unrelated. But they’re not.” Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 3 Comments

Franchesca Ramsey on How Slut Shaming Becomes Victim Blaming

Franchesca Ramsey shares her experience with date rape to talk about how slut shaming turns into victim blaming. It’s pretty powerful and comes with a trigger warning and a NSFW language warning. If you’d like a transcript you can find it at Racialicious.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism Leave a comment

Watch TEDx Talk from SlutWalk Toronto Organizers

Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett at TEDx Torontoby Jarrah Hodge

Back in October I spoke with SlutWalk founder Heather Jarvis about what it was like to get ready to speak at TEDx. Now that that process is over, you can catch her talk with co-founder Sonya JF Barnett. As you’ll see in their talk, Jarvis and Barnett liken language to a virus and apply this metaphor to slut-shaming, calling “slut” one of many “infected words” that have become contagious and are used to dehumanize.

I have to say my favourite part starts around the 4 minute mark where Barnett talks about how much it sucks to be called a “slut” at age 15. That really resonated with me – I share that knowing that all those times I was slut-shamed still stick with me over a decade later.

“Separating my sexual identity from my self-worth has become very difficult over time,” says Barnett and I think a lot of women will know what that feels like and likewise hear their own experiences when Jarvis talks about coping with assault.

I’d encourage you to watch the video even if you have issues with SlutWalk or some of the ways it’s played out in different communities. I think it really grounds the discussion in the very real, lived experiences of women and girls who are slut-shamed and blamed for “asking for it” when sexually harassed or assaulted.

I’m interested to know what other GF readers think – feel free to comment below!

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 4 Comments