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Slut shaming (also hyphenated, as slut-shaming) is a concept in sexuality. It is a neologism used to describe the act of making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law. Some examples of behaviors over which women are said to be "slut-shamed" include: violating accepted dress codes by dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, having premarital or casual sex, or being raped or sexually assaulted.
Slut shaming is defined by many as a process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct, i.e., of admonishing them for behavior or desires that are more sexual than society finds acceptable. Emily Bazelon says that slut shaming is "retrograde, the opposite of feminist. Calling a girl a slut warns her that there's a line: she can be sexual but not too sexual."
Many have stated that slut shaming is used against women by both men and women. Jessica Ringrose has argued that it functions among women as a way of sublimating sexual jealousy "into a socially acceptable form of social critique of girls' sexual expression." Some also use this term to describe what they call victim blaming for rape and sexual assault, e.g. by stating that the crime was caused (either in part or in full) by the woman wearing revealing clothing or previously acting in a forward, sexual manner, before not consenting to sex, and thereby absolving the perpetrator of guilt.
Men and women alike are culprits of "slut-shaming": The study "Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness," published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, notes that sexually lenient individuals are judged more negatively than non-permissive peers, which places those who are more permissive at risk of social isolation. The researchers from Cornell University found that similar sentiments appeared in nonsexual, same-sex friendship context as well. The researchers had college women read a vignette describing an imaginary female peer, “Joan,” then rate their feelings about her personality. To one group of women, Joan was described as having two lifetime sexual partners; to another group, she had had twenty partners. The study found that women—even women who were more promiscuous themselves—rated the Joan with 20 partners as “less competent, emotionally stable, warm, and dominant than the Joan who’d only boasted two”.
An article in the New York Daily News described yet another mode of "slut-shaming": in meme form. Young girls, and increasingly boys, have begun to generate memes on Tumblr and Facebook to offer mock – and often insulting – advice to their peers. For example: "Hey Girls. Did you know? That you spread Nutella...Not your legs," reads one such viral post.”
In the media
The SlutWalk protest march started in Toronto in response to an incident where a Toronto Police officer told a group of students that they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like "sluts".
The term has since been used when describing the comments of Rush Limbaugh during the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy. It is speculated that the controversy that erupted may have long-term effects on the incidence of slut-shaming in broadcast media.[how?]
James Miller, editor-in-chief, for the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada wrote a controversial article defending slut shaming. The article was later taken down, but still received criticism from some libertarians, such as Gina Luttrell of Thoughts on Liberty, an all-female libertarian blog.
Additionally, the performance apparel and dance-moves of pop-star Miley Cyrus at the 2013 VMA Awards created "slut-shaming" uproar. Her performance of "We Can’t Stop," which was performed as a duet with Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," was called "lewd, grotesque and shameful." Notably, the Washington Post notes the lack of criticism towards Robin Thicke: "While Cyrus was condemned for grinding on Thicke, very little criticism has been laid on the singer himself for his role in the performance."
Slut-shaming also occurs in the literary realm as well. Such an example includes Hester Prynn, forced to wear a scarlet letter "A," which stands for Adultery, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." Yet another example includes Anna Karenina, from Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," who has a highly public affair with the affluent Count Vronsky: Anna Karenina is rejected by her friends, while the reputation of Count Vronsky remains more or less untarnished. In these novels, the author of the article notes that the men—while some experience personal setbacks—are never shunned publicly in the way that their female counterparts are for engaging in the relationships deemed socially inappropriate.
Attempts at stopping the practice
Members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company have developed a play, "Slut," in which they address the damaging impact of slut shaming and slut culture. The creators note that their play "is a call to action – a reminder" that slut-shaming is happening every day, almost everywhere. "Slut" is inspired by real-life experiences of 14-17 year-old girls from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. The play was shown at the 2013 New York Fringe Festival.
In her statement on the production, and of slut-shaming in general, author of Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, Leora Tanenbaum writes: "A teenage girl today is caught in an impossible situation. She has to project a sexy image and embrace, to some extent, a 'slutty' identity. Otherwise, she risks being mocked as an irrelevant prude. But if her peers decide she has crossed an invisible, constantly shifting boundary and has become too 'slutty,' she loses all credibility. Even if she was coerced into sex, her identity and reputation are taken from her. Indeed, the power to tell her own story is wrested from her. The Arts Effect's SLUT written by Katie Cappiello vividly represents this irrational, harmful, terrible circumstance...This play is the most powerful and authentic representation of the sexual double standard I have ever seen."
- Lamb, Sharon (27 June 2008). "The 'Right' Sexuality for Girls.". Chronicle of Higher Education 54 (42): B14–B15. ISSN 0009-5982. "In Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality (Harvard University Press, 2002), Deborah L. Tolman complained that we've "desexualized girls' sexuality, substituting the desire for relationship and emotional connection for sexual feelings in their bodies." Recognizing that fact, theorists have used the concept of desire as a way to undo the double standard that applauds a guy for his lust, calling him a player, and shames a girl for hers, calling her a slut."
- Albury, Kath; Crawford, Kate (18 May 2012). "Sexting, consent and young people's ethics: Beyond Megan's Story". Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 26 (3): 463–473. doi:10.1080/10304312.2012.665840. "Certainly the individualizing admonishment to 'think again' offers no sense of the broader legal and political environment in which sexting might occur, or any critique of a culture that requires young women to preserve their 'reputations' by avoiding overt demonstrations of sexual knowingness and desire. Further, by trading on the propensity of teenagers to feel embarrassment about their bodies and commingling it with the anxiety of mobiles being ever present, the ad becomes a potent mix of technology fear and body shame."
- Legge, Nancy J.; DiSanza, James R.; Gribas, John; Shiffler, Aubrey (2012). ""He sounded like a vile, disgusting pervert..." An Analysis of Persuasive Attacks on Rush Limbaugh During the Sandra Fluke Controversy". Journal of Radio & Audio Media 19 (2): 173–205. doi:10.1080/19376529.2012.722468. "It is also possible that the Limbaugh incident has turned "slut-shaming," or other similar attacks on women, into a "Devil-term." It may be possible that Limbaugh's insults were so thoroughly condemned that he and others (such as Bill Maher) will have a more difficult time insulting women who are not virgins, or attacking them in other sexist ways."
- McCormack, Clare; Prostran, Nevena (2012). "Asking for It". International Feminist Journal of Politics 14 (3): 410–414. doi:10.1080/14616742.2012.699777.
- Jessica Ringrose (21 August 2012). Postfeminist Education?: Girls and the Sexual Politics of Schooling. Routledge. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-136-25971-5. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Denise Du Vernay. Feminism, Sexism, and the Small Screen. pp. 163–182. in Joseph J. Foy; Timothy M. Dale (24 April 2013). Homer Simpson Ponders Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory. University Press of Kentucky. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8131-4151-0. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Emily Bazelon (19 February 2013). Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. Random House Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-679-64400-2. Retrieved 16 May 2013. Emphasis in original.
- Belisa Vranich, Psy.D.; Holly Eagleson (1 July 2010). Boys Lie: How Not to Get Played. HCI. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7573-1364-6. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Vrangalova, Z.; Bukberg, R. E.; Rieger, G. (19 May 2013). "Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407513487638.
- Ringrose, Jessica; Renold, Emma (October 2011). "Slut-shaming, girl power and 'sexualisation': thinking through the politics of the international SlutWalks with teen girls". Gender and Education 24 (3): 333–343. doi:10.1080/09540253.2011.645023.
- SlutWalk Toronto
- Ball, Krystal (3 February 2012). "Boycott Rush". The Blog. Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 December 2012. "This type of despicable behavior is part and parcel of a time-worn tradition of Slut-Shaming. When women step out line, they are demeaned and degraded into silence. If you say Herman Cain sexually harassed you, you are a slut. If you say Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed you, you are a slut."
- Triska, Zoë (2013-10-07). "9 Female Book Characters Punished For Having Sex". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-12-24.