Slut-shaming in the name of feminism

Calling a woman a slut use to be a surefire way to shut her down, but these days it’s the people doing the name calling who are getting shut down. What’s changed is that a relatively new term—“slut-shaming”—has become phenomenally popular.

From Elle magazine talking about the Bachelor, to Bill Maher defending adulterous politicians, today the term “slut-shaming” can encompass a variety of contexts.

Since accusations of “slut-shaming” have become so rampant (according to some feminist blogs, a bit too rampant), it’s understandable that eventually there’d be some sort of backlash. But what’s surprising, is that this backlash seems to be coming from prominent women who believe sexually suggestive behavior hinders women’s rights. These women condemn raunchiness, and call for more “ladylike” or demure expressions of female sexuality.

The latest example of this, is the angry reaction over Beyonce’s ass-revealing Grammy performance. First a UK newspaper ran a headline that called her a “whore” (it wasn’t their words they explained, but the word angry parents were using to describe her). More recently, actress Garcelle Beauvais talked about the fine line between being appropriately sexy, and being too overt. Beyonce, the actress claimed in an interview, needed to “take responsibility” for how her risqué performances impact the young fans watching.

But before Beyonce’s memorable Grammy performance with her husband, Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus’s confusing (and somewhat sloppily choreographed) VMA performance back in August, got people buzzing. Pop stars have been getting sexy makeovers and booty popping their way across the stage for decades, but somehow this performance ushered in a wave of urgent hand-wringing not seen since the temperance movement.

Google Trend
According to Google Trend, in February 2011 “slut-shaming” became a hot search term.

“Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself,” 90s singer Sinead O’Connor wrote to Cyrus in an open letter. Cyrus had told Rolling Stone that her Terry Richardson directed “Wrecking Ball” music video was inspired by O’Connor’s stripped-down “Nothing Compares 2 U” video. O’Connor wasn’t feeling the hat tip, and in her open letter she warned the 20-year-old singer that if she continued peddling her new raunchy image, one day she’d wind up washed up and in rehab as a result of allowing herself to be “prostituted” by the music business.

Singer-songwriter Annie Lennox, was also troubled by Cyrus’s image. “It’s depressing to see how these performers are so eager to push this new level of low,” she wrote on her Facebook page shortly after the VMA performance.

But the harshest public screed over the sexy time antics of Cyrus and her cohorts had to have come from actress Rashida Jones. “This week in celeb news takeaway: She who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores,” she tweeted in October after viewing one too many stripper-inspired music videos. After the slut-shaming accusations came flying, Jones then penned an essay for Glamour in which defended her tweet by explaining, there’s a major difference between calling a woman a whore, and calling on her to stop “acting” like a whore.

But as baffling as all of this bashing of the raunchy as a form of pro-woman tough love was, according to Lady Troubles blogger Camille Hayes, it’s nothing new.

In an illuminating article for Bitch Magazine entitled “Reconsidering Rashida,” Hayes argues that while critics might be right in calling slut-shaming wrong, “slut-shaming” is far from being anti-feminist. Instead, it falls under the umbrella of something called social feminism which historically pushed for moral reform and called on women to uphold respectability. “Loud, proud, and public moral scolding is a long tradition in the US women’s movement, one which continues to this day,” Hayes writes.

Women with  a modern-day social feminist view of sexuality, reject sleaze and promote the tease. Graphic sexual depictions of women they argue, are not only off-putting, they’re dangerous. “Have we reached a point in society where children’s welfare is less important than the egos of grown women?” Rebecca Savastio asks in an op-ed for Guardian Liberty Voice. Instead these women call upon other women to “leave something to the imagination.”

YouTube screengrabs
Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the 2013 VMAs (left), and Beyonce at the 2014 Grammy’s.

Since the stakes are so high, that might explain why women who are called out for slut-shaming respond as though they believe tsk tsking and calling behavior whorish is some courageous form of activism. “Why is it that now whenever a woman voices her opinion on another woman’s sexual-related behavior it seems to automatically be termed slut-shaming?” Lia Beck asked in an article for Bustle. Meanwhile Jones explained in her essay for Glamour, that “there is a difference, a key one, between ‘shaming’ and ‘holding someone accountable.’”

cow 2At the heart of why these women feel it’s necessary to hold other women “accountable” is the belief that raunchiness is somehow infectious. Many believe that it pressures impressionable girls and women to feel like the only way they can approach sex is the way a sex worker might. But it is precisely this kind of thinking that stifles female sexuality. This problem will occur in any system that ties some people’s (in this case women’s) respectability with their sexuality.

Insisting that women play coy to keep a man’s interest and her self-respect, disregards a woman’s sexual agency and reinforces the idea that her sexuality is something she should use as a bargaining chip. The irony of this, is that treating  female sexuality like this (as though it were some sacred commodity) fits the literal definition of  what it means to be a whore.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s