That Happened: Slut-Shaming

SlutMain

ColumnFrom Amanda Knox to a kindergarten girl’s short skirt, the message is clear: You should be ashamed.

Last night I watched Chris Cuomo interview, if you can call it that, Amanda Knox on CNN. Throughout the interview, he interrogated her, called her a sexually perverse deviant, berated her for pausing to think before she spoke and told her she needed psychological help. Sitting curled into herself, she was slow to respond, her voice was catching and she seemed to be in physical pain. Clearly, she felt like each word she said was being scrutinized, as were her reasons for writing a memoir and doing the interview (which Cuomo referred to as an “opportunity” numerous times, as if by merely allowing her to use her voice he was doing her a favor).

I don’t know if Knox is guilty of murder, (and she was found not guilty in Italian court) but I do know that Cuomo is guilty of some serious slut-shaming. Seems to be the season.

Despite an increase in public conversations about women—in the workplace, in the home, in the military and in schools–the message that women who own their sexuality are sluts, especially young women, is repeated over and over in a variety of overt and subtle ways.

Lawmakers are Trying to Deny Teens Access to Healthcare

In North Carolina, a measure advancing in the legislature would require teens to get notarized, written parental consent for testing and treatment for STIs, birth control prescriptions, pregnancy care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment. Supporters claim this measure would ensure parental rights.

This law doesn’t seem to take into consideration that some people are being abused by family members or living in households where, for whatever reason, it simply isn’t safe to ask for permission. Laws like this will lead to more and more kids taking desperate measures to get access to the care they need. And issues related to birth control and sexual health impact girls far more than boys, who can buy condoms at a local drugstore and, obviously, can’t get pregnant.

The addition of mental health counseling and addiction treatment to sexual health is interesting—and goes back to the themes in the Knox case: sex, drugs and promiscuity mean you are a crazy slut.

…And to Information About Sex

Did you know my mom hates me? Me either! Apparently it’s because I take the pill. In April, Pam Stenzel, an abstinence-only speaker, said this to a group of West Virginia high school students: “If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you,” and, “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work, abstinence-only sex education (rather, the opposite of education) is still alive and well in schools and churches. Speaking on a panel at Johns Hopkins University last week, Elizabeth Smart made a strong case against abstinence-only sex education, explaining that feelings of worthlessness after being raped influenced her ability to escape from her abductor.

She said: “I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence. And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

Your life no longer has value. Translation: Women are only good for making babies—and no one wants your impure babies.

The timing of Smart’s remarks, just a week before three women in Ohio were found after a decade of imprisonment as sex slaves, was a coincidence (Smart herself was imprisoned as a sex slave for nine months). But hers is an important voice—a reminder that abstinence isn’t always a choice and that adding shame to sex has consequences.

Boys Will be Boys—And Girls Should be Modest

In schools across the country, girls are reminded that their slutty clothes are distracting the boys—who obviously can’t be trusted not to get all rapey. This reinforcement of the idea that girls ask for it and boys can’t control themselves is dangerous. (See Steubenville.)

Think Progress has a great rundown of some school dress codes designed to shame girls into mom jeans and baggy turtlenecks. While there are lots of cases of strapless prom dresses, my favorite story on the list is the one about the kindergarten student in Georgia who was forced to change her “short” skirt because it was a “distraction to other students.”

I guess if we live in a world where nine-year-olds are called cunts, this shouldn’t be a shock. But to me, sexualizing a kid seems to work against the goal. And maybe the adults in that case are the ones with the problem.

Most of the people quick to label children and young adults as sexual deviants are the same people working to make sure they stay uneducated and without access to sexual education and healthcare, and don’t have the tools to control their own bodies and become responsible sexually active adults.

Starting to control and sexualize women at such a young age has an impact on society, which we can see as the details of what has happened in Ohio continue to unfold. If reports are accurate, we are now so accustomed to this kind of treatment of women that police ignore reports of naked women tied up like dogs in a backyard.

Image: spanginator

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