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Slut-shaming is the practice of criticizing people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate expectations of behavior and appearance regarding issues related to sexuality. The term is used to reclaim the word slut and empower women and girls to have agency over their own sexuality. It may also be used in reference to gay men, who may face disapproval for sexual behaviors considered promiscuous. Slut-shaming rarely happens to heterosexual men.
Examples of slut-shaming include being criticized or punished for violating dress code policies by dressing in perceived sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, having premarital, casual, or promiscuous sex, engaging in prostitution, or when being victim blamed for being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
Definitions and characteristics
Slut-shaming involves criticizing women for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct, i.e., admonishing them for behavior, attire or desires that are more sexual than society finds acceptable. Author Jessalynn Keller stated, "The phrase [slut-shaming] became popularized alongside the SlutWalk marches and functions similarly to the 'War on Women,' producing affective connections while additionally working to reclaim the word 'slut' as a source of power and agency for girls and women."
Slut-shaming is used by men and women. Slut-shaming functions among girls and women as a way of sublimating sexual jealousy "into a socially acceptable form of social critique of girls' or women's sexual expression." The term is also used to describe victim blaming for rape and other sexual assault. This is done by stating the crime was caused (either in part or in full) by the woman wearing revealing clothing or acting in a sexually provocative manner, before refusing consent to sex, thereby absolving the perpetrator of guilt. Sexually lenient individuals can be at risk of social isolation.
The action of slut-shaming can be considered to be a form of social punishment and is an aspect of sexism, as well as female intrasexual competition. The social movement falls into the category of feminism. This raises controversy because gender roles do have a significant role in the social movement. The topic of slut-shaming sheds light on the social issues that are associated with the double standard. This is because slut-shaming is usually toward girls and women, and boys and men usually do not get slut-shamed. Slut-shaming is common in America because it is such a high-context culture. Being in a high-context culture, it is easier to be victim blamed. Slut-shaming is strongly associated with victim-blaming.
Researchers from Cornell University found that sentiments similar to slut-shaming 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 20 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".
Society and culture
There is no documented date of origin for the term slut-shaming; nor the act of it. Rather, although the act of slut-shaming has existed for centuries, discussion of it has grown out of social and cultural relations and the trespassing of boundaries of what is considered normative and acceptable behavior. Second wave of feminism contributed significantly to the definition and act of slut-shaming. Tracing back to the Industrial Revolution and the second World War, men's gender roles were that of the breadwinner. Men made up a majority of the labor force while women were socialized and taught to embrace the cult of domesticity and homemaking. Author Emily Poole argues that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s increased the rate of both birth control use, as well as rates of premarital sex.
Slut-shaming is prevalent on social media platforms, including the most commonly used: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Slut-shaming has occurred on Facebook in controversial exchanges between users that have resulted in convictions to menace, harass and cause offense.
It has been reported by The Pew Research Center that the most common targets of harassment on the Internet are often young women. Citing that 50% of young female respondents have been called offensive names and or shamed online. In particular, those who were 18 to 24 years of age experienced varying amounts of severe harassment at astoundingly high rates. Women who have been stalked online were at 26%, while the targets of online sexual harassment were at 25%.
In the Women Studies International Forum, researcher Jessica Megarry argues that harassment conveyed in a case study of #mencallmethings hashtag found that it was a form of online sexual assault, on specifically Twitter. In this hashtag, women would collectively tweet examples of harassment they have received from men. This kind of harassment included anything from insults related to appearance, name calling, even rape, death threats, i.e., "slut shaming."
The SlutWalk protest march had its origins in Toronto in response to an incident when a Toronto Police officer told a group of students that they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like "'sluts'". Amber Rose's second annual walk in Los Angeles in 2016 had "several hundred" participants. A similar event occurred in Washington DC in 2014.
The Slut Walk movement has embraced the slut-shame label and has engaged in an act of resignification. Ringrose et al. call the Slut Walk a "collective movement" where the focus goes back to the perpetrator and no longer rests on the victim. This act of resignification comes from the work of feminist scholar Judith Butler. In her 1997 work, she argued that labels do not just name and marginalize individuals to particular categories but language also open up an opportunity for resistance.
Krystal Ball characterized the comments of Rush Limbaugh during the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy as follows: "If you are a woman who stands up for your rights, you are a slut and your parents should be ashamed of you and we should all have the right to view your sex tapes online. This type of despicable behavior is part and parcel of a time-worn tradition of Slut-Shaming. When women step out line [sic], 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."
Slut-shaming has been used as a form of bullying on social media, with some people using revenge pornography tactics to spread intimate photos without consent. In 2012, a California teenager, Audrie Pott, was sexually assaulted by three boys at a party. She committed suicide eight days after photos of her being assaulted were distributed among her peer group.
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.
Comedians Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fischer of Sorry About Last Night host a podcast entitled Guys We Fucked, The Anti-slut shaming podcast. This podcast has over 200,000 listeners on each episode that is on SoundCloud. iTunes originally did not make the podcast available and "...would not comment on whether the show is subject to an official ban,"  but has since been made available on iTunes. The podcast exists to de-stigmatize discussing sex so that slut-shaming becomes less of an issue, Hutchinson explains in an interview with The Huffington Post: “We want to make people feel more comfortable in their own skin. We just got a message from a girl from New Delhi, India, about how she loves the podcast because it makes her feel like it’s OK to be comfortable with your sexuality and enjoy sex. And that made me so happy.”
Activism against slut-shaming takes place worldwide. Participants have covered their bodies in messages reading "Don't Tell Me How to Dress" and "I am not a slut but I like having consensual sex" and march under a giant banner with the word slut on it. Activism has occurred in Vancouver, New York City, Rio, Jerusalem, Hong Kong and others.
In 2008, hundreds of South African women protested the local taxi rank wearing miniskirts and t-shirts that read, "Pissed-Off Women" after a taxi driver and multiple hawkers confronted a young girl about wearing a short denim miniskirt and penetrated her with their fingers, calling her "slut" repeatedly. Protesters wanted to make their message clear; they wanted men to stop harassing women no matter how short their skirts were and that no matter how short it may be, it is never an invitation.
After the gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, August 2012, football players spread videos of the assault to other classmates whom some of which posted the videos to Twitter and Instagram. The pictures and video were later removed by authorities, however that did not stop people from hash-tagging "Whore status" or "I have no sympathy for whores" in their tweets. Members of the collective Anonymous reported names of the rapists and classmates who spread the footage to local authorities. They took to the streets and Internet requesting help from the community to bring justice to the Jane Doe who was raped.
Members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company have developed a play, Slut: The Play, 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- to 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.
After experiencing slut-shaming firsthand, Olivia Melville, Paloma Brierly Newton and approximately a dozen other Australian women founded the organization, Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced, on August 25, 2015. The association seeks to raise awareness of cyber-bullying and online sexual violence. The founders also launched a petition to the Australian government, requesting that they better train and educate law enforcement officers on how to prevent and punish violent harassment on social media.
Among gay and bisexual men
Gay and bisexual men are also victimized for slut-shaming because of their sexual activity. There has been research supporting that LGBT students were more likely to be bullied and called sluts than heterosexual students. Researchers discussed how these negative experiences of victimization by peers, friends and strangers can lead to "physical harm, social shaming, and loss of friendships." Unlike heterosexual people, LGBT people are more likely to learn about safe sex practices from friends. The group most highly at risk of HIV infection is young gay and bisexual men. Most of the education that young gay and bisexual men receive about safe sex practices is learned from friends, the Internet, hearsay or trial and error.[failed verification]
Criticism of non-heterosexual men's sexual activity can either be said in a humorous context or not. Judgementalism happens when someone mentions gay men's sexual risk behavior or that they have multiple sex partners. This implies that their behavior is "slutty" and dirty.
Street harassment includes cat-calling, victim blaming, and slut shaming. Judgmentalism is not a pejorative word compared to women, and slut-shaming may have a positive connotation with men depending on context and relationship.
- Female intrasexual competition
- Free the nipple
- Honor killing
- Madonna–whore complex
- Post-assault treatment of sexual assault victims
- Sexual bullying
- Victim blaming
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As we explored in chapter 2, 'slut-shaming' is an umbrella term for all kinds of language and behaviors that are intended to make women and girls feel bad about being sexual.
- Jessalynn Keller (2015). Girls' Feminist Blogging in a Postfeminist Age. Routledge. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-317-62776-0. Retrieved April 22, 2018.
The phrase [slut-shaming] became popularized alongside the SlutWalk marches and functions similarly to the 'War on Women,' producing affective connections while additionally working to reclaim the word 'slut' as a source of power and agency for girls and women.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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It encouraged women to be angry about whore stigma and slut shaming for pursuing sexual pleasure or trading sex for money
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