Why Slut Shame?

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to Emily Linden, Founder of “The Unslut Project.” I learned about Emily’s work from my teenage daughter who came running home from “Consent Day” enraged about some of the conversations that took place over the course of the day, determined to take action. Her biggest “aha” was: girls her age are each other’s worst enemy and part of the problem. After hearing Jordyn speak my language, I HAD to contact the woman who “unleashed” her.

Emily is west coast and I am east so we had to settle for a phone call but it was one of the best conversations I have had in a while. Not best because of the topic though. It is outright disappointing and frustrating to me that in 2016 we are still having the same conversations that generations before us banged their heads against the wall trying to change. The conversation was best because when two like-minded women with a common platform connect, the energy and passion that soars is intoxicating.

What Emily and I discussed is the steady incline of girl on girl, women on women, bullying, a rise in sexual harassment across many contexts (work place, college campuses) and how the age is getting younger and younger by the minute. Girls as young as middle school report being touched inappropriately by their male peers and being exposed to sexist comments by men. Why is it that overtly our country has “come so far” in gender equality but stays so stagnant (and I would argue worse) in sexual harassment, rape and bullying? Psychologically, there is a connection among these issues related to (1) thwarting a women’s power and (2) rise of aggression and violence. Over the past few years we have witnessed an athlete punching his wife on camera on a public elevator and just getting a slap on the wrist. A woman raped on an Ivy league campus (in New York City no less,) ostracized by peers and dismissed by administration to the extent that she dragged her mattress across campus to make a statement. The age old “it’s her fault” because she “shouldn’t” have been walking alone late at night, she “shouldn’t” have dressed “that” way and of course the good old standby “she wanted it…it was mutual consent” still remain alive and strong. Let’s face it when it comes to sex, she’s damned if she does and she’s damned if she doesn’t.

Slut shaming is sexual harassment; it is an attempt to vilify a woman’s power by destroying her reputation. Slut shaming can destroy a woman’s life in a matter of minutes and her “sisters” are often at the helm. One minute, girls call each other “slut” affectionately and then the next minute “slut” is being flung as an insult in an effort to destroy or shame one another. The bipolar nature of the word floors me…and when push comes to shove, its not even being used correctly. “Ladies…do tell…what is a slut?” And isn’t the age of the witch hunt over? In so many ways, we as a society are repeating history, stoning a woman publicly, nailing her to a stake, all as a means to strip her of her power and self esteem, using her sexuality as the excuse.

Women (and girls) stand before society’s judge and jury who are eagerly waiting to condemn them. A girl is given permission to express her sexuality, dress more maturely at a younger age, act “grown up,” embrace her power and …when she does, it is used against her. “Sexual freedom is power” women chanted in the sixties…but that is an outright lie. Sex continues to be used as a means to insure that a woman stays in her gender biased box wrapped and tied with a pretty pink bow. What is it going to take to promote physical and emotional safety for our women and girls? Don’t young women have the right to enter college with the same excitement as boys without the apprehension of being sexually harassed or violated on campus? Don’t young women have the right to stay off the proverbial battle field and not thrown to the wolves if her power becomes too threatening to others? There are larger repercussions to slut shaming that include perpetuating a rape culture, continuing to blame the women who have been assaulted, excusing the violence of the perpetrator; sustaining the double standard; not to mention depression, low self esteem, learned helplessness and anxiety of those who have been shamed. Some girls have even committed suicide. Here’s to spreading awareness; knowledge is power and education is the key. Be an ally not an enemy; together women of all ages can stop contributing to the problem and choose to be part of the solution.

The Modern Day “F-Bomb”


Let’s face it, calling yourself a feminist elicits the same reaction as if you starting screaming “F *^#*” on Madison Avenue. I would argue cursing publicly in New York City would be considered much more acceptable (and maybe even admirable.) What is it about this particular “F bomb” that causes so much discomfort? In reality, feminism means that you believe in equal rights for both genders; men can be feminists too.

Feminism is not the men hating, society destroying, anti family group of women portrayed in the media or within conservative political campaigns. We (and I say we because I am not afraid to call myself a feminist) are normal everyday individuals who believe in equality and consider gender inequality as a societal problem, not solely a women’s issue. The real problem I have witnessed, is the divide among women related to the use of the word feminism, and failure to support and accept those who identify with it.

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting on a panel at the United Nations women’s and girl’s conference. My fellow panel members were exceptional, creating real change for women across the globe. The conversations and dialogues that ensued were so inspiring and engaging. However, the last thirty minutes when we encouraged our audience to ask questions and comment, something went awry. A high school student was concerned about how she was bulldozed with angry responses when she called herself a feminist. She asked our advice about how to manage it and one of the experts jumped in quickly, chastising her for not using the word humanist. I sat there silent and dumbfounded for many reasons. When I finally rebounded I quickly said, “You are allowed to identify with any concept or aspect of yourself…we should not take that away from you. And…I also call myself a feminist. We each have the right to use the word that resonates with us, individually.” The young woman’s head lifted and she nodded strongly. After that many younger women in the audience began to share similar stories and afterward surrounded me in the hallway outside the auditorium to continue the conversation.

We are perpetuating a problem if we avoid the word instead of providing education about the true definition and context. Difficult conversations need to be had; avoiding them like the plague will never amount to anything but shame, silence and the grey cloud that lingers over our heads.

But at the core, what’s disappointing to me, is that once again a women’s permission to be her authentic self is thwarted and she must squelch aspects of herself. The “shoulds” that a woman lives by are not her own; they come from others who serve as barriers to her journey to create HER own identity; align with HER values and make decisions related to HER belief system. We as a society are robbing her of these inalienable rights and if we continue to do so, the needle is NOT going to move farther in gender reformation and we will continue to be stuck with archaic stereotypes. So let’s all commit to providing women of all ages with permission to throw that F bomb out there if they want; and not chastise them if they don’t want to…the bottom line is facilitating choices!

I am a feminist!