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Clockwise, top L: 28 yr old me, 10 yr old me, 31 yr old me, 7 yr old me. Not asking for it then, not asking for it now.

Slut shaming is one of the deepest internalized prejudices that most people seem to have, regardless of gender. Even with my extremely liberal upbringing and a very conscious effort as an adult to deprogram deep-seated misogyny and macro/microaggressive racism, I still find myself judging other women and my own sexual past harshly at times. We have to start being nicer to ourselves than this.

[RELATED POST:Fashion Police: Slut-Shaming the Next Generation]

Slut shaming starts at the surface with men and women criticizing a woman’s appearance, but it goes much deeper than that.  Saying that a woman is dressed in too revealing of a way or is looking for attention often leads to victim blaming.  Victim blaming is unacceptable – and it’s what happens when a person says that a heinous act committed against someone is either wholly or partially the victim’s responsibility.

[RELATED POST: #KillTheSilence2015: Campaign Launch to End Victim Blaming] 

Here’s a question for you. Can you tell me which one of these is victim blaming?

A. “You know how many guys she’s slept with. You can’t rape the willing.”
B. “If they were unarmed and doing nothing wrong, why did they run from that cop?”
C. “He should have known he wasn’t gay! You can’t just ask a straight man out like that and not expect to get your ass beaten.”
D. “You can’t wear a tank top without a bra around town and expect nothing to happen. This is the real world.”

Of course, that was a trick question: all of these statements are a form of victim blaming. Can you think of times that you’ve done this? How many times have you heard someone else do it and just let it slip by? In 2013, a Montana Judge said a 14 year old rape victim seemed “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher who raped her.  Why do people do this?  Well, one theory is that it’s easier to point the finger at the victim than to admit that we live in an unjust world, or, if you are a religious person, that God might be a real asshole who actually does this to innocent people. In general, people want to believe that the world is orderly, predictable, and fair and that their God is a kind, benevolent being who only doles out good things to good people and bad things to bad people. It’s part of what has led to institutionalized racism and a deeply misogynist society.

For now, my focus is directly on how this creates a hostile situation for women.  I recognize that this issue transcends race, class, and gender, but my focus is on female and femme genders, this time. When one woman cannot trust another woman to be a source of support or protection in these situations, it just further isolates the victim, be they cis-female or otherwise.  This is a slippery slope for women who live with the perpetrators of violence against them, rather than it being a “one off” situation outside of the home.  When home ceases to be safe, we have to be safe for one another.

There are a lot of ways in which we can start to deprogram ourselves from these kind of toxic behaviors, the number one most important being not to engage in negative speak about other women in front of children.  We are modeling these behaviors for children, and they are picking up on them regardless of whether you want to wish that away.  I remember wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress in my 5th grade class photo.  I was told that I was “slutty,” “dressed too sexy,” and “looking for attention.”  It was HOT, the end of spring in the south, and I do not think that I had even thought to start masturbating at that point, let alone do anything to “invite” men to have sex with me.  Regardless, these suggestions were being thrown at me by students and teachers alike, showing that I could not rely on any of them to talk to about things because they were not safe – they were already actively judging me.  Little did they know, I had been sexually abused alongside my best friend by her older brother a couple of years back. I desperately needed someone to talk to about that!  They further made me, a ten year old girl, blame myself for the transgressions of a teenage boy and a seven year old girl. I had already began to think that maybe those pink knee-length shorts were too short or that the place where my breasts would eventually grow in could have made me at fault.  Worse than that, I was afraid to talk to anyone because I felt I would get in trouble.  While I was able to walk away from that, who knows how many more years poor G. had to endure incest and sexual abuse from her brother? I still carry that sad, heavy burden in my heart twenty-four years later, wishing that I had done something to protect her instead of making it about my own fear.

Is this personal?  Hell yes, it is personal! It should be personal for you, too.  The next time you call someone a “slut” out loud in conversation or even think to yourself, “Well, if they didn’t wear that,” I want you to actually physically pinch yourself and then verbally call yourself out.  Model the behavior for those around you.  If we do not create a safer place for our sisters and our children, who will?

Featured Image: Flickr user Wolfram Burner via Creative Commons

 

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