Here are my extensive thoughts after last week's lunch-and-learn:
First, let me define double standard. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a situation in which two people, groups, etc., are treated very differently from each other in a way that is unfair to one of them.” Allow me to cut to the chase here: double standards are always demonstrated between males and females. Personally, I fail to allow any fictitious reasoning to deceive me of what I know to be true: there is no justification in the discrepancies between genders.
I suppose one can argue that history substantiates gender differences and that the polarity between male and female may have been encouraged at an early age. However, we are in the 21st century. Not to mention, the dawn of the 21st century. We are setting the tone for the succeeding years of our future, our children’s future, and I believe that it is unavailing to abide by these gender roles for any longer. But that’s just my opinion. Frankly, I am blinded as to why one is hesitant to agree with me. The only thing I would ever request of someone to have is an open mind. This world — where beliefs are prejudiced, perspectives are unalterable, and people are bigoted — is inevitably going to create hardships for everyone. But, in particular, the hardships for women happen to be just a little bit, well, harder.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places in our world: Italy, France, England, etc. But, there’s no place like the North Shore of Long Island if I want to witness the bad-mouthing against high school girls and whatever their sexual activity is. Yep, I have front row seats and it didn’t cost me a thing.
What elicited my thoughts about this reoccurring trend to bash girls and their biological nature, was last week’s lunch-and-learn. Hosted by the Gender Progression Club, the lunch-and-learn was open to students and faculty to discuss… “slut-shaming.” Yes, I did use the word “slut.” I agree, it is vulgar. But, I won’t shy away from utilizing it because it needs to be discussed.
This brings me to my first question. Why do people grow so uncomfortable at the public use of this word, especially if it’s frequently used surreptitiously? I believe it is healthy to verbalize the controversies of this word, and the conversation around sex that follows.
Michel Foucault—one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century— encouraged a discourse on sex. In The History of Sexuality, published in 1976, Foucault states:
“One had to speak of sex; one had to speak publicly and in a manner that was not determined by the division between licit and illicit … one had to speak of it as of a thing to be not simply condemned or tolerated but managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all, made to function according to an optimum.”
That’s right, everyone, let’s speak about the unspoken. You shouldn’t have to shy away from conversation because you're unsure if it’s right or wrong to speak of. I, personally, grew up with hesitation about discussing sex. It wasn’t because I was taught that a conversation on sex was particularly bad, it was because there wasn’t any conversation on sex- which led me to misinterpret its connotation. Foucault wants nothing more than for us to break down these walls, build on timidness, and talk about it.
In this lunch-and-learn, students were asked what they would define a “slut” as. These were some of the responses:
“A girl who has sex without any emotional connection.”
“Someone who wears skimpy, revealing clothes or dresses.”
“Has more than a few sexual partners.”
“Only cares about sex, nothing else.”
“Always hanging around only the guys.”
I was taken aback by the amount of variation in the responses. The students didn’t really know what they were defining. And once another peer answered the question with a different definition, I could see the self-doubt in the preceding student who had just answered. They all agreed, though, that this word has a negative connotation. This is why everyone seems to be apprehensive to use it in a formal setting. But this word also seems to be undefinable. Perhaps because the word’s meaning is continually evolving over the years due its frequent overuse.
Furthermore, teachers at the lunch-and-learn were surprised. They didn’t know that this word is so commonly used amongst high school students in such a casual manner. They recalled that they never came near the use of this word when they were teenagers.
That being said, why is it that people of my generation seem to use the word “slut,” without any hesitation or forethought of its effect? Why is it so overused and easily used?
Here’s the only answer I have: the answers may vary. The ambiguity is so dissatisfying, I know.
This hackneyed word in today’s vernacular has lead to yet another term you must be up-to-date with: slut-shaming. Geek Feminism defines it as “the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity.” I guess if you have the audacity to call someone a “slut,” you're basically bashing them for owning their sexuality. Interesting. But, here’s why I get irritated: why isn’t a guy ever criticized for his sexual activity?
For example, observe the classic procedure: his rowdy friends encourage him to get with as many girls possible at the party and he doesn’t back down from the challenge. He feels the need to execute this duty, but, why? To meet the standards of others? To fulfill expectations? To boost his ego? Whatever it is, I don’t care. Because in that same night, if a woman becomes sexually adventurous, she is the only one who is going to be spoken about the next morning. The only one who is going to be “slut-shamed.” What did she do wrong to receive these attacks? What did the guy not do wrong to receive no negative commentary?
I still don't have the answers. But, how could I? All I know is that men and women explore their sexuality in a similar manner, but the consequences are far from similar.
“Slut” is a gendered term. The last time I checked, there’s no word in the English language burdening men for their sexual affairs.
Double standards, people.
The worst part is, the male in this scenario usually exhibits enough hubris to “slut-shame” the girl the most. Is it out of spite? To gain control over the situation? I believe this action is paralleled to the proverbial, historic need for men to apparently crave dominance. By calling her a slut, he feels as if he’s putting her in her place, reverting the power back to himself.
Forgive me, but, who gives the right to a man to call a woman a slut? No one.
However, girls— we’re not off the hook either. Primarily, I never understood why girls slut-shame other girls. News flash: we’re all cruising on the same boat, females. And when we hit turbulence elicited by someone’s ignorance, we are going to need each other for support, not judgement. Secondly, if we stop easily dispensing this word, we can stop implying that it’s okay for men to use it as well. Yes, that’s right, we are capable of sexism against our fellow girls just like men are. This needs to be realized so it can be fixed. Consequently, the lunch-and-learn allowed me to discover that “slut” only has the definition that we choose to give it.
Just as Ms. Norbury (played by Tina Fey) said in Mean Girls, “You all have to stop calling each other sluts. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts.” High school girls, take a lesson from what you claim your favorite movie is. In fact, I hope it is your favorite movie because of this quote.
In closing, my final thoughts are of the future. I wonder if there will be equality in the oddly constructed social norms of high school and higher education. I wonder if a boy will ever halt mid-sentence and reject the hurtful words he’s about to say regarding ‘that girl from last night.’ I wonder if the ‘walk of shame’ can ever become the ‘walk of NO shame.’ I wonder if a girl will ever be driven by her strength to grasp the feeling of dominance, and teach her boyfriend what it is to share such a quality.
No one should be placed in arbitrary categories by anyone else.
No one should be defined by anyone else.
A woman should never be defined by her sexual activity.