What You Need To Know About Slut-Shaming With Moxie Author Jennifer Mathieu
"If you find yourself reflexively judging another woman’s sexual choices, take a moment to ask yourself: would you do the same to a man?"
In addition to writing novels for young adults, I’m also a teacher. I still remember as part of a media literacy unit, I asked my teenage students to analyse an ad for used cars. The print advertisement featured a young, beautiful blond girl staring at the camera with a come hither look on her face. The tagline read, “You know you’re not the first. But do you even care?”
My students immediately recognised the crude joke – and why it wouldn’t work with a male model. Women are expected to be virginal and pure. If they’re not, they’re often labeled as sluts or whores – “used” goods. But young men are rarely judged for the number of sexual partners they have. If anything, the more the better. At the big American high school where I teach, students can easily rattle off slang terms for girls who are deemed promiscuous – ho, thot, skank, and the like. But for boys with sexual histories only one word exists – player. It turns my stomach.
Let's talk consent with a few tips from Courtney Act...
I tackle this topic of slut-shaming in my latest UK release, The Truth About Alice. This novel tells the story of a small-town girl named Alice who becomes ostracised after rumours start that she slept with two boys at a party. Never mind that the two boys in question are lauded as heroes. When Alice is later linked to the death of one of the boys – the town’s football hero – she becomes even more of a pariah.
As a feminist whose teenage years are long past, I’ve long since known men and women are judged differently when it comes to sexual behaviour – we just didn’t have a name for it when I was young in the way we do now. I’ve been thrilled by the fact that young women and their allies the globe over are no longer accepting slut-shaming as just the way things are. A few years ago, women the world over started taking part in so-called Slut Walks, protests against rape culture that raised important questions: Does what a girl is wearing ever mean she “deserves” to be assaulted or was “asking for it”? No! Should a young woman be free to make decisions about her sex life in the same way a young man is? Yes!
The term “slut-shaming” is now used by women in power who want to call out sexist behaviour whenever they see it. In yet another shameful tweet, President Trump claimed Senator Kristen Gillibrand had begged Trump for campaign donations “and would do anything for them.” Senator Elizabeth Warren had her fellow female senator’s back, quickly tweeting back, “Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that.”
Women in Hollywood are taking part, too, speaking out against harassment, slut-shaming, and abuse, starting Time's Up and spreading the word about the Me Too movement. They’re also fighting to have more women in positions of power in the film and television industries, which will hopefully turn out roles for women that are nuanced and complex and don’t just play into the tired virgin-whore dichotomy.
Likewise, women in the UK have started the Everyday Sexism project, where women can gain access to feminist resources and anonymously share their frustrations over the double standards women and girls face when the comes to sex. As one user named L recently added, “When I was in secondary school and there were rumours of a couple in my year having sex, and I heard so many comments of how the girl was a slut or a hoe – yet nothing was said about the boy.”
Women and girls need to stand up and speak out when it comes to slut-shaming. As girls we are often raised to internalise a lot of sexism and negative messages about being a woman. If you find yourself reflexively judging another woman’s outfit or sexual choices, take a moment to ask yourself: would you do the same to a man? And if your friend is the victim of slut-shaming, stand up for her, just like the friends of Olivia Melville did in 2015. An Australian woman who became the target of online harassment after she posted a Drake lyric on her Tinder profile, Melville was quickly inundated with hostile, disgusting messages calling her a slut. Her friends banded together to start a group called Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced that raises awareness of cyber bullying and sexual harassment online. They even made matching shirts that declared they were “Shameless Sluts” – reclaiming the word for themselves and minimising its power.
How can boys and men be good allies when it comes to slut-shaming? The first tip is perhaps the most obvious, but it needs to be said – don’t engage in slut-shaming yourself! It takes guts but make it a point to call out your fellow guy friends when you hear them making gross and demeaning comments about a girl’s outfit or alleged sexual past. A snide and sarcastic, “You haven’t evolved beyond that sort of talk?” might do the trick. You can also align yourself with feminist causes, groups, and candidates and donate funds to support the fight. And more than anything, believe women when they tell you how they are feeling or what they are experiencing. Validating women is an excellent way to be a male ally.
I’m truly cheered by the changes I see on the horizon. After my feminist call-to-arms novel Moxie came out last summer, I heard from readers both male and female, old and young, about how they were fighting back and speaking up, changing the landscape for all of us in ways that allow us to live our full selves. I can’t wait for the day that slut-shaming is so outdated that my students no longer recognise the “joke” in that ad for used BMWs. If we keep fighting, that day will come.
Jennifer Mathieu is the author of Moxie and The Truth About Alice.