May 11, 2010

My introduction to slut-shaming

Posted in Feminism, Musings, Personal at 1:54 pm by The Lizard Queen

From Feministing, on the subject of a conference panel titled, “Debunking the Virginity Myth: Feminist Responses to Slut Shaming”:

The panel opened with a discussion of what slut-shaming is, and Sady, who was the first to offer a definition, was careful to note that being labeled a slut can happen to anyone, even to people who have never had any sexual contact of any kind.

Ha! That brought back a memory I haven’t revisited in a very long time indeed. Just before or just after my 13th birthday (I have a vague feeling like it might have been on my 13th birthday itself), a sort-of friend of mine called me a two-timing slut, and I was absolutely devastated. Here’s more or less how it went down, with names changed to protect the young and foolish:

Joe and Bob are having one of those conversations that I hear teenage boys have, conversations that will forever remain a mystery to me, and somehow my name comes up; I am, at this point, at least a friendly acquaintance, though not, I suppose, a bosom friend. Joe apparently thinks it would be good for a larf to call me a two-timing slut, largely because it’s so antithetical to who I am (at any rate, that’s how they put it to me later). There may have been a dare involved, too, I think.

At the time I’m a bookish and vaguely awkward band geek, who’s dating a boy a grade ahead of her mostly because it seemed like a good idea at the time and because I liked the idea of being liked by a boy, and no one really knows it but lately we’ve been spending lots of time kissing through movies, and I don’t actually like it all that much, but girls date boys, and when you’re dating you kiss them, and that’s just how it goes, right? At any rate, I’m already feeling pressured—and not really pressured by anyone in particular (…mostly…), but pressured by my own understanding by how things are supposed to work—to behave in a certain way, and I’m not comfortable with it, but I don’t really have the emotional vocabulary, if you will, to figure out exactly how and why I’m uncomfortable. So we’ve got all that running underneath the surface.

One afternoon between class periods, then, Bob comes up to me and tells me, “Joe said you’re a two-timing slut.” And, oh, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed! I and several of my friends all reacted with the sort of histrionics that I only remember ever coming across in middle school. Maybe in high school some, too, but by high school I myself, at least, would probably have been able to laugh off being called a slut (…mostly…). But I wonder if part of why I reacted so strongly to the phrase “two-timing slut,” and part of the reason the boys thought it would be funny in the first place (seeing as how irony was most likely a new and shiny thing for them to play with), is because, at a suburban middle school populated largely by middle-class white kids, that was probably the worst possible thing they could think of to call me. My gender was what set me apart from those boys, and so that was what they used against me. Clearly there are worse words to call a girl, but it seems to me like “whore” didn’t really enter the lexicon of my immediate peers until at least high school, and “bitch” had long since lost its sting. And I’m pretty lucky in that I can’t recall ever having been called “cunt,” at least not to my face. To paraphrase Goldilocks, then: “bitch” was too soft, and “cunt” was too hard, while “slut” was just right.

(Discussions of Elena Kagan are reminding me that “dyke” or “lesbo” might have been possible as well, but I think having a boyfriend precluded that particular line of attack, at least in this case. (Which is not, of course, to say that I’ve never had either of those epithets lobbed at me.) Exploring my and others’ assumptions about my sexuality in my adolescence is a whole other blog post…)

If there’s a conclusion to be drawn from any of this, I haven’t happened upon it. Just one of those random trips down memory lane, I guess…

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3 Comments »

  1. DavidD said,

    As dreams do, memories or other images can elaborate and stand for a feeling, a thought, or a complex combination of both emotional and intellectual reflections on reality. How different it would be if such drama followed the orderly conventions that words do. Or if words had the power to express every association within our experiences like memory does, experiences that parallel our ongoing awareness of the world rather than making that so abstract as words do. Then we would know so much more of our desires than we do.

    Is your memory part of a desire for the world to be a better place, an easier place in which to grow up without hurt and shame? Is it part of an appreciation that you made it through a rite of passage without even more trauma? Is it inevitable that we all are the victims of human lies and oneupsmanship at times, the victims of their deficiencies which are projected onto us with no understanding of what using us this way will do? Or can future culture fix all the evil parts of our personalities that biology has found useful to our survival and reproduction? What kind of culture compared to what we have now? No suffering? No shame? How?

    The questions are endless. Yet there is an end for me. And cultural evolution will either do justice for all my desires, or it will fail me. I wish I could know which it is tomorrow, but it takes a lot longer than that, longer than I can be a participant. Still I participate, while I also have my plan B in case humanity sucks like this forever.

  2. The Duke of Bears said,

    You are an excellent writer, Lizard Queen! I love your writing!

    Love, The Duke of Bears


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