Slut Shaming – Then & Now

Even as I’ve embraced the label of feminist, I’ve still had to fight the urge to slut shame other women. I feel the desire to heave that horrible name at others at the most unexpected times.

-Sitting in a coffee shop as a young woman comes up the stairs, stomach exposed.
-Discharging a patient at the clinic as a teenage girl stands next to her mother, cutoff shorts up to her butt, pockets hanging out.
-Sifting through notes given to me as a teenager, the pages littered with names and labels I didn’t fully understand.

———–

There’s an echo in my past of slut shaming young women I loved. As if calling out their perceived flaws would fix them and edify me. It pains me to think of the ways I abused the power that word held. It pains me to know I broke them down instead of building them up. It hurts to realize the impact of words used years ago.

I’ve been toying with this post for a few weeks now. Should it be an open apology? Should it simply serve as a reminder to other women that we are still our own worst enemy?

And honestly, I’m still not sure.

I remember the first time I used the word slut. I was in band class in 5th grade. I don’t remember what happened, but my friend and I passed the word back and forth like a football. We lobbed it at each other – no pads, no grace, no love.

I remember the fire I felt in my center. How the anger rose up and out of my mouth, how I enunciated the word with careful precision. I remember room with its risers, how our chairs and music stands were perched carefully at the edge of each step and how we raised them just a little too high so the teacher couldn’t see our gossip.

Where did I even learn the word? Who told me what a slut was?

————

When I look back over my years growing up, I see how the term evolved with me as I grew. I can feel the intensity in which I fled from anything that could be perceived as slutty. I remember when my friends made decisions I didn’t agree with, that made me uncomfortable, how I turned their own uncertainty upon them. I am saddened and ashamed that instead of offering to shoulder the burden of growing up, I balled it up and threw it back to them soaked in faux confidence of who I was and what I believed to be right and wrong.

————

It’s hard for me to not let this morph into a blog on purity culture. But I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to talk about something that is my story arc.

I can say though that slut shaming and purity culture walk hand in hand on beautiful white sand beaches where it never rains or gets too hot.

————

I remember in high school when the word slut was nearly synonymous in my mind with the name of a dear friend. I don’t know that I ever called her a slut, I think by then I was using the word whore.

As if it was more glamorous and less painful.

My adolescent mind was convinced that her decisions were the result of a broken child hood home and the lack of a solid father figure. She couldn’t possibly want those things. She couldn’t be enjoying them. She couldn’t just be another teenager, making sometimes rash or poor choices.

I stupidly believed that my struggle was everyone else’s struggle. That our stories circled back to the same point. That we were each a mirror of each other when in reality the only thing I was good at reflecting was myself on others.

For those actions and thoughts I am sorry.

I’m not quite sure when I began to recognize a friend’s choices for what they were – individual choices. Simple really.

At some point I must have said to myself, well she can do that and I can do this and at the end of the day we can support and love and encourage one another. And isn’t that one of the best parts about being human? The ability to look past a friend’s flaws or imperfections or differences (even if they seem scary) and love and appreciate her for who she is.

I no longer want to be the friend with all the answers or the one who hears confessions in confidence because my perceived piety has earned some sort of misplaced respect. I want to be the friend who will tell you what I think and then assure you I will love you and support you no matter what you choose. I want to be the friend that’s still standing next to you whether you fall on your face or whether you succeed.

I want you to know I love you and I think you have an amazingly beautiful story, no matter where it starts or when it ends.

So, wear that top that shows off your shoulders or back or even your stomach.
Put on your favorite skirt that makes you feel flirty.
Brush the bronzer on your cleavage – no who notices will care and no one who would judge you will notice.
Buy the dress. Or the bikini. Or the jumpsuit.
Don’t be afraid to try on the “too tight” jeans and the top with the open back.
Sleep naked, whenever you want with whoever you love.
Fight the urge to slut shame. To judge. To persecute, even if silently.
And encourage your friends to do the same.
Fill your mind, your heart, your life with grace and with love.
Open you arms and eyes to new experiences, to different people, to challenging choices.
Embrace change.
Recognize that language is powerful and use it for good, not evil.
And never feel badly about facing your past and saying I’M SORRY.
Because I am, really, truly, I am sorry.

Here’s a little bit of performance poetry, if you’re into that sort of thing…

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4 thoughts on “Slut Shaming – Then & Now

  1. I’ve really been enjoying Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow lately. I wish I had had that kind of kindness in me, towards others as a teenager and towards myself in my 20s. I’ve doled out a lot of shame in my time, silently and aloud. I have been very unkind, in my heart and in action.

    I try every day to remember that quote “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own battle” because it reminds me that so often survival *is* a battle – exhausting, dangerous, wounding. I like what you said about reflecting yourself on others. It’s so hard to try to strip away your own experience and try to see where others are coming from, why they are hurting (or not), and how to truly listen. I have to make a point to practice that.

    I do wonder how to help people be more empathetic earlier on. I feel like my 15 year old self was capable of it, I just didn’t know how. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could encourage love and inclusiveness rather than judgment and exclusion?

    ::sigh:: humans have such a long way to go

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