Thursday, March 15, 2012

Slut Shaming

There has been a spike in anti-bullying campaigns, so it seems. This is a good thing, unless you were one of those kids in England wearing the royal blue "beat bullying" bracelets endorsed by Bono (because if you were, you probably got the crap beaten out of you). However, I wish that international attention to ending life-ruining emotional violence extended beyond the playground. Kids are cruel, but so are adults. Especially on the internet. Like kids in locker-lined hallways, adult victims of shameless cyber bullying suffer from hateful body-negativity, often crucified for being too large, too skinny, or looking like Snooki.

But then there is sex-negativity, an arena in which bullying really gets nasty.

As this thirteen year old points out, negative attention for clothes worn, sexual partners bedded, and other reasons do apply to kids as well as adults, but one would think that adults could be more, well, adult about it.

As a kinky poly bi woman who writes about all of these sexy things on the internet, it is in my interest to spread awareness of how this type of bullying ruins lives and careers. However, the reality is that any woman is a target. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of it is that it is judgement exclusive to women: there is no applicable equivalent to men other than "stud" or maybe a shameful "sex addict" (if the man is Tiger Woods or a politician). In the end, it doesn't come down to sex so much as it does gender. 

It's called slut-shaming, and many people (if you can call the likes of Rush Limbaugh "people") have no qualms launching this brand of destructively hateful sexism. What is it, exactly? Neo-puritanical sexist oppression operating under the guise of "morality" and a practice which threatens a woman's right to her sexuality, her gender, and the first amendment.

Make a bracelet for that, Bono.

The following are three diverse stories of highly educated university women who in recent memory have come under attack for their "un-ladylike" behavior: Karen Owen of Duke, Lena Chen of Harvard, and Sandra Fluke of Georgetown Law.


Karen Owen didn't get the worst of it, earning a fair share of high fives from feminists and those who have a sense of humor for her hilarious extracurricular study: "An Education Beyond The Classroom: Excelling In The Realm Of Horizontal Academics." Complete with photographic evidence of the specimens themselves, charts and graphs of their performance, and number scale grades, this powerpoint rating her sexual escapades with athletes at Duke was originally made for a laugh with her friends. Fantastic, candid, and analytical as it was, her friends kept sharing it until, for better of for worse, it was leaked into mainstream media awareness. Some were outraged, some were tickled, but regardless of the consensus, the overwhelming attention sent Karen into hiding for a while. But when she was ready to comment, she handled the situation with an incredible amount of grace. She acted like an adult, apologizing for having hurt her partners by exposing them without their consent, but importantly not for having had the gall to make the thing -- because it's awesome.

According to those who know better than I, legally it seems as though her friends are more culpable for sharing the "study" than she who made it. If one of the "subjects" were to sue for invasion of privacy (I'm thinking for some reason it would be David Goulet), Karen would likely get off as easily as her reputation did, which is notorious but in my opinion not totally unflattering. I don't see how this would have anything to do with impeding her career, so as far as I see it, her long term side affects will be awkward first dates, celebrity status at the establishment "Shooters," and a fear of sending anything via the internet.

Ivy league sex blogger Lena Chen is a different story. From what I can tell, the high fives were minimal, the hate mail still flows like water into the Titanic, she has been dissected and cruelly judged all over the internet by the media as well as her university peers, and as if that wasn't enough, readers of her new blog The Chicktionary "are being targeted for harassment." When I think of her situation, that she aspired to be a modern incarnation of Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw and ended up suffering reactionary plagues of Old Testament proportions in the digital age, I just... my heart just aches for this girl. The ethos of her blog Sex and the Ivy seems to unabashedly defend her right to enjoy pleasures such as shopping, flirtation, and casual sex, even while steeped in an environment of stuffy prestige. Maybe this kind of unembarrassed entitlement to the seemingly shallow was just a little too radical for Cambridge, radical in a way her peers hadn't considered radical, or maybe it was simply flat out rejected for fear she would become a typifying example of the Harvard student. However, though some may dislike her chosen subject matter, she is well spoken and few could argue. She has moments of introspection in her writing that make one feel close to her, she really revealed an intimate part of herself... but unfortunately intimate parts of herself were then revealed without her consent: an ex-boyfriend leaked private photos and the shit storm for Lena Chen ensued, leading to uncalled for attacks such as Bill O'Reilly calling her a "skank".

Some say she got what she asked for, but although she has been described the "worst overshare anywhere ever," she didn't ask to have her agency raped or her privacy violated. As popular sex blogger Dangerous Lilly often claims with ferocity in response to requests for more, "what I choose to reveal is simply that: what I choose to reveal." Sex bloggers, like anyone else, have a right to their privacy just as sex workers, like anyone else, have a right not to be physically raped. No one deserves what Lena Chen got, period.

The good news is that she is continuing her work. She posts daily in her new blog (though the post are of a different tenor these days), she is working on a book, and she is using her notoriety for progressing sex education by organizing panels for open discussions on sex and culture. Another really awesome project she has going is making YouTube videos giving girls tips for insisting on safe sex. Her strength of character to keep working in her chosen field is truly impressive, considering I wouldn't wish the kind of character assassination and shaming she faced on my worst enemy.

And then there is Sandra Fluke. As a third year Georgetown Law student and advocate for women's reproductive rights, she has come under the microscope and beaten with a metaphorical cat o' nine tails for her lascivious and rank behavior such as... being a woman who speaks out for our rights. Ok, sure, she's done some really slutty things like advocate the availability of medicine, including birth control, to those who need it. She has pointed out that birth control is a medication with purposes other than preventing pregnancy, such as controlling seizures and preventing ovarian cysts, and that healthcare should cover it. Religiously affiliated institutions such as Georgetown disagree with her, but she noted that the school doesn't pay medical bills, the insurance does, and student health insurance is completely unsubsidized by the school, paid for entirely by the student herself, so what's the problem? Airtight logic, what a skank.

She told some truly heart breaking stories of women who have gone without proper medical attention due to health care policies such as at Georgetown, and in response, politicians leapt in to action to save the lives of women everywh-- oh, no, wait, they forbade her from testifying at a congressional hearing deciding the future of American ovaries, in preference of a testimony panel comprised entirely of men, and Rush Limbaugh, very maturely, called her names. After referring to her incorrectly as "Susan Fluke" with a biting tongue and an absolute absence of journalistic integrity, he equated her sober statements pleading for the basic human rights of more than half the population to demanding to be paid to have sex.
"It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute... she's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex..."
And then in the recording, he pauses a moment. His tone lowers, and with all the lecherousness he can muster, he rubs the tiny knob of his little, red, infectious dick through his pants (probably) and growls:
"If we're going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke... and that would be the videos of all this sex. Post it online, so we can see... what we are getting... for our money."
...what?
But like a badass with class to spare, Fluke responded quite simply:
"This is historically the kind of language that is used to silence women."
Let us not be silenced.

Read on for the epilogue to this post, my personal accounts of real life slut shaming, after the break.


I am no stranger to character assassination. The time during which I was in a combined living/work environment rife with cruel judgement, rumor mills, and mob mentality emotional abuse -- which I was made to feel as though I could not leave -- was by far the most difficult year of my life. I regard that job as something not that I accomplished, but that I survived. Though it was supposed to catapult my career, the stress of the workplace bullying, emotional abuse, and shaming sent even a strong and self-confident woman like me into the forced care of a psychiatric professional.

Why did this happen? Officially because I'm "erratically behaved and deeply troubled," (I should make that a T-shirt) but it was never really about my job performance. Being non-monogamous, kinky, and otherwise alternative in my lifestyle choices and self expression, slut shaming and additional "freak" stigmas comprised the majority of the judgement that my few friends there report still keep those rumor mills turning. I didn't go around waving flags, but I'm an open person: I'm not ashamed of myself or of what I do, even if I don't always do the "right" or appropriate thing. I'm only human and I don't need to flagellate myself emotionally for my missteps, but I really don't need others to do it for me out of a place of misunderstanding, judgement, or any reason at all for that matter.

Being "open" is too akin to being delectably vulnerable, as I discovered, and this is the sort of intolerable dynamic of office administration work that pushed me into the alternative and "anything fuckin' goes" environment of working in nightlife. Given my education and creative aspirations, I'd like to think that there is a sustainable option in the working world that is compatible with my strengths aside from the service industry. At least in that line of work my character enjoys freedom from scrutiny, being deep in the trenches among the freaks, addicts, and fuck-ups, but as one might imagine, I'm a bit under-stimulated creatively and intellectually. That type of work is hard: eight or so hours on one's feet and a constant hailstorm of high pressure low reward bullshit sucks one dry. As a result, when I was working I was both exhausted and bored. I learned how to hold my liquor a little too well and I fucked the wrong people.

Unlike my time in mainstream office work, I'm not bitter about my experiences in the slimy world of nightlife, in fact I kind of cherish them, but it's disappointing in this context to remember that not too long ago professors had called some of my academic and creative work "genius". I know I have more to offer the world, and hell, I want to give it -- this is a common frustration among young adults who have graduated college since 2008's economic crisis, and the truth is that this bad timing will affect our careers in long lasting ways. But what can I do besides keep trying, even if it means sometimes failing? There's a block that's keeping me from connecting the dots... I just have to find it and kick its fucking ass. I don't intend on giving up on finding respect in the work place or my beloved activities, such as traveling, because of this recession.

If at my upcoming birthday gang-bang I was gifted a magic lamp, complete with genie and three wishes, this is what I'd ask for:
1. a career
2. respect for every woman, sluts and politicians alike
3. an immediate voice box removal performed on Rush Limbaugh

For those last two things, you are so welcome, world. I have your back. Do you have mine?

For more aggregated bits about gender and orientation, check out Fascinating Reads: Sexuality in the World.
The latest from Seduce and Confuse, HERE. It beckons. 

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