Slut Riot: On the intersection of shaming, rape culture, and patriarchy

What a fantastic Sluts Week we’ve been having during our SLUT RIOT! We’ve had intense conversation generated from thought-provoking and sometimes controversial guest posts — here and on Facebook and twitter. We’ve looked at it from different angles. We’ve poked a stick at so much slut-shaming with photos and a Big Slut Riot Music Video. And we’re not even done, yet!

I know you don’t want to miss the Big Slutty Tweet-Chat! And more …

Copyright: The Sin City Siren

While I have certainly tried to have some fun with all this talk about slut-shaming in all the forms it takes, I hope the underlying point is not getting lost in all the giggles.

We’ve been talking about just about anything and everything that relates to the experience of stigma, shaming, and privileged oppression around the concept of calling people sluts, hos, whores, cunts, dykes, “trannies,” tramps, trashy (or its racist cousin “white trash”), bitches, easy, fast, harlots, hoochie-mamas, chickenheads, and more. In fact, there are so many words for this thing — this shaming thing — that it would be hard to list them all here. Indeed, one study found 220 words for a “promiscuous” woman and only 20 for a man.

Slut Riot, August 2013

Slut Riot, August 2013

As Emily White writes in Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut (the same book that inspired Sluts Week and the very same author who will dropping by our Big Slutty Tweet-Chat later today):

Being a slut is not a story about the body so much as all the things that have been spoken about the body.

These words bind to the identities of so many of us and each time it happens, it’s a reminder of the racist patriarchal systems we live within. It is a reminder that as a cisgender woman, the ubiquitous male gaze is always watching. It is a reminder to the transitioning female that she does not “measure up” to the standards of the oppressive beauty myth. It is a reminder to a woman of color that her body and her very culture can and will be reduced to a fetish and a list of stereotypes to suit a system that overwhelmingly reinforces white privilege. And it is a reminder to gays and lesbians that their lack of conformity to the “appropriate” gender identity assigned to them at birth should be punished, sometimes lethally so.

And so much more.

But let’s take a moment and rip the veil right off this whole thing, shall we? Because the term “slut-shaming” fundamentally lacks in an intersectional approach to looking at this thing, this problem, this lived experience. Yes, my day-to-day experience of slut-shaming, as a white, middle-class woman, probably plays out differently than Genese’s or De’Liza’s or Christina’s. And there’s no doubt it is different for the feminist men who worked on this project — and there were many — who had to balance a simultaneous sense of outrage with the collective understanding that those who have privilege can never fully remove themselves from that privilege. I, too, had to be mindful of my privilege on this journey, as I listened to the Latina writer and the LGBT individual who bowed out, because they were either not ready to share their stories or feared a backlash from within and outside their communities.

I’ve said many times that there is a power in speaking the truth. But it is not easy. As a survivor of sexual violence, I know that the truth does not come easy. It bites and kicks and claws at your insides when you hold it in and it feels like it will burn you alive when you let it out. And you have no way of knowing how it will be received, used, abused even. So how could I not nod with understanding when some would-be guests in our Slut Riot weren’t quite ready to stand and deliver?

And that — right there — that fear of telling our stories, that’s slut-shaming at it’s core. That is the invisible burden we are trying to unpack. If I talk about sluts, people will call me a slut. If I say I had an abortion, they will call me a whore and threaten violence. If I ask for basic human rights, I will be told I dream too big.

Because after the street harassment, the brazen ass-grabs at the supermarket (really!), the bullshit monologue punchlines, the rape-jokes, the constant chorus beamed into us from birth that if you are female YOU BETTER SEW YOUR LEGS SHUT and ACT RIGHT, and even the criminal justice system that hands down verdicts that let rapists off because your pants were too tight … After a lifetime of that being beaten into you from every corner of society — family, culture, religion, movies, TV, magazines, the internet, books, the cautionary tales, news articles, the fucking rape-apologist “prevention guides,” inexplicably lacking sex education … after all that, it doesn’t exactly come easy to open your mouth (or your laptop, as it were) and tell your story.

I want you to know you can tell your story here. Today. Right now. Just leave me a comment. Join the tweet-chat at noon (Pacific). Share it. Start a tumblr. Post it on your wall. Claim it as your birthright that not one single one of us has to put up with this motherfucking bullshit. Rise up! And if it burns, trust in this, it burns them, too.

In fact, I think of telling our stories much like a cockroach probably feels about the boot that squashes it. Squirm all you like. It’s happening. And the misogynists, the apologists, the guys-are-from-mars people — they are pissed that we have our boots on.

Like this take on the trolls who delight in not just degrading female bloggers, but seek out these opportunities to perpetuate the tired gender rules that lock us into this sometimes-dangerous reality, as Amanda Marcotte explains on Raw Story:

Of course, Mason interviews the guys who claim they’re just in it for the “lulz” and discovers to no one’s great surprise that actually, these trolls have deep hatred and resentment of women and actually do take the mission to silence women very, very seriously. They just can’t quite admit that to themselves, because part of the identity of the misogynist is to deny that he is a misogynist—he loves women as long as they know they are subhuman sex/reproduction appliances put here to serve, so how can he hate women?!—so the amount of rationalization that goes on is astounding.

But as awful as trolls are, they do serve a major purpose, if people are willing to accept that these are actual people expressing actual opinions, instead of imagining them, as too many people do, as almost a force of nature that the internet willed into existence and not people at all. That purpose is revealing that misogyny exists and it is widespread. Understanding that, I think, makes clear why so many other things exist: Rape culture, fundamentalist religions, the Republican Party’s guns-and-abortion obsession. There is a sea of boiling anger out there because men are taught from a young age that women are here to serve, and then they grow up and discover that women often elect not to do that. Some misogynists—the Rick Perrys of the world—calmly react to this realization by deciding that women’s rebellion is a temporary, feminism-induced insanity, and that the proper legislative pressure plus a good dose of condescension can return them to their natural state of servitude. Some men get a sick pleasure out of stripping away the “illusion” that women are equal and violently showing them exactly how inferior they are.

Indeed, this week a lot of people have sent me messages and left comments about how talking about slut-shaming is just another way to blame men. That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. And I admit to a low-moment a couple days ago of telling folks who want to suggest that about me or my site that they can kindly go fuck themselves. Not my finest moment, but why do I — or any of us who experience this death by a thousand papercuts of slut-shaming on a daily-as-in-for-the-rest-of-your-lifetime deal — have to constantly be the ones to turn the other cheek? Well, that’s an easy one. We’re programmed that way, baby.

Just look at Catherine Newman’s New York Times piece, titled I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice’:

My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line. …

Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.

I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.

Ahh, now we’re getting to it.

This is what we’re talking about when the feminists talk about “the patriarchy” — the social construct that locks in the gender-binary (i.e. all the stuff that makes girls “girls” and boys “boys” and parish the thought that there is any continuum or disruption to that construct!), and that creates the social framework from which we can hang rape culture, slut-shaming, impossible beauty standards, and stereotypes about what and who people can be and do.

If you think that patriarchy isn’t real, go take a look at the anti-abortion laws flooding legislative houses across the land. Rick (just-inch-the-clock-back-while-the-world-watches) Perry is a boss at patriarchy! Just look at his ridiculous abortion ban that not only severely cuts access to legal health care, it does it by disproportionately disenfranchising Latinas! (PS: Eliminating access to reproductive health care for women — and almost exclusively for women — is totally and completely slut-shaming. If you weren’t such a whore, you wouldn’t need an abortion. Duh!)

So what does all this have to do with slut-shaming? Well, this is my way of illustrating the intersection of race, poverty, and gender and how they play out in other ways under the patriarchy banner. Patriarchy isn’t just about a social construct that at its core assumes men are better than women and therefore men should hold more political, monetary, and intellectual real estate than women. Patriarchy is also a system of oppression that unilaterally gives the best lot to straight white (cisgender, of course) men — as a birthright. The fact that it goes unchallenged in so many aspects of our lives is a testament to how firmly rooted we are in this system.

It’s little things like the car dealership insisting to talk to my husband about my car’s maintenance schedule to big things like a tone-deaf response by the military and the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding an estimated 26,000 allegations of rape (holy shit!) in which prominant Republican senators tripped over themselves talking about how maybe the military just wasn’t ready for ladies (McCain), or that porn was to blame (Sessions), or, you know, hormones (Chambliss).

It’s the unquestioned “moral” crusading that, yes, slut-shames women who want control over their bodies and the freedom to exercise their right to reproductive justice. Because make no mistake, the fights over abortion, birth control, Obamacare, over-the-counter access to Plan B, and even comprehensive sex education is 100% rooted in a sociological system that indoctrinates females into an ideology of submission — be nice, be pretty, and never challenge the assumption that the way it’s always been (men on top!) is the right way. And don’t forget that means a simultaneous indoctrination process for boys to men. A process easily summed up in this apt paraphrase from A League of Their Own: there’s no crying in manhood.

It’s the good-ol-boy network that allows old, rich, white men to publicly insinuate sexual impropriety with someone like me, just because I write about comprehensive sex education and abortion. And that guy gets bonus misogyny points for simultaneously slut-shaming an entire group of people, more than one even, while he was at it.

And as much as patriarchy hurts women and hurts men, it places heavy burdens on people of color and LGBT people, especially outside our borders. I mean, the whole reason why feminism itself has a historical race problem is because racism is the silent partner of patriarchy, which not only creates a pecking order amongst the genders, it creates one relating to race and sexual identity as well. Because if being on top is the white man’s birthright, then all the rest of us better find our place in the line.

All these layers of oppression play out in the everyday street harassment of a guy asking me, “How much?” as I walk down the street. It gets put to a beat in hip hop. It allows a criminal justice system to regularly deny justice to survivors of sexual violence — predominantly women, of course — dismissing them as, well sluts, and their stories trivialized or even rendered invisible within the courtroom and along boundaries drawn that allow the ambiguity predators seek. Sometimes it even kills us.

Rape and abortion rights, sexual harassment, and that little thing called the wage gap, all of those are products of patriarchy. And one of the tools designed to keep everybody in line with the system is old-fashioned slut-shaming. The term may be an imprecise one, but it is as good a stand-in as any for this problem we’re having. That’s why I wanted to start a Slut Riot. Like the whole hullabaloo about “bro-choice” campaigns, I could give a shit what we call slut-shaming. As long as we’re focused on what matters: calling it out; dismantling it; changing it. (This post has some excellent advice for how to handle yourself in those awkward, or even scary, real-life moments.)

I hope to see some in-roads during our Big Slutty Tweet-Chat in a few hours! And I hope to see it in the entries to the Big Slut Riot Contest (you’ve got until 5 pm, Pacific time)!

But more importantly, I hope to see it happening in our lives. This is just the beginning.

8 thoughts on “Slut Riot: On the intersection of shaming, rape culture, and patriarchy

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