Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Slut-Shelf & Sexual Violence

So Alexandra Duncan is in the midst of doing a book giveaway of YA titles that have been criticized for the “slutty” behavior of the female protagonists. As I am frequently fairly vocal about my feelings on sexuality and sexual violence, I wanted to take a bit of time to discuss the intersectionality of slut-shaming and sexual violence. And I would like to discuss it from the perspective of a rape victim advocate and a mom. I have spoken on this issue multiple times before but for those who are new to me, welcome to the feminist fun house.

I think that culturally we have a knee-jerk reaction when faced with rape survivors to distance ourselves from them so that we have a reason why that could never be us (or our mothers, sisters, daughters, GFs, etc). And I have also seen way too many rape victims throughout my life in ERs and in the work I do with the Voices and Faces Project to buy into any truth in the notion that rape can be prevented by some action the victim takes. 

When you have seen rape victims as young as 3 and as old as 87, when you have seen men, women, QUILTBAG, all races, rich, poor, etc, you start to realize that there is nothing that makes a person unrapeable. So every time I see things like “no rape panties” or “sassy self-defense classes” or “save your life apps”, there is a part of me that appreciates the well-meaning intentions behind these, but there is also a part of me that wants to point out the fact that these things do not stop rape. Perpetrators are the only ones who stop rape. By NOT RAPING.


Which brings me to the slut-shelf and what happens when we culturally place judgment on a girl’s sexuality, on a girl’s choices, on her clothes, on who she dates, on what she drinks, etc. A few months ago, my eleven-year-old came downstairs wearing leggings as pants (meaning leggings with a regular t-shirt on top so you could see her pantyline). And my husband asked her to go upstairs and change. And I smarted about this for hours because I worried what kind of message we just sent to her. And then I realized that I have never once considered buying my daughter a bikini, even when she begged for one at the age of 8. And I have been pretty solid on that stance. And the reason for it is that I knew children who were photographed underwater at the pool by a pedophile. And I don’t want anyone looking at my daughter like that.

But, in trying to protect her, I have bought into the idea that shame can be a shield. That if I make her cover up, she will be somehow safer. And the reality is, she will not. I have told the story of the high school girl who followed the guy into the boy’s bathroom at school and came out saying he raped her (which he admitted that she did not consent to sex...so yes, that's rape). And many of the girl's classmates said, “What did she expect when she followed him in there?” (The answer, btw, is always: SHE EXPECTED NOT TO BE RAPED.)

So that’s the thing about judging and labeling girls “sluts”. You put their sexuality on trial in a way that justifies sexual violence against them. This is the very reason rape shield laws came about in the first place. Rape and sex are not the same thing, and yet some people instinctually judged Daisy Coleman for sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet an older guy. And it is the perpetuation of that which is most problematic to me with regards to the slut-shelf. Because it leaves girls unprotected. It makes them an “other” wherein they are more “rapeable” because of their actions. And it also opens the door into perpetuating notions about purity and value and victim-blaming that ignores the very real onset of sexuality that teenagers are grappling with. Which is really bullshit, but that's a post for another time.


So I’m going to add to this giveaway as part of TeenLibrarian Toolbox’s Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project with copies of: Jennifer Mathieu's The Truth About Alice (ARC) and my book Fault Line. (U.S. Residents only please). Just leave a comment in the box below & consider yourself entered. Random.org will do the rest. I'll announce winner on my blog on May 20th. 




14 comments:

Ricki said...

So true! No one ever, ever "asks" to be raped. In fact,that would go against the whole definition of rape.

srsavell said...

Amen, to both the comment above and to this blog post.
Victim shaming and the assignment of guilt is something that rape victims should NEVER have to deal with. Instead of love, support, and justice, victims are often asked, "What were you wearing/doing? How were you acting?" It doesn't matter! I deserve the right to be drunk at a party without being considered rape bait or fair game. And if I were raped, God help me, in what fucked mentality is it okay to say I was asking for it or that I should have known better? Should have KNOWN better? How totally and completely outrageous is that?! Am I saying I should live in a state of perpetual oblivion in which I fear nothing or no one? Of course not. But I shouldn't have to live my life as a would be victim who has to constantly safeguard herself against every potentially violent action that someone else can force upon me? I think not.
We live in a perverse society in which the sexuality, or number of sexual partners/conquests, is considered "good" and "natural" for men (the more, the better!), whereas a woman who has had the same number of partners is considered a used up slut. Further, females are under this societal pressure to be a good girl, yet oftentimes they’re expected to "put out".
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm disregarding male victims of abuse, or that I'm demonizing all men. Since women have historically been considered the weaker sex, garnering sympathy for them is much easier. Men, as the image of strength and masculinity, aren't afforded such sympathy, and often their abuse/attack is regarded as a joke. I mean, he's a GUY, of course he WANTED IT. No. Absolutely, positively, freakin' NO. Period. Abuse is abuse. And until our society comes to accept men as human beings worthy of equal sympathy, until we begin seeing assault on males as legitimate and real, many victims will be forced to live without help or support, and remain ashamed because society tells them that they are never, and can never, be sexual victims.
I know women's rights have gotten to where they are today through years of progressive, and tireless, efforts of men and women alike: but progress does not equate to success. I'm glad to say that there are people, good people, who fight for those who have been silenced, or forgotten, or dismissed. The written word has always been an outlet for social change, and I am grateful to you for speaking up where others can or will not.
God bless.

Kate @ Ex Libris said...

My daughter is becoming more and more aware of clothes and with that comes my knee jerk reaction, which is to dress her like she lives in the 1850s. I really struggle with sending her positive messages about her body and not planting those seeds of living in fear of showing her body, but at the same time, like you said, I don't want anyone looking at her that way. She's almost 5, but in the swimsuit section alone, I see suits that I view as trying to sexualize young girls. So, on one hand, we're (society) telling girls that they should aspire to look 10 years older than they are, then we're blaming them and telling them they asked for it when they object to being sexualized. This whole issue is so much more insidious that I EVER imagined, and I'm embarrassed to say that until I had a daughter, it's not really something I thought about a lot. You better believe it's on my radar now, though.

Mackie said...

Thank you so much for doing this kind of work! As someone who works with teens, this kind of post, and these kind of books, are crucial in articulating to them these complicated issues!

Tammie said...

As a survivor of multiple rapes, I want to thank you for writing about this.

Some days, I have the confidence and ability to articulate similar thoughts when I hear or read hurtful and ignorant comments that blame the victim. Other days, those kinds of comments just trigger all the hurt, self-doubt, and self-blame I heaped on myself to return. And, some days, I am just all too tired of it all to even try to respond.

So, I am truly thankful to you for what you are doing, and I would love to read those books.

Adrianne Russell said...

I think it's ridiculous to ask, "Why did she sneak out with an older guy?" The question should be, "Why was this older guy trying to convince an young girl to sneak out with him?"

Gabic said...

You do an amazing job with your blog posts. I appreciate all the effort you go through to write about the tough stuff that nobody else wants to talk about.

Kenzie Lennox said...

It is a difficult subject to discuss. The shame we heap on ourselves is fed by the snide remarks and questions like what were you wearing. The guilt and the feelings of being broken are more than enough to make you want to crawl in a hole and never come out. We tend to distance ourself from friends simply because it hurts too much to see the discomfort and the thought (not neccisarily true) that they don't really want us around anymore.
Thank you for your work
Kenzi

Thianna D said...

As a rape survivor, I think one of the problems is people still count rape as sex. It's not. Rape is not about sex, it's about power.

And how someone can force someone else into doing something. Most rapes are done by men, though not all.

Scotland did an anti-rape campaign and it was one of the most brilliant ones I've seen because it wasn't toward the future victim about how not to get raped. It was toward perpetrators.

Well done Scotland. We need something similar in the US.

Skyline Spirit said...

pretty nice blog, following :)

Clara Guerrera said...

I've said before and I'll gladly say it again: I'm so happy that people are trying to bring a spotlight on slut-shaming and rape culture, because this has been a topic too long ignored and overlooked. People need to understand that slut-shaming and rape culture truly do exist, and those that don't believe these things are happening need to be greatly educated. This has been such a problem in the last 10 years or so, and I hope people are starting to realize that these things are happening and that they need to be stopped. Its time finally treat one another as humans and give everyone the respect they deserved. Topics such as these need to be advocated much more so the cruel things that we do to each other can quicker come to an end.

ChickLitGirl said...

I agree with you totally.

Juliet Bond said...

I will be picking up a copy of your book know and chose to become a follower after reading this post.

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