gone wild

gone wild (Photo credit: istolethetv)

Lately I have found myself frustrated with other feminists over the cry of “Slut-shaming“.  Although I agree that women have been unfairly judged for their sexual appetites and behavior for hundreds of years, I also think that some sexual behavior actually hurts the cause of feminism.  We shouldn’t return to the days of corsets, ankle length skirts when the very mention of female sexuality was taboo.  Yet we should also not champion obvious degrading and detrimental sexual behavior in the name of feminism.

For instance, is a drug addicted, physically abused, low paid prostitute dominated by a male pimp anything to celebrate?  Is a young woman with low self-esteem who performs sexual acts in public to gain personal validation off-limits to criticism?  Is a sex-worker who doesn’t hide or shield her children from her occupation really making a bold step forward for female empowerment?  When do the issues of narcissism and self-destructive behavior enter the dialog?  Are all forms of female nudity and sexuality empowering?  When does it become exploitative?

It is not such much specific behavior as it is the context.  Expressions of female sexuality and nudity can be empowering, politically brazen and extremely pro-woman but they can also be degrading and demeaning.   If a woman is playing into the victim complex or treating herself as an object not worthy of respect she is part of the problem, not the solution.  Are we supposed to champion a drunken college student who decides to flash her breasts in a Girls Gone Wild video?  Should the woman who recently decided to have her anus publicly tattooed on camera be held up as some sort of example of female sexual liberty?  Or is she just a woman who has made some extremely poor decisions?  The porn industry has become so saturated with women willing to have sex on camera that wages and celebrity status have plummeted in the industry.  What was once something that only the desperate or the truly sexually liberated would do has become almost mundane.  At the same time there are prostitutes that have complete control over their income, working conditions and clientele who aren’t drug addicts, aren’t being abused and have turned the tables on the power structure in the industry.  No single sexual act or occupation can be singled out as “feminist” or “anti-feminist” if the behavior is coming from a place of pride and self-worth it is entirely different than if the source is self-loathing, fear and need of approval.  Not every sex worker or sexual exhibitionist is a victim, nor are they necessarily being exploited.

Yet during these changing times regarding female sexuality, misogyny is at an all time high.  The anti-feminist forces have gone from empty rhetoric to promoting legislation challenging our reproductive rights and even basic health care.   They want to do away with laws that might protect us from having to pay twice as much for our health insurance based on our gender, make many forms of birth control illegal, and make abortion a criminal act.  Many legislators voted against the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter act, which were ultimately passed but in June the senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act which would have helped woman sue for equal pay.

I am not here to blame the victim, but it does discourage me when I meet so many young women who don’t seem to even know a political struggle is happening and then treat themselves with such low regard.  They are only giving fuel to the critics who would claim that all pre-marital sex is an abomination and that a sexualized female is something to fear.  I can’t help but see parallels in the civil rights movement.  Many in the African American community cry out against crime and violence, gangster rap and the thug culture that actually discourages achievement.  Of course racism is very insidious and still a huge problem, but if no one inside the community calls out the self-defeating behavior…it just makes everything more of a uphill battle.

I thought feminism was about being in control of our lives, having a right to speak our minds, and having the same opportunities as men have in the bedroom, in the workplace and in our government.  I didn’t think it was about declaring all sexual behavior as an empowering statement against patriarchy.  When I see a young woman disrespect herself my heart sinks.  When I see a woman desperately cling to some man doing anything and everything sexually in the hopes that he will stick around it saddens me.  When I see a bright intelligent woman with multiple options for her future resort to sex work it depresses me.  Although I understand its appeal, as sex work is one of the few high paying options available to young women.  The only non-sex based profession where women make considerably more money than men is the modeling industry and the largest scholarship program for women in the world is still the Miss America pageant organization.  I want every young girl to see the entire universe available to them, to know that they are more than their looks or genitalia.   It is a fine line we tread between celebrating our sexuality and allowing others to exploit it.

I do not propose that I have any answers to these ethical quandaries but I am not going to pretend that women treating themselves with disrespect and playing into negative stereotypes is a good thing.  A woman cannot treat herself poorly and then try to defend it by crying “slut-shaming” when she is the one shaming herself.  Some would argue that there is no sexual behavior that is negative or exploitative no matter what the situation.  But when a woman flashes her breasts for a Girls Gone Wild video or a woman engages in prostitution to pay for her drug habit, that is not a step forward but a step back.  To achieve real equality with men we need to respect ourselves in all aspects of our lives including our sexuality.

 

One comment on “Slut-Shaming: To What End?

  1. Pingback: Weinergate: Can We get Real about Slut Shaming? | julietjeske

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