Shame And The Modern Woman: How Slut-Shaming Hurts You!

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Shame And The Modern Woman: How Slut-Shaming Hurts You!
Increasing numbers of women are refusing to live in fear of words like "slut" or "whore."

What two words strike terror in the hearts of most women today?  What two words have helped to shape the roles of women in society and the whole of human history?  What two words carry enough power to not only lower women's self-esteem but make them especially vulnerable to perpetrations of every kind?  What two words are the last words many women have heard just before being raped or murdered?

"Slut" and "whore".

These two words have been used for millennia to shame women from all walks of life. They have often been used to justify all manner of ill treatment, including rape and murder. Maybe you have personal experience with these two words.  I know that I do.  In fact, I  have used these words to refer to myself over the last 25 years many, many times.  I have even taken this on as something of a crusade.  My mission now is to gut the destructive power of these two words because despite the hip hop lyrics intoning these words like some ancient mantra, "slut" and "whore" still possess the power to destroy the lives of individual women...and even young girls.

In 2009, Hope Witsell of Sundance, Florida was only 13-years-old when the words "whore" and "slut" were hurled her way.  She was not prepared for the crushing sense of shame which those words carry. She hung herself in her bedroom.

Phoebe Prince was just fifteen when she relocated from Ireland to Massachusetts and enjoyed a very brief romance with a football player from her new high school.  For this relationship, she was bullied with insults including "Irish slut," and perhaps all too predictably, she too hung herself in her bedroom in 2010.

Twelve-year-old Gabrielle Molina of Queens Village, New York, was repeatedly called a "slut" and a "whore" by one of her classmates before she, too, took her own life by hanging herself in 2013.

Fifteen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was drunk on vodka as she was gang raped by four older boys who circulated a photo of their crime online. For two years, Rehtaeh endured cyberbullying and being labeled as a "slut" by her classmates.  Finally, the stress and shame was too much to bear.  In 2013, like an increasing number of teen girls, she hung herself.

Sadly, teen suicides have been on the rise in recent years. I find it deeply disturbing that much of the increase has occurred in girls ages ten to nineteen. While firearms used to be the favored method of suicide for both girls and boys, girls are increasingly choosing to commit suicide by hanging themselves.  The Centers for Disease Control doesn’t have an explanation for the rise in teen girl suicides, but I can't help but wonder if the increase among teenage girls has something to do with the unique pressures of entering puberty as a female in today's world.

Today's teen girls are subject to more conflicting messages surrounding their sexuality than any generation before them. While popular media invites girls to dress and act "sexy," girls are simultaneously warned to avoid a "bad reputation." Somehow, young girls are supposed to figure out where the line between a "good girl" and a "bad girl" is, usually without any meaningful assistance from the adults in their lives.  And, it's no wonder help is so often lacking, since most adult men and women are just as confused and conflicted on the topic of what constitutes "appropriate" behavior for today's sexually active and expressive females.

While no one seems to know for sure just what constitutes a "bad girl," "whore" or "slut," we still ascribe enormous power to these sexist labels. I find it outrageous that we still classify girls and women as "good girls" and "bad girls"—as either "respectable" and worthy of our protection, or as "sluts" and "whores" who deserve our derision and punishment.  It seems we still, as a culture, blindly enforce the Whore/Madonna dichotomy—even though it leads to misery for women of all ages.

The ways in which slut-shaming and whore-bashing affect all women and girls are many and varied. Yet each has at its core the assumption that female sexuality is dangerous and must be controlled. Cyberbullying, a product of the digital age, may not at first seem to be related to something as archaic as honor killings, but slut-shaming and whore-bashing young girls until they commit suicide are brutal examples of the damage that is inflicted on women and girls by sexual shaming.

Honor killings are supposedly based upon the idea that a family’s "honor" can only be restored by the murder of a woman or girl who is believed to have violated that family's and/or community's standards for acceptable behavior for females. The behavior which is sanctioned is almost always sexual, and violations range in severity from minor flirtations and wearing revealing clothing to more advanced matters like unwed pregnancies. What each murdered victim shares is the fact that they are perceived as a "slut" or "whore" who has brought shame upon those connected to them.

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Veronica Monet

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Veronica Monet, ACS, CAM

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