Family life

Slut shaming: Why the term confuses me

In light of recent events — including a blog post by a Texas Mom targeted to teenage girls — Katie Dupuis tries to decipher this new term.

1ConcernedWoman-September2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Today’s Parent managing editor Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization. A lot. Now, imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie and husband Blaine.

When I was a teenager, it was a bad thing to be called the “s word.” It was whispered in hushed tones, written in intricately folded notes and only spoken aloud when really trying to offend someone. I don’t know, maybe it was a Catholic school thing but the term “slut” — much like all the other derogatory terms used for women — was never construed as something positive. So, I guess my recent confusion over the term “slut-shaming” (definition: admonishment of women for their transgression of sexual conduct norms) makes some sense. I just don’t know how the word “slut” was somehow integrated into a term that is supposed to empower women, because, for me, it has always been anti-feminism at its best.

I get it. Women should be allowed to express themselves however they like. That, I will shout from the rooftops. I think all women should be allowed to act in a way that makes them feel smart, beautiful, sexy and powerful. I agree that Texas mom Kimberly Hall took the wrong approach with her controversial blog post; her intent was to speak to teenage girls, to send the message that sexy selfies and half-naked profile pics aren’t necessary. But the undercurrent — which was, unfortunately, that her sons shouldn’t see those images — undermined her words. It became about her boys and temptation and shame (the accompanying pictures of her sons flexing on the beach, which have since been removed, didn’t help). The Internet ripped her to shreds, of course.

But I’ve been sitting at my desk for a week, wondering why no one has tried to correct the message. I have a daughter — a toddler, mind you, but she will be a teenager some day — and I want her to be strong, confident, brave and proud of her body. But I also want her to know that she doesn’t have to put herself on display to convey that. I worry that we have given young women (and young men — that’s the other thing that has been left out of the argument) license to ignore decorum because, otherwise, we’re going to be told we’re stifling them and their sexuality. But I honestly believe that many of these young women — many, but not all — aren’t acting and dressing as they do because they’re expressing individuality, but rather to validate their worth through the attention they receive. That is the opposite of empowerment. It sends the message that in order to be noticed, you need to take your clothes off. And that’s not something I want to perpetuate in any way.

I’ve read a few posts on this topic that reference Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, and (potential spoilers!) the “slut-shaming” of character Sloan Sabbith. But what seems to have gotten lost is that Sloan posed for pictures for her boyfriend in what she thought was the privacy of a hotel room. She didn’t intend for the pictures to be available for public consumption. On the show, the character is brilliant, dazzling — and we’ve never once seen her naked, but I’d argue that she’s incredibly sexy. Where are the blog posts about that? She likes sex, sure, but that doesn’t define her. (If she were a real person. I know she’s fictional.) Her witt and her intellect far precede anything that happens in her bedroom.

My darling Sophie, when the time is right and you understand what you’re doing, your body is your body. I won’t force you to wear a wimple, I promise. But I will teach you to respect yourself, and to know the difference between a decision you’re making for you and a decision that is clouded with the attention it will receive. It will be about how you feel and (better still) why you feel it, which is the conversation we’ll have if I’m ever concerned about your appearance or your behaviour.

And that’s the message we’ve buried under articles, blog posts and nasty comments: There’s a disparity between acting out of self-confidence and self-respect, and a cheap ploy for followers, “likes” and as many eyes as possible in order to measure self-worth. Now we need to teach our young people the difference.