No more slut-shaming. It’s time to understand how harmful it is

Have you ever heard of slut-shaming? If not, we’ll ask you a couple of questions. Have you ever caught yourself calling someone a “bitch”, a “light skirt”, a “skank” when the real reason you felt like insulting them had nothing to do with their sexual conduct? Or have you ever found yourself judging someone’s sexual behaviour just to then realise it was not your place to do so? Yes? Don’t worry it happened to the best of us. And the reason why it’s so common is a very simple one: the language we express ourselves with, the education we received, the set of values that was passed onto us, are intrinsically sexist and misogynist. But that’s not an excuse, we can’t just sit back and watch it happen over and over again. We need to do our best to change this attitude, even if that means being the pain-in-the-neck feminist in the room. 


Slut-shaming: it’s not about being “politically correct”

Now, I know what someone might think: yet another article about prohibited words. I promise: there’s no such thing as a politically correct dictatorship and there’s no one out there whose job is to police everything that comes out of people’s mouths. Words like “slut” will not be erased from our vocabularies overnight. “Let’s create a world where ‘slut’ doesn’t even make sense as an insult” is one of the mottos of the creator of the UnSlut project Emily Lindin. The world Lindin is talking about isn’t such a utopian, fantastic place, it is simply one inhabited by people who choose their language knowingly. Precisely, people who use words like “slut” with their real meaning rather than as some sort of devious insult. Wouldn’t it be great?

Slut-shaming: what is it?

Slut-shaming is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as “criticism of a woman for any form of sexual behaviour that is disapproved of, such as having more than one sexual partner or wearing sexy clothes.” It’s probably the sneakiest way men have to insult women, patronise them and remake that, for them, they are sexual objects and nothing more. It is a way to make them feel subject to their power, or at least, to make themselves feel in charge, feel dominant, project their own insecurities. Because, let me be honest, it often says more about the person who is slut-shaming, than about the victim.

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Slut-shaming: why don’t men and women join forces?

But as it often happens in these cases, it’s not just men who attack and insult women, it’s much more complicated than that. If that was the case, men wouldn’t probably stand a chance to succeed in intimidating women. It hurts even to write this but, sometimes, women’s worst enemies are other women. And often not even for their direct fault, not because they hate each other and not because they love patriarchy. 

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Women often struggle to make a common front and end up slut-shaming just as much as men do, for two main reasons: because the patriarchal culture is so internalised, infiltrated in our society and language that we might struggle to spot the red flags, and because women are often put in the position of having to compete with each other to succeed in the workplace, academic environment, social life and so on. 

The UnSlut Project: sexual bullying put down in black and white (and on film)

When Emily Lindin created The UnSlut Project, she just got hold of some of her diaries from when she was a teenager. Reading through those pages, filled with pain, rage and frustration, made her realise something must have been done. Her story is a devastating memory of misinformation about sex, bullying, bad parenting, bad friendships, toxic masculinity and pure, mere sexism. 

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As she explains, slut-shaming can have many different faces, and it doesn’t limit itself to calling someone a whore. From victim blaming, for example when a nude photo gets stolen and shared on social media, to mocking someone’s sexual practice because it’s “weird”. From adopting a double standard when it comes to sex, talking differently about girls and guys, to assuming a girl is dressing up just to impress a man. Even not speaking up for each other can sometimes be considered slut-shaming. It is not always obvious, but it is always harmful. Very harmful.

In the pages of her book UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir, and in her film UnSlut: A Documentary, through interviews of women whose lives have been destroyed by slut-shaming and bullying, she addresses every woman out there, as she is sure they can all remember episodes in which they were slut-shamed, or they slut-shamed, times in which their sexuality had to be repressed, in which it was used to offend and bully them.  

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Cover of the book “UNSLUT – A DIARY AND A MEMOIR” by Emily Lindin

Every woman goes through experiences of this kind from a very young age. Young boys and girls learn about the words “slut”, “whore”, “bitch” before they even learn about sex. They often don’t receive a satisfying sexual education, they get bombarded by wrong deceitful representations of sex in the media, films and books, that portray women as desirable bodies, who don’t have the faculty to decide to want to have sex, but only the duty to fulfil men. 

Slut-shaming: what can we do to stop it?

The first step is to speak up. Don’t be afraid of being a party-pooper if you hear your friends slut-shaming someone for fun. Be the thought-triggering person in the room, it might feel uncomfortable, but it’ll be worth it!

And watch yourself. Sometimes, it’s easier to look at other mistakes than to reflect on your own. Next time you catch yourself referring to a woman with the B, or the W-word, try to think if what you’re doing is criticising their sexual conduct. If the answer is no, then try to think what other word might be more appropriate and try to think how your wrong choice of insult may have affected the other person.

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If the answer is yes, then ask yourself: are you genuinely that judgemental about their sexuality, or are you just attacking them on that aspect because that’s more convenient for you? Are you jealous, frustrated, biased by the patriarchal society? And most of all, why do you think that’s any of your business? 

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