Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

Looking Like a Slut

I stumbled across this on Facebook this morning, and it has apparently gotten the gears inside my head turning. It’s obviously bringing more attention to the original poster than anticipated – apparently, until this week, her friends list was comprised of people she actually, you know, knew. Now that one of her posts has gone viral, she’s receiving the random Friend-Me-Friend-Me requests that a certain breed of user employs. Just like anywhere else on the planet, you can place your emphasis on quality or on quantity, and for some, a long list of friends is an acceptable substitute for human interaction.

Anyway, I saw this little back-and-forth, and it caught my attention.

It might have done nothing more than garner a few “likes,” maybe a comment or two, and then fade into oblivion, like the vast majority of Facebook posts do. (I’m still waiting for a way to effectively search through my own Facebook history, aside from laboriously clicking back in reverse chronological order, a week or so at a time… whenever you’re ready, Mr. Zuckerberg.) But one of my dear friends replied with, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.”

I started to type in my own response to her comment, and it quickly became apparent that I had quite a bit more to say. Enough that I decided to cut-and-paste it all over here. At the heart, I’m agreeing with my friend… not entirely sure whether I’m expanding on her comment, shifting from its focus, or what, but I’ve been playing in this great big online playground long enough to know some of the rules. Like, DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, BECAUSE PEOPLE DON’T LIKE GETTING YELLED AT. And, if there’s the slightest chance that your audience wouldn’t recognize sarcasm if they rolled over in bed in the morning and stared it straight in the face after a wild night of reckless carnal cynicism, go ahead and throw in an emoticon or a “ha ha” – even, in times of utter desperation, a LOL – because it’s a lot easier to say, “I’m just kidding, please don’t think I actually believe this,” than it is to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings. I thought you knew I was being sarcastic.” And, it is OK to Just Say No to LOLspeak; even if all the cool kids are doing it, you can stand up to peer pressure and use complete words and punctuation. (This last means you’ll have to keep track of those pesky homonyms, because you’re words look stupid if your not careful… and you cannot possibly understand just how difficult it is for me not to fix those particular words nownownow.)

And so on. The relevant rule, in this particular instance, is that if you respond to a two-sentence comment with several paragraphs, then your words might very well come across as defensive, abrasive, flaming… maybe all of the above. None of which is my intent at the moment.

So, my friend wrote, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.” And of their own accord, my fingers started to reply:

Well, yes, I don’t want my daughter looking like a slut, no matter where she is. But the obvious connotation of the original question is to suggest that a lower hemline is indicative of a higher level of internal morality. It’s in the same neighborhood as, “She asked for it,” which is just a half-block away from, “It’s easier for a girl to run with her skirt up than a man to run with his pants down… maybe she this wasn’t as non-consensual as she says.” In my book, the true criminal is the attacker, but any of his supporters who sit on the sidelines rooting him on – whether they’re in the room at the time or on the other side of the planet but crawling through all of those weird tubes of Internet – should be impelled to visit the attacker in prison. For several weeks at a time.

Sex crime is one of the remaining circumstances where we, as a society, are comfortable labeling it as terrible behavior. We insist that the mere concept of rape sparks internal outrage, and express smug pseudosympathy for the poor girl. Sexual abusers, of any kind (which often means “people who are attracted to people I am not attracted to and who do things I don’t want to do,” because what we find hot is hot and what they find hot is gross) are bad people who should be firmly punished. Except…

Well, see, but… the idea of sex crimes makes us uncomfortable. Especially if we recognize that some of our own proclivities aren’t universally appreciated, or if we know someone who has been accused (fairly or not), or if we know someone who has been hurt. Humans like to pretend that we’re in control, at least for the most part… that we have some say in how safe we are. That if we just eat healthily enough, get enough exercise, think before we speak, get enough sleep, and dress ourselves and our children correctly, then we’re basically safe. Bad things happen to good people all the time… but those bad things are often avoidable, if the good people had just gone about their days a little differently.

(This, by the way, is my gracious and forgiving version. I also have a much less benevolent set of thoughts about the tendency we have to find a way to blame the victim… but I suspect you all can get creative and figure that stuff out on your own. Include words such as “small-minded,” “reactionary” and “asshat,” and you’ll probably be able to reconstruct a reasonable facsimile of my not-nice version.)

Whether it’s well-meaning or not, at the end of the day, we often search hard for ways in which we can place at least some of the responsibility for a criminal act on the victim. Even when it’s as simple as, “Oh, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” that implies that she could’ve done something different… and better. In the case of sex crimes, we move well beyond mental flexibility and become cognitive contortionists, just to find ways to make the perpetrator look a little less at-fault, the victim a little (or a lot) more at-fault, and the rest of us that much safer and more complacent in our own lives. So a rape victim’s clothing is preserved, following an attack, ostensibly to preserve evidence… but if she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, those items are likely to be laid out on a table in the courtroom, and if she was wearing a halter top and miniskirt, the clothing might very well end up on a hanger or mannequin, maybe even held up against the victim’s body, in order to accentuate the abbreviation of the outfit. It becomes somehow relevant that the victim has never had a serious relationship, or has never had sex but acted like she wanted to, or had a previously consensual relationship with the offender. It becomes OK to hint that maybe this woman sent out the wrong message, her whole life or just in the moments leading up to the attack… and the more desperate the defendant becomes, the less subtle those hints will be.

Back to the original post… I had a hard time with the last two phrases, in particular. First, let her go out? In m world, the concepts of parental permission and drinking parties are mutually exclusive; my parents were consistent in their message to me that chemical experimentation of any kind was simply unacceptable as long as I lived under their roof. (And, of course, my message to them was that I would respect their rules at least to the point of hiding the evidence and constructing a world of plausible deniability.) If this is a drinking party and you know about it, that tends to imply that your daughter is at least in the vicinity of 18, of legal adulthood; therefore, she has (ideally) grown out of the need for Mom to lay out her clothes the night before, or even for Mom to have a substantive say in the presentation and adornment of the daughter’s body.

I find this to be a sneaky little way of disseminating blame even further: now the parents of the victim can be added to the list. While we’re at it, we might as well point fingers at the girl’s friends, who should have vetoed the outfit before leaving the house, and perhaps at the stores selling the clothing in the first place… maybe we can start a national initiative to impel all adults to earn a Clothing License before they’re allowed to choose their own outfits? (Hmm… actually, I think that’s a fantastic idea, and if I get organized perhaps we could enact Kate’s Law by the end of the year, at least at county and state levels…)

Then there’s the last phrase, looking like a slut. Who decides? (And have you ever noticed that sometimes the people who have appointed themselves as special authorities on the matter are the selfsame people who have no business even touching the reviled outfits, much less wearing them, themselves?) It probably falls under that old what-is-pornography argument: “I know it when I see it.” But true sluttiness involves more than just a certain number of square inches of skin exposed, or a certain percentage of total skin covered. I can tell you that there are outfits my 11-year-old can put on, with long pants and long sleeves, and they somehow instantly accelerate her into a 15-year-old, complete with curves and postures that make me terrified and proud more terrified in the blink of an eye.  And, when I’m at the beach, I find it infinitely more appropriate when a toddler is running around completely naked than when she is has a leopard-print string bikini stretched over her swim diaper. It’s just such a huge, foggy gray area, kind of a Rorschach test; when a person labels an outfit as slutty, or goes one better and labels a woman a slut, I learn more about the speaker than I do about the outfit (or the wearer).

All in all, though, this really just an academic volley of words, spouted off because I had some free time today and I have some very strong opinions about this topic (“Gee, ya think??”). But if I was truly interested in answering the original poster’s question, I could stop him after the 18th word, before that nasty little slut word appears: I don’t want my daughter going to a party with guys drinking, at all. Not for many years to come. At least not until she’s out of the convent.

See? Much better to have turned this into a blog post and rambled on in my own space, because here, it’s a few clever turns of phrase and some perhaps over-emotive opinions on a debate that I take rather personally. If I had I put this on Facebook, it would’ve just looked like the opening volley of a flame war. Nobody needs that… if for no other reason than the fact that I’m fresh out of marshmallows for roasting.


Responses

  1. Well, I’m still in denial about the fact that one day I’ll be parenting teenage girls, but you might find this article interesting:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/dont-be-that-guy-ad-campaign-cuts-vancouver-sex-assaults-by-10-per-cent-in-2011/article2310422/

    • I’ve seen those ads around Boston, too – print and video. I appreciate them quite a bit – successful advertising happens when they are honest without being repulsive, direct and even humorous without being flippant, and delicate without being overbearing. (Which I just made up all by my lonesome… maybe I should go into advertising…

  2. I have several paragraphs in response, and I’m not even feeling defensive. I’m loving how my dear friend makes me think and consider and weigh and think some more. All very, very good things.

    I agree with almost everything you said. I thought the original post was so ridiculous I forgot it as soon as I read it – I was spurred to respond by the original response.

    Not wanting a daughter I’d have to go out “looking like a slut” has absolutely nothing to do with me thinking it would make her in any way responsible for any type of criminal act perpetrated against her will. Nothing to do with her being taken advantage of or assaulted or asking for unwanted attention of any kind. It is never the victim’s fault. Ever.

    I don’t think that saying “she was in the wrong place at the wrong time” is blaming the victim, even tangentially. At least for me. I don’t believe it in any way shifts any blame to her, or her parents, or anyone other than the perpetrator. Perhaps that’s because I ALWAYS believe it’s the perpetrator’s fault and no one else’s… I’d no sooner think that being in the wrong place at the wrong time means she was responsible for her assault than I would think someone involved in a car accident was at fault (well, the not-at-fault driver), or in the path of a flood or a tsunami or in the World Trade Center on 9/11 was at fault. It is simply a fact that if they were in a different place at a different time the exact thing that happened to them would not have happened to them, and maybe it’s natural for people to think about how little, tiny decisions that seem inconsequential can lead to big consequences, whether they be wonderful or dreadful. No judgment, no blame – just a fact. Just like being in the right place at the right time…. Do I think it’s productive to point that out? Perhaps not. I’m much happier dealing with what actually did happen than if onlys…

    But, anyway. My response was not about unwanted attention in any way, shape or form. My response, what was in my head when I replied, was focused on the WANTED attention. What is, at least in her mind, positive attention. Girls wanting boys to want them – any boy, every boy.

    I’ve been a teenaged girl, and I thought there were a lot of pressures THEN! The stories I hear today scare the crap out of me! I have a friend whose stepchildren were involved with sex parties (!!!), not only with other kids but with animals (!!!) and according to things I’ve read this is common across the country. Heck, even Law and Order did an episode on it. Those things are very scary to me.

    I would want my daughter to have a healthy sexuality. I know that clothing can help make you feel beautiful and sexy, and I understand that clothing is one way to express yourself. I just would hope that my daughter would lead with her personality and her confidence. Fine if she dresses attractively, and I certainly don’t have (too much of) a problem with even a little sexily. But I’d hope she would not wear jeans that are so low I can see her vulva or shirts that show so much cleavage that her breasts will pop out if she sneezes or skirts so short that everyone can see that she’s going commando as she slinks coquettishly, through life. She may call it celebrating her sexuality; I do not. I would not want her leaving my house that way to do anything, go anywhere, with anybody.

    Now if she’s over 18 and living in her own home and she pays the bills I’ll have nothing to say (out loud), but I’d still will wish she made different choices.

    Bottom line: I’d want my daughter to know she has more to offer than her sexuality.

    All of the above was in my head when I read the post and when I wrote that response. If you didn’t hear it then we must not have been sharing the brain. I’m shocked.

    Having only a son I won’t have the job of making sure my daughter knows that. And I’m kinda grateful I don’t have that responsibility. Of course, a boy brings lots of other fun responsibilities…oy!

  3. And I think you know how wholeheartedly I agree with you, on so many levels. Now that I have one of each gender, I feel like it’s one of my many jobs to instill these values in each of them- or at least make them think about them as they grow and develop. For now, my girl does not wear clothes that are made for women- no string bikinis, no pants with “cutie” written across the tush, etc. APA put out a report- probably 8 years ago now- on the sexualization of little girls and I always think of that. Especially being at the middle and elementary schools now…. We have so much more to offer as people than just our sexuality.


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