Sunday, 20 January 2013

Thoughts on Slut-Shaming

Dr. Phil had a show last Friday featuring various points of view on the debate around slut-shaming.  For those (like me) who didn't realize it had a special name, this is the practice of labeling someone a slut and attempting to shame her into an "acceptable" appearance and behaviours.

Dr. Phil claimed this was a new phenomenon.  I guess he hasn't heard of The Scarlet Letter or public penances ... or a fair chunk of the Inquisition.  But that's a separate point.

There are only two points of view on this debate worth considering.  People who attempt to bully someone into changing their behaviour are bullies and there's no acceptable reason for this.  Ever.

But it is worth looking at the views of those who call themselves modesty-encouragers and those who want to reclaim the word slut in triumph.  Modesty encouragers believe it's important to encourage young women to dress modestly and treat themselves and their bodies with respect.  On the other side of the debate are those who insist no one should ever be judged on their appearance and clothing choices should not be considered justification for assault.

It's hard to disagree with any of those points.  Both of these camps are lobbing shots at each other but they're fighting on different battlefields.  Those who want to encourage modesty are looking at the world as it is and saying, this is a dangerous place and young women should not put themselves in danger.  The other side does not accept the status quo and insists change has to come on the other side.

Personally, I agree that the perspectives of the world need to change.  It doesn't matter if someone is into group exhibition sex, if he or she says no, then the sexual encounter needs to stop.  End of story.  It's a personal decision which should never be coerced or preempted.

But I also agree that young women need to protect themselves.  We're not in the promised land of equality and mutual respect yet, so don't assume those protections will always apply.

My personal compromise on this issue is a belief that young women should be taught two things.  First, how to handle it when someone gets aggressive in pursuing her.  Second, how to be comfortable saying yes.

If I had a daughter and she wanted to go out in short skirts and skimpy tops, then I would insist on her knowing her own boundaries and being able to protect them, both emotionally and physically.  I would prepare her that some people won't understand and will be quick to judge her.  I would explain that they will use shame as a tactic and how difficult it can be to tune out those messages.  And then I would let her do what she chose.

Instead, I have sons and thus find myself worried about counter-protest signs saying "Don't tell my daughter how to dress, tell your son not to rape."  Even by the most generous statistics, the male rapist is the minority.  The vast majority of men do not believe it is acceptable to force a woman to have sex against her will.

Let's isolate those individuals as the exceptions they are, rather than painting everyone with a brush of complicity.  They are acting against the stated values of society, as defined by our laws. 

Imagine what we could do if we all stopped fighting and screaming at each other and focused on the real target.

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