Let’s unlearn slut-shaming

Judging women by their clothing perpetuates patriarchy

  • Ayame Ulrich

There is a “War on Women” being waged in the U.S., defined by violent opposition to women’s contraceptive rights.

In Canada, however, a more subtle method of sexist oppression is at work.

Last year, a Toronto police officer advised women to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to prevent rape. Now Krista Ford, niece of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, has drawn our attention once more to the issue at hand: the rampant normalization of slut-shaming.

In response to a string of recent sexual assaults, Krista tweeted some advice to all women: “Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes & don’t dress like a whore.”

Krista’s comment and the ensuing backlash have generated a massive discussion of the nature and concept of slut-shaming.

For clarification, slut-shaming can be defined as “insulting a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women.”

This is not as simple as men oppressing women, as evidenced by Krista Ford’s tweet.

Clearly, living in a patriarchal society means that sexism and slut-shaming are so deeply ingrained in our psyche that both men and women are likely to shame women for their sexual activity, throwing around words like “slut” and “whore” without a second thought for the damaging effects of normalizing these slurs.

The “slut” label implies that a woman’s worth can be determined by something as glib as her clothing, a thought that is downright dangerous as it reflects the base idea that a woman’s most valuable asset is her body — and by dressing in revealing clothes, she no longer seems chaste or respectable and is therefore a lesser woman.

It assumes that in order to be worthy of respect, a woman must be virginal and pure — that women who enjoy, are empowered by or want to explore their sexuality are not deserving of that respect.

There are severe consequences of perpetuating this way of thinking.

If by dressing “like a whore” a woman is no longer entitled to respect, then women in miniskirts are more deserving of rape than women in sweatpants, right?

And that’s why covering up your body will keep you safe, right?

Wrong.

The majority of rapes happen in the home of either the attacker or the victim — not on the street where you’re wearing your nightclub dress.

Rape is not an act of sexual frustration; it is an act of violence committed against victims who look weak or vulnerable — not slutty.

No rape survivor “deserved” the violence done to their bodies and minds. Only the rapist is responsible for their crime, but as long as we victim-blame and slut-shame we forgive rapists by shifting the blame to the victims, most often to the women who “asked for it.”

Not only does this instill a shame and fear into rape survivors that prevents thousands of assaults from being reported every year, but on a broader spectrum, it strengthens the societal conception that women deserve to be judged and punished.

Krista Ford is both a perpetrator and a victim of slut-shaming.

She has apologized for her tweet, explaining that she “only wants women to be safe” and we must take her at her word.

It is not her fault that society has taught her (and everyone else) to believe victim-blaming reflects the true cause of rape.

Thankfully, many people have displayed their social awareness by condemning her comment, but an alarming amount more have displayed their ignorance by slut-shaming her in turn.

Krista was once the captain of a lingerie football team, the Toronto Triumph, and photos of her bikini-esque uniform have spawned a firestorm of slut-shaming — the very crime Krista was originally accused of.

She has been torn apart in tweets that call her “a hypocrite” who “prances around in her underwear” and degrades her fellow women by doing so.

What these critics don’t realize is that in attacking Krista’s clothing they are committing the same crime they claim to be protesting, a mark of how deeply sexist thought is bred in to our subconscious.

Rape culture allows us to make assumptions about women based solely on their clothes. We assume that wearing a bikini means Krista Ford has no self-respect, but this is sexist propaganda which we must dispel.

Why on earth couldn’t Krista’s uniform empower her by making her feel strong or sexy?

Why is sexual expression condemned and not celebrated?

Both slut-shaming and victim-blaming attempt to rob women of their human rights to personal security and freedom of expression.

To rectify the damage we have done, we must dramatically rethink how we as a society look at female sexuality. We must defend every woman’s right to wear what she likes and sleep with whomever she likes without living in fear or shame.

The “slut” is a fictionalized woman deserving of punishment; she is a myth and a weapon and no woman should be forced to bear that title.

Mandalyn Unger is a young writer and feminist in Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 67, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 19, 2012)

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