My Thoughts on Ending Slut Shame
I’m blessed to know a lot of really good women. Seriously strong, independent, hardworking, KIND, patient, loving women who I aspire to be like.
Me, on the other hand? Not long ago I would have said "the jury’s still out" or something like that. I've felt a major disparity between what people tell me about myself, what I’ve decided they actually think, and what I've told myself is true. Kind of like a walking, talking “expectation vs. reality" meme. Can you relate?
I'm critical of myself, bees. Many days I've walked around with a bottomless Mary Poppins bag full of guilt and shame. An especially heavy weight of shame for me is of the slut variety, in part due to having lost my virginity at just 13 years-old.
The time was freshman year of high school, several weeks before my 14th birthday. It was with a boy who was my friend, but not my boyfriend. We never dated and he wasn't my first love. Completely sober, in broad daylight, in the middle of the woods, not a motel bed after prom whatever is "normal" for the kids these days.
By law, I was a child. Not of age to consent. I think he was 15. For whatever it’s worth, what happened was in my opinion, more than consensual. It was encouraged. Just as much by me as him. We used a condom and I was on birth control. There was no coercion, no assault, no “me too.” It was two hormonal teenagers having sex.
And yet, I’ve carried an undue amount of shame about this event since the time that it happened. Back then, we each told a few people, who each told a few people, rumors flew, high school happened.
I was labeled a whore.
I had zero reservations prior to the actual act, but my response to the aftermath was deep shame. The message I received was that due to the "skanky" nature of my actions, what I’d done was not only wrong, but I was permanently tarnished as a friend, potential mate, and person.
14 years later, my eyes have finally opened. I look around at the women I admire, and I’m hard-pressed to find a single one who hasn’t been chastised, shamed, or negatively judged. Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of those women have been subject to "slut shaming" in one form or another...and I'm not a gambling woman.
Does the shame they've been subject to make these women lesser-than? Uh no, absolutely not
So, why the HELL are we (yes, we) slut-shaming?
I've been on all sides of this issue. I've felt shame, yes, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never been the shamer as well. I've never called a woman a whore to her face, but I've certainly said "that was slutty" behind her back. I myself have effectively helped perpetuate slut shaming by absorbing shame and allowing it to impact my identity as well as participating in the condemnation of another person's actions. As my heroes have all been shamed, I'd venture to guess that they too have shamed others at some point as well.
I approach this whole issue with a female in mind. Partly because I'm female, but also because I perceive women to be the primary targets of slut shame. That being said, I'd argue that we as women are most often the shamers as well.
Why, I wonder... A "when the abused becomes the abuser" phenomena perhaps? A way to manage our feelings about our own decisions? Jealousy? Maybe some of us have simply"gone along" with shaming to fit in. Rebecca Coffey wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today, which can be found here if you're interested.
The end to slut shaming starts with US.
Make no mistake, I’m not recommending that anyone go out and have sex with reckless abandon. STD’s are a REAL consequence. Unplanned pregnancy is a REAL consequence. I value and honor monogamy. It’s my personal belief that there’s no such thing as “meaningless sex.” I think there's some emotion, or piece of ourselves, that we leave with every person we're intimate with, even if it never results in a romantic relationship. This, however, is a personal decision that each individual has a right to make for themselves.
So how do we end it? I'm a realistic person. The term "slut" isn't leaving our vernacular anytime soon. And even if it did, another hateful term would quickly fill it's place.
I think this issue must be worked from the inside out:
First, we as women need to own our sexuality and our choices, acknowledging that not everyone is going to agree with those choices AND THAT’S TOTALLY OK...as long as we can live with with our own choices.
I want every person reading this to quit evaluating their self-worth based on the approval of other people.
Let's stop teaching girls that they need to flawlessly balance being “sexy” with “chaste” in order to be worthy, and instead promote self-love and compassion.
As far as the self-love stuff goes, these affirmation statements have been invaluable to me:
"I love myself and therefore, I am enough"
If you don’t love yourself, stop dead in your tracks and examine that! Whether you need solo soul-searching or introspection with the help of a professional therapist or psychologist, make repairing your relationship with yourself a priority.
"I am loved by God and therefore, I am enough."
If you're a Christian, I hope you know this with every fiber of your being. If you're not, I dare you to consider the possibility of a Creator who loves you exactly where you stand at this moment- baggage and all.
"There is no such thing as the perfect woman or the perfect person."
Not one of the strong women I hold in such high esteem is flawless, but they all have these traits in common: they show up to life authentically, act with love towards themselves and others, and strive for excellence, but anticipate resistance.
I started out writing this post from the perspective of forgiving yourself for your mistakes, but that wouldn't have been a truly accurate representation of my feelings on this topic. Truthfully, I don't regret having lost my virginity at 13. To say that I regret the experience would indicate that I would go back and undo it if I could. The knowledge and wisdom I've acquired since gives it value in my eyes. My REGRET is having allowed that shame to keep me feeling shackled all these years.
I allowed the slut shame to impact my self-esteem. I gave those words and rumors POWER. I didn’t know better before, but I sure as heck do now.