Let’s Stop “Slut-Shaming”

*All names have been changed.

I was at a conference recently, “Speaking Out to End Sexual Violence.”  During discussion, a delegate used the term “slut-shaming” which sounded very jarring.  Having not heard it used for a little while, I began thinking about it.  I recalled a story from the late 1990s which at the time, would not have been so articulately defined, but retrospectively, was a clear example of “slut-shaming.”

Working as a fitness instructor at a gym in town,  I lived a few doors from our aerobics manager Tess and we were close friends.  One of our colleagues Jenna had just returned from holiday and was bragging about having flirted with a male member of the cabin crew on the flight home. She recounted having discreetly slipped him her telephone number as she left the plane.  Within 24 hours, he called her; he was in Birmingham for 2 days before flying back and invited her out for dinner.  Jenna had just begun seeing someone but at that point, was not in a relationship with him, and she accepted the dinner invitation.  She drove to Birmingham after work and met the flight crew member at his hotel. He took her out to an expensive French restaurant for dinner.  When he ordered a bottle of wine, Jenna said she needed to drive back as she was on an early shift and had to be at the club for 6.30am.

He told her his airline paid for his hotel room and that she could stay and he would make sure she was awake in time to drive back (over 60 miles) in the morning.  Later saying she felt obligated because of the dinner and the wine, Jenna didn’t think she could get out of it. She agreed to stay the night and continued to drink.  Perhaps feeling a little concerned about her personal safety, she rang Tess from a call-box around midnight to say she was staying in Birmingham with the airline guy, told Tess the name of the hotel, and explained she would drive back in the morning in time for her shift.

The next morning, being a conscientious employee, Jenna did make it back in time for her shift.  Sadly, she was subject that day and for a good few days to follow to a great deal of teasing and humiliation for having driven to Birmingham for a date with someone she barely knew and then spending the night in his hotel room.  Tess led on this campaign of shame and being a popular member of staff, she had some influence.  It was classic slut-shaming.  At the time, it was not named as such but I know now that is what happened.  It was out of character for Jenna, and she clearly felt embarrassed by the teasing & negative attention, but didn’t say much.  At the time, it seemed no one took into account that she had perhaps felt pressured and unable to get herself out of the situation.  She was alone with a man she didn’t know, in another city.  He had paid for an expensive dinner and wine.  And she had consumed alcohol and had no other way home. She had seemed willing by driving all the way to Birmingham to meet him – maybe feeling she had “led him on” in doing so.

Possibly out of jealousy, Tess was relentless and made sure all the staff knew what Jenna had done, ensuring the shaming was effective.  Perhaps one of the hardest elements of this behaviour to accept is that it is often led by women against other women.   When females are “slut-shaming” other females it is a head-on contradiction of the very sense of solidarity and sisterhood that can strengthen women against such negativity.  In some ways, it is a total betrayal.  Having not heard the term for a little while and then suddenly hearing it at the conference, I realised that it is still alive and well.  Furthermore, it will not go away until we proactively address it and find ways to challenge it.

As well as a range of other conversations to be had with children growing up today, we need to let them know that “slut-shaming” behaviour is a form of bullying, it attacks girls’ self-esteem and it needs to end.  Be vigilant, recognise it, and squash it.  Let’s all hope that someday, the term “slut-shaming” will have disappeared out of the urban dictionary for good.

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1 comment to Let’s Stop “Slut-Shaming”

  • Coralie

    If a man had done the same thing as Julie he would have been congratulated and given a pat on the back.