Last week, writer Stefanie Williams wrote a piece for the Huffington Post where she talks openly about sex, and gets copious amounts of hate mail for it. Recently, strangers have been writing her calling her a “slut,” and Williams addresses these comments in the article. She notes the double standard between the sexes, claiming that men who enjoy sex are not often humiliated and berated as women in similar situations are.
Williams was inspired and uplifted by a recent episode of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom in which a female character is betrayed by a former lover when he posts naked images of her on a website. The female character’s job is jeopardized; she is labeled a “slut.” Williams applauds the fact that the episode allows the “slutty” character to “win,” to get her revenge, by kicking her ex in the balls, giving him a bloody nose, and photographing him in his moment of shame and humiliation. Williams correctly notes that women in the media and in real life are often branded as “sluts” and then brutally humiliated without a chance to correct the wrongs that have been done to them. Why is the woman involved in a sex scandal so often targeted as a social pariah when the man is forgotten and forgiven?
I personally don’t agree that the shaming of a man is a true, fulfilling way for a woman scorned to “win.” Two people humiliated is probably not the answer. I would prefer to not see the woman shamed for her body in the first place: as Williams points out, we are all naked under our clothes, and our bodies, something intended to be shared privately with another person, shouldn’t be embarrassing. But Williams does have a point in that The Newsroom doesn’t, as so many TV shows do, fail to acknowledge the wrongs done by a man. The revenge might be cheap and cruel, but it does at the very least point to the fact that what this male character did was wrong.
Why do “slutty sluts” never win? Why do we see women, time and time again, being humiliated for engaging in sexual activity? Good women who aren’t hurting anyone? Why do they become “sluts?” Are we supposed to enjoy the downfall of the “slut,” to draw some sort of sick pleasure from her embarrassment?
The first entry in popular resource “Urban Dictionary” for the word “slut” reads as follows: “a woman with the morals of a man.” If this doesn’t evidence the fact that women are expected to behave more prudently, more “virtuously” than men are, I don’t know what does!
For a long time in Western culture, women have been expected to be moral exemplars. Women have even benefitted from the double standard. First Wave Feminists used the widely-believed idea that women were “morally superior” to men in order to gain suffrage. The whole idea was that if women entered the voting booths, there would be less drinking, violence, and bad behavior. Second Wavers like Adrienne Rich drew upon womenkind’s supposed kinder, more nurturing nature to propose overhaul of the violent patriarchy in favor of a more peaceful matriarchy. Even today, women are taught that the source of their power lies in a sort of moral superiority. Women don’t engage in vice, and it is “unladylike” to enjoy alcohol, sex, or anything taboo. And apparently not being “ladylike” cheapens a woman, lessens her value: we are told that only insecure, powerless women have sex freely (someone even posted a comment to that effect in response to Williams’s article).
Maybe this is why people enjoy witnessing the humiliation of the “slut.” To the masses, the “slut” ceases to be a human being and becomes a symbol for corruption: she is the opposite of the moral exemplar, a traitor to the moral code that governs the “pure,” good, nurturing woman who shuns sex and all vices. What we need to realize, like Williams does, is that it is unacceptable to pin all the corruption of the world on the woman who enjoys sex. A woman who experiences pleasure in sex is not morally inferior, and it’s about time we stop demonizing the “slut.” Corruption exists in people who deliberately harm others, not in someone who enjoys giving and receiving pleasure, and as soon as we embrace that truth, we can stop blaming women, and the cycle of slut-shaming can finally come to a close.
Images via Salon, Huffington Post