A note to the reader: This article is not promoting casual sex and dressing revealingly. However, it is not condemning it either. We are not saying that one perspective on sex is any more “right” or “moral” than another. A fight against slut-shaming does not equal a critique on those who want to dress themselves modestly and refrain from casual sex. A fight against slut-shaming is a fight against double standards, overgeneralizations and incorrect assumptions–it is a response to people who promote these flawed concepts and try to define sexuality for every woman. Additionally, some of us believe that no matter what the circumstance is, sex should be consensual, and those who are sexually active should take protective measures. Finally, the opinions of this article do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Campanile.

High School, we like to think of ourselves as a collection of smart, forward thinking and accepting students. Our student body achieves incredible things, challenging all stereotypes of the apathetic, indifferent teenager. We promote equality, unity and acceptance regardless of a person’s race, culture, socio-economic background or sexual orientation.

However, one issue remains unchallenged. The concept that condemning a female based on her personal decisions regarding sexual activity or outfit choice is acceptable–or even righteous and demonstrative of some higher moral standard.

Walk through the quad, or scroll through your Twitter feed and you will hear and see, “I heard they hooked up this weekend.”  “She’s a ho.” “Her shorts are so incredibly tiny–she’s clearly desperate for attention.” In class, a teacher looks at a student up and down and subtly shakes his or her head. Maybe he or she even gives a mini-lecture ridiculing the lack of “self respect” or “class” this generation possesses. These actions and words seem so natural to our student mistakes.

Slut-shaming is the act of criticizing or attacking an individual, most commonly women, for having sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional gender expectations. According to graduate student of Columbia’s Department of Mathematics and blogger Alon Levy, slut shaming feeds off the idea that “if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior”. This bashing is not solely reserved for women who have sex. It can be used against any woman who might talk, dress or behave in an unreserved sexual manner that society is not yet comfortable with– such as freely discussing and possessing a casual view on sex, or dressing in revealing clothing.

A discussion on slut-shaming is also a discussion on double standards. On any given school day you may hear a group of girls condemning another girl’s sexual endeavors, while right across the quad a guy is being praised for his. This discriminatory take on sexuality is possessed by both men and women. It is not rare to find a girl looking down upon a female counterpart and her clothing choices, calling her offensive names and then skipping to class alongside her guy friend, laughing as he hints at the sexual activity he engaged in over the weekend.  When students gossip about the sexual experiences of their male and female counterparts, a bizarre distinction begins to take place. A sexually active male is applauded by his pals, and maybe jokingly teased by some girls who believe that men are just carefree and more hormone-driven. When a female is the center of the conversation, the tone shifts drastically. She is loose, easy, and has no standards whatsoever. She is so not classy. These double standards are unfair and teach females that there are certain activities that are condoned when pursued by men, but completely unacceptable for them to engage in. These double standards mentioned above are most likely historically rooted in principles from thousands of years ago that claim a desirable and socially acceptable woman is one who must remain “pure”. But it is now 2013, and young women are more empowered and educated than ever. We should begin to take a good, hard look at the consequences of such an outdated concept. There is no fair and equal explanation as to why women must remain chaste or else be labeled a “dirty slut”, while men can experiment with sexual activities as they so desire and suffer very few, if not zero, social consequences.
These traditional views of sexuality and women also touch upon concepts of morality and emotion that surround sex. It is a common misconception that women take sex more seriously than men, because girls are “more emotional”, more “into romance” and  geared more to commitment. And while this might be true for many girls, a female should not be ridiculed if they do not feel this way about sex. In fact, Atlantic journalist Hugo Schwyzer noted in an article about the sexuality of women this summer that recent scientific research “shatters many of our most cherished myths about desire, including the widespread assumption that women’s lust is inextricably bound up with emotional connection.” By making over-generalized assumptions on female sexuality, women who possess a different take on sex are made to feel alienated and occasionally guilty. An anonymous junior girl reflects on her loss of virginity and the feelings of judgment that came with it.

“I felt guilty when I first lost my virginity, not because I was not ready for it and not because I personally wasn’t content with how it happened,” she said. “I felt like I had done something wrong only because I’ve always been told that there is one right way to lose your virginity that’s acceptable. I lost mine in a more casual setting and the people around me tried to make me feel disappointed about it. But then I realized that no one can tell you whether or not you’re ready [to have sex], or tell you how to lose your virginity. It just depends on you and what you want.”

All in all, different women have different perspectives and want different things. Some girls want to lose their virginity in a candlelit room with their boyfriend of three years–some don’t. The only person who knows whether or not she is ready, and how she wants to have sex, is the girl herself.

Another dilemma that falls under the umbrella of slut-shaming is attacking and assuming things about women based on their outfit choices. A girl dressed in a tank top and upper-thigh length shorts might be snidely asked what she’s hoping to get out of dressing like that, what she’s trying to provoke or who she is trying to impress.

Junior Tira Oskoui describes a time when a teacher concluded a class period by “telling girls they needed to cover up more.”

“Once at the end of class, my teacher mentioned that she disapproved of the clothing girls wore in warmer weather,” Oskoui said. “It felt like she was calling us out and requesting that we hide our bodies. I think a lot of teachers have good intentions when they do things like this, but really, the conversation was uncalled for and disrespectful.

An anonymous teacher, Ms. Jessica, explains that when a staff member initiates this type of classroom discussion, his or her intentions may be related to respect for other cultures or preparation for a professional future.

“At Paly, we have a pretty diverse demographic in terms of race and religion,” Ms. Jessica said. “While a student’s way of dressing is a way to express oneself, it can also create an environment that is uncomfortable for others, especially those who feel uncomfortable seeing an excessive amount of skin and skimpiness in outfits. Also, I think that as teachers, we look at our students and want to prepare them as best as possible for entering college and the workforce, and there are restrictions on dress in many workplaces.  We want our students to be able to “code-switch” – to act and dress professionally while at work and other similar situations, regardless of what they would wear or how they would act in their own free time.

However, Ms. Jessica believes that the way a teacher expresses his or her view is immensely important.

“Hopefully, [clothing-related conversations] are not meant to censure a particular student,” Ms. Jessica said. “But rather to inform them that we want our school to be a good environment for everyone, and that implies a level of respect in dressing as well as behavior.”

Essentially, Ms. Jessica believes such guiding comments on outfit choices is acceptable, as long as the intentions are to help students prepare for success in college and the workforce–not to target and shame individuals for personal decisions.

There is this concept that flows throughout our campus, our community and our world that says when a woman chooses to dress in a certain manner, she is granting permission for others to judge and criticize her, inappropriately assume her intentions and possibly even sexually violate her. It is assumed that a girl who some may say dresses revealingly lacks morals and possesses little self-respect. In our society, media hypersexualizes and dehumanizes women. As a result, this idea has shaped that the only way for women to combat these ideas is to cover themselves up. Some also preach that showing skin or dressing provocatively is obvious compliance to the sexist, patriarchal objectification of women. However, if analyzed logically, pressuring women into dressing conservatively by means of the threat of social condemnation is in many ways is a form of oppression itself. Which isn’t necessarily all that empowering.

Although it may be possible that a girl might have insecurity issues or be seeking attention and approval, it also may be possible that she is not. Perhaps she is a young woman who is proud and confident with herself and her body. Maybe she is an athlete who wants to flaunt her muscular legs or she just loves the way she looks and feels in a specific outfit. The point is, every girl has a different take on self-confidence, and on self-respect. Self-respect is abstract, and therefore cannot be defined in one concrete manner. Some see self-respect as covering up and being modest while others see it as flaunting what they’ve got. Neither is necessarily more right than the other. Who is to say that the only girls who love and respect themselves are the ones that dress a certain way? People need to stop assuming a girl wears what she wears to gather male attention and attacking her by saying she lacks of self-respect. For all anyone knows, she could have love and respect herself, but simply demonstrates it in a way that diverges from traditional ideals.

The effects of slut-shaming can go down an even darker road, toward a concept called victim blaming. Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime is considered by their peers entirely or partially responsible for the crime committed against them. Last year, Audrie Pott, a student at Saratoga High School was sexually assaulted at a house party. Following this incident, photos of her assault were spread amongst peers and Pott was ridiculed and alienated by those around her. Eight days after the incident, Pott committed suicide. Additional examples were given in Verde’s Rape Culture article last year, which cited incidences of two female students being told they either deserved to be sexually assaulted or were “asking for it” by dressing and acting  in certain ways.

Victim blaming teaches that a girl’s revealing clothing or alcohol consumption or flirtatious demeanor justifies repulsive and illegal violation of her body. Victim blaming teaches that if women don’t protect themselves by hiding their bodies, men, who are apparently instinctive animals, will completely lose control of themselves and begin to sexually assault. Junior Noah Hashmi offers his perspective on victim blaming from a male point of view.
“[Victim blaming] definitely demonstrates that there are men out there who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, and instead try to blame others for their actions,” Hashmi said. “I think that men should keep in mind that victim blaming is detrimental to the male reputation, but more importantly realize that what they are saying is wrong and hurtful to many people.”

As frightening as it is, we must come to the realization that comments along the lines of “her outfit is so slutty” and “she’s clearly asking for it by dressing that way” feed directly into the blaming of victims of assault. Media and modern day citizens should direct their focus toward the perpetrators of sex crimes, and the idea that assaulting somebody is never acceptable or justifiable–something that should already be a basic standard in the 21st century.
We invite everyone to contemplate the various interpretations that exist on self-respect and emotions toward sex. We encourage our peers to open their minds to a society in which all women, the sexually active and the abstinent, the committed and the casual, the modest and the less conservative, no matter what their sexual behaviors or outfit choices consist of, can respect and accept each other.

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