Thought Catalog

If You Want A World That Respects Women, Stop Slut-Shaming Them

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There’s nothing in the world that unites people like hatred. This is why the internet exists. We like to joke that the internet is pictures of cats, but hate rules the interwebs, the thing that unites disparate cultures and gives people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, classes and sexualities something to agree on. From Anne Hathaway’s smile or Kristen Stewart’s frown, we need sitting cultural ducks to shoot, and the reason for our hatred doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, it’s not about Gwyneth Paltrow or even the 1% lifestyle she represents but the hatred itself, hate as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This week, Miley Cyrus happily fulfilled our socio-cultural need for hate, a force that brought together people who wouldn’t normally have the same opinion on anything. In a great XOJane essay on the subject, Laura Barcella mentions that on her Facebook feed, a friend who is usually a badass warrior for social justice updated her status to say: “Is it just me, or is Miley Cyrus a dumb cum slut?”

That sounds a lot like many of the other comments I’ve read across the internet, calling Miley a “whore,” “slut,” “trollop,” “tramp” and just about any other sex-shaming charge people can think of to throw at her. Right here on Thought Catalog, someone wrote an article entitled “Leave Miley Cyrus Alone,” which wasn’t even a defense of Miley at all, but a critique of the ways in which outrage like this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If this is the media you choose, this is what you should expect. And instead of actually reading the piece, folks commented that they wouldn’t leave her alone because she’s a skank and she “deserves it.”

I remember in my Junior Year of high school, our English class had to do an exercise where we debated whether a woman who wears skimpy clothing on the street deserves to be harassed. What surprised me most wasn’t that there were guys who agreed with that statement, but that girls stood right along with them. “You have to know how men are,” one of my classmates said, who was a good friend of mine. “If you present yourself that way, you just have to expect certain things.”

To an extent, that’s true — and it’s very sad. It’s not right that a woman can’t walk down the street and not get whistled at or harassed. My roommate had a guy come up to her the other day and yell, “YES!” so loudly that it startled her and dropped her phone. She dresses conservatively, and often asks for my opinion if she feels that she’s dressing immodestly. The word “immodest” has actually been used. Another friend of mine was once pinned on a bus by a guy who then began to masturbate at her. It had nothing to do with what she was wearing, but who she was — a woman over whom he could exert power.

It was a crowded bus. No one even tried to stop it.

We often give men the sole blame for slut-shaming and harassment, but we all contribute to a culture that degrades and abuses women, one that labels the expression of Miley Cyrus’ sexuality as “white trash.” I think that the entire performance was an artistic failure — from ill-advised choreography to overt minstrelsy — but very little of the backlash has even been about that. Apparently in society, it’s not that bad to be a racist. The real crime is being a slut.

You probably don’t give a damn about Miley Cyrus specifically, and neither do I. However, I would love to see Robin Thicke subjected to the same criticism after the performance, a married father who passively let Cyrus gyrate all over him. She’s all of 20 — still young and very, very dumb — but he should know better, especially after all the criticism he’s gotten for “Blurred Lines.” The performance literally recreated the fucked-up power dynamic of that video onstage, yet another scantily clad woman performing for the male gaze, and no one even batted an eye.

It was every bit as weird and predatory as critics suggest his song is, yet the Thicke backlash machine has been virtually silent. When photos of the performance were reposted to mock the scandal, Robin Thicke was even replaced with Beetlejuice, lampooning Cyrus’ sexuality but erasing Thicke from the picture altogether.

This reminds me of the Super Bowl performance where Justin Timberlake “accidentally” ripped open Janet Jackson’s costume to reveal her breast. America didn’t get upset with Timberlake for exposing her. They were mad at Jackson for having a boob. They say that all press is good press, but the incident killed her career. The album she released in the wake of the controversy tanked, after recently having two songs go to #1 on Billboard. Since then, she’s only had one solo hit, the modestly performing “Feedback,” but none of her old success. Meanwhile, the incident helped launch Timberlake’s solo career, making him one of the biggest stars in the world. It’s the double standard on crack.

You can see a million examples of this in the media, “exposing” a woman’s sexuality as a means of discrediting her. You can suggest sex, and Jennifer Lawrence can make her career by wearing a sultry red dress to the Oscars in 2011, but to show it — or God forbid, actually have sex — is a different thing altogether. Kristen Stewart could initially get fired from Snow White and the Huntsman 2 for sleeping with her older married boss, but he got to keep his job — before intense criticism righted the situation. I know people who still won’t watch an Angelina Jolie movie (a fucking decade later) but love Brad Pitt.

Here’s some icing on that cake for you. Back in college, I was enrolled a Middle East Studies class during Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. I, a huge Hillary fanboy, proudly wore my fucking “Hillary For President” button everywhere, and a girl who sat behind me gave me hell about it when she saw it on my bookbag. “How could you vote for her?” she asked me. “I could never respect a woman who stayed with a cheater.” Even when Hillary wasn’t having sex, she couldn’t catch a break. She was still the one getting shamed.

I then asked my classmate if she would vote for Bill Clinton if he ran again, in some alternate universe where that’s possible. Without hesitation, she said, “Of course, he was a great president.”

This isn’t about Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Kristen Stewart or Hillary Clinton, but a society that expects different things out of men and women — one that enables toxic masculinity and blames women for not being good enough. If they just behaved differently, it wouldn’t be like this. Think of the Steubenville girl who was blamed and slut-shamed for being dragged around while she was passed out, while men she trusted took photos of her unconscious body. People wanted to know what she was wearing, what she had done.

Think of the girl who was shamed for giving a blowjob at an Eminem concert, while the recipients were celebrated, given a million hi-fives by the internet, as if they weren’t even involved. Trust me. I have a lot of experience here. It takes two to suck a dick. Sometimes three — but never one.

Men are merely bystanders — even when they’re getting some, too — and one of the comments on the latter controversy sums up the backlash nicely: “This is why men fear having daughters.” Many wondered what Billy Ray Cyrus thought of the performance, the estranged father that Miley Cyrus wants nothing to do with. This idea is yet another reminder that men own female sexuality, whether they are their own fathers or the fathers who stand above them onstage, knowing that at the end of the day, their reputation is going to be okay.

When I need hope in times like this, I fondly remember a letter that was posted to the Good Men Project, where a father wrote to his daughter about her burgeoning sex life. As she grows up, he was sick of the idea that her sexuality needs to be protected — while he waits for her boyfriend on the porch with a shotgun. “You’re not me,” Ferrett Steinmetz writes. “You’re not an extension of my will.” Telling her I Hope You Have Awesome Sex,” he continues,

Consensual sex isn’t something that men take from you; it’s something you give. It doesn’t lessen you to give someone else pleasure. It doesn’t degrade you to have some of your own. And anyone who implies otherwise is a man who probably thinks very poorly of women underneath the surface.

No matter what you think of Miley Cyrus personally, it’s about time we all started respecting the right of women to make mistakes and get messy — because that’s what sexuality is. It’s exploring yourself, in ways that no one else gets to decide for you. Now next time, if Miley Cyrus could her explore that without the help of giant racist teddy bears, that would be even better. TC mark

image – MTV/VMAs/a>

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