“It’s not right
But it’s okay
I’m gonna make it anyway
Close the door behind you
Leave your key
I’d rather be alone than unhappy”
– Whitney Houston
One of my favorite things to see, is women celebrating the successes of other women. It’s actually brought me to tears when I have seen it happen in front of me. When my daughter was about 17 or 18, I sat in on a parent watch day at her ballet school. As the girls waited their turns to watch each other fly and twirl across the room, snaps and a few claps rung out when someone did well, but mostly there were standard and even as a courtesy, clearly a guarded but kind support of each other. It’s a competitive industry, I get that. There was however ONE girl, a lovely, beautiful strong dancer, who seemed to have a secure sense of self as she stood there. And as my daughter flew across the room and nailed a triple pirouette and the courtesy snaps began, this girl bursted with praise, saying her name and acting like a proud big sister and said “That was amazing, you are beautiful, so proud of you!” I was watching and I started to cry. WHY did I cry!? OF COURSE it was because it was sweet, and I was a proud mom, but part of the reason it touched me, was because between women, THIS IS RARE. Apathy to veil competition is more more prevalent on the daily or worse, shaming and bullying. WHY is it so hard for us to celebrate and cherish each other?
The term “Slut-shaming” is broad, but it’s what I want to discuss or attempt to. A large portion of society thinks it is reserved for a specific group of women making certain choices. I actually see the term covering a bigger range of people. Young girls, teens, young women, middle aged women as well as older women. It affects us all. Over the years, I have been a part of and witnessed women shaming other women, across all parts of life and spectrums. I want to dig into to where it starts, and try to pose some questions that will spark discussions, so each of us can try to figure it out for ourselves.
The Younger Years
I feel as though female shaming for lots of us in the 30 or older generations, started in the home. It was part of the baby boomer generation of our parents. The modest era. It was textbook. Men can express their sexual freedom and physical security, and not be shamed; women cannot for fear of being shamed and called a whore or a slut. Growing up I heard things like,
“You can’t watch that, it’s too risqué”
“No makeup until you are older, or you will look like a hooker”
“You cannot leave the house like that”
“If you wear that skirt you are asking boys to see you as a sex machine”
“You should probably cover up, you don’t want guys to get the wrong idea”
What is the “wrong idea”? I have always been confused as to why my choices in attire should somehow also include the sensitivity to the men or boys around me that weren’t able to control themselves. Their issues somehow overrode any feelings I had of pride in my body or excitement about slaying an outfit I was wearing. Instilling a fear that I may be mistreated, harassed or raped because of my clothing, putting the accountability not on the other person, but rather on the girls with their choices in clothing. Parents, what message are we giving to our girls, when we say these things?
I do believe that the parents of my generation and beyond, are working to change these behaviors, but it’s a SLOW process. There are a few factors that contribute to the speed of this changing – mainly because the generations before that were RAISED this way, are now running our country and mostly white, misogynistic men in power. They are making and enforcing rules in offices and schools, they are bribing and paying off sexual abuse incidents so they will go away, they are making laws about our bodies and taking our rights away. That in itself is harmful to any parent or child trying to change the path of their body consciousness and self-worth.
The Teen Years
Middle school and high school are some of the hardest years EMOTIONALLY for everyone. Your hormones are raging, you are trying to fit in, you are clashing with your parents or guardians, life is a hot mess and then add pimples and braces and good lord, I never want to go back to that time ever.
“I’m bossy/ I’m the first girl to scream on a track/ I switched up the beat of the drum” — Kelis
I experienced a lot of shaming from girls in school. At the time I saw it as cruel and mean. I look back now as a mother and an adult, and see it as sad and systematic. We all lashed out because of insecurity and inadequacy issues. We took the shaming most of us had in our homes, and when faced with the ultimate vulnerable situation aka High School, we came armed with weapons. What better than to harm others with than what harmed you – surely those will work! Every girl in high school is struggling with so many things, and for some reason, the females around them are the only ones they find safe to lash out at. The boys around them are comparing them to other girls or worse photoshopped ones in magazines and movies. Young girls see that and we immediately let it affect our self-worth, let it define us. And all at once the battle for unattainable perfection begins, and the meter to measure our progress is set by the women and girls that surround us.
“To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.” – Brene Brown
Right now, mainly girls, in public schools all over the country, are being sent home because of what they are wearing. Sleeveless shirts, skirts too short (but not cheerleaders cause you know, that’s ok…) ripped jeans, the list goes on. The main reason the administration says is because “Wearing those things is DISTRACTING to others in class”. On the evening news here recently, there was a local high school, reporting that students were being sent home for ripped jeans. The group asked to go home was outside of the school with the news reporters. The reporter asked one of the girls outside the building, why they were being sent home. This young girl had a brilliant and calm reply: “They say our jeans are distracting, so they are taking us out of class when in reality, what is really distracting is taking us out of class and not letting us learn.” She is my new favorite human – her parents should be proud.
Young Women – we are adults, KIND OF
Finally we are out of that competitive horrible judgemental place and we can get on with our lives, AMIRITE!? Oh wait. The real world is just as bad…there is just sugar put on things to make them seemingly easier to handle or ingest.
Now we have to deal with shaming in the workplace or in college life. With pressure of what we wear or what we don’t wear. Social media adding an ENTIRE new cog in that wheel, so things like adult videos and nude photography – will also come into play. In preparation for this post, I made a call out to hear other women’s stories. I got a few public replies but it was the several private ones that were shocking. There were women being asked to wear certain types of shirts and bras in their office, as to not be distracting to the men on staff. This HAS to be illegal. But of course no one does anything. It’s seen as okay in schools and places of business because it is shelved under “employee rules” or “Codes of Conduct”. There was a young woman who was a nanny and wore a hip cute bikini to the YMCA and was told by staff they were getting comments from other mothers and that she had to cover up if she came back. How humiliating! There was a woman who was told if she wore white, and her bra was visible, she must wear a tanktop underneath, as to not tempt. These stories were infuriating to me. How on earth is this still happening and being excused? How about you not hire humans that can’t be adults and control themselves. On that note, let’s touch on how it makes us feel, when a young adult woman makes the choice to be a stripper, escort or prostitute.
Treat ’em like a prostitute (Do What?)
Don’t treat no girlie well until you’re sure of the scoop – Slick Rick
Several months ago, I had a conversation with a friend of my daughters via Facebook. She made a post about the slut shaming and revenge porn backlash about social media celebrity Blac Chyna. It was over a dirty break-up and her ex decided to shame her revengefully by sharing private nude photos of her, and a private intimate video of them – putting it into the world for all to see without her permission or knowledge. This young girl said in her FB post something to the effect of (she has since deleted the post or I would quote it) “Don’t know why Chyna is so mad at those nude pics being leaked, she’s is a stripper, she does it anyways. You act cheap you get treated cheap”. I decided it was important that I start a dialogue with her publically about this. Ok I am not being honest, I was mad – and I LAID into her. Spouting so many details and points, I am sure her head spun. Her response was “She is a ho, so that’s why she is being treated that way. She needs to respect herself so others will respect her”.
It felt fundamentally wrong to hear that statement come out of a woman’s mouth. There is a GIGANTIC difference between being confident in your body, and choosing to do a job that gives you control over that body – and another human, male or female, taking that power away from you in order to harm or shame you. This young girl isn’t alone, I see different versions of this ALL OVER the media and around me. How often as a woman have you heard or even said these statements (don’t worry, I am guilty of some, too):
- “She needs to put some clothes on, no one wants to see all that”
- “Did she paint those jeans on?”
- “People with asses like that should not wear pants like that”
- “She really should get her money back for purchasing so little fabric”
- “What is she even wearing!?”
- “How did her friends let her wear that?”
Ladies. We have to do better.
ADULT WOMEN – Now we are MOTHERS, raising NEW WOMEN!
So we take what we learn, unlearn ourselves and are determined to raise a more independent, more confident and more secure woman in our own daughters, RIGHT? Wrong. You know that old adage “We grow up to become our mothers”? Well, it drives me crazy, as I have worked my ass off to be the exact opposite of my mother and how I was raised. However it still happens. The insecurities and prudish ways of my mother peeked through out of sheer fear of putting my sweet daughter into the rough misogynistic world! It was about me doing what those girls in high school resorted to. I was worried that she would be hurt, judged and shamed, so I took every measure to make sure it didn’t happen. When Madison was 11 she wanted to wear makeup. I was horrified. She already had girls at school teasing her. WHAT is she thinking, that would surely make it worse!
It was then that my husband gave me that cabin pressure/airplane landing moment, he said “You are doing exactly what your mom did to you when you act like this. And you grew up, had issues with friends and with your body because of it. How about you do the opposite. Let her explore. Let her find herself and feel beautiful in her way. Let her find her own way and support her regardless.” And with his help and reminders, that’s what I did. And it WORKED.
I recently witnessed an exchange on professional ballerina Michaela DePrince’s instagram when she posted a photo where she was partially topless. There was a comment from a Dance Mom – whose young daughter is a fan of DePrince. It was a shaming comment to make her feel badly about posting a photo that was partially topless and she told her to have more “self respect” and that it made her not want her daughter to see it. DePrince’s response was so lovely and strong. It was exactly how I hope this next generation of women would respond to shaming by another female, or anyone for that matter. But alas I know that sadly, Michaela’s reply isn’t the norm, YET.
Why do we as parents automatically shame the female when we feel that something is different, too expressive or god forbid, scandalous? We need to challenge ourselves and each other to take a step back, to not react impulsively, to resist the urge to immediately degrade the choices of females. I am so concerned as to why our first instinct isn’t praise, support and love and I am convinced that we need to start training our minds to start making that change.
Doesn’t it seem like since day one for each of us, we have been competing for the same thing? The approval and appreciation of what society thinks the perfect woman is. Goals of having the words “Perfect” and “full package” being used to describe us. Some of us even find men that says things like “Arm candy” and “Dime piece” or even “Prize” to make us feel worthy and loved.
My fear is that this typical woman, who needs this approval, grows up to excuse an abuser. She is a victim of sexual assault, or even worse. I grew up with some many instances that were discussed here, and I KNEW it wasn’t right, but it was ok and excused by everyone around me, so after awhile, it became acceptable. This week in the news, Hollywood mega mogul and producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by numerous actresses. Tons of fellow actors coming to the support of their fellow actresses on social media. Then yesterday, designer Donna Karan of DKNY was quoted at a fashion event when asked about it and came out to defend Weinstein and blame the victims. “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.” This is a woman who designs sexy women’s clothing. I spat at the TV. I also have a DKNY bedspread now up for grabs if anyone wants it.
THIS is what this entire post is about. THIS is where our problem is. Are we giving the next generation of women the tools to combat this type of rape culture blaming? Do all women know their value and worth – are we able to bind together to be a united front when the victim shaming and rape culture blame comes at them full force? I know that the young women of my generation were not able to do that.
I am however hopeful of this next one, because now we are seeing small light coming through the cracks in the once broken spirit of women, a confidence in the new generation of females. Young women that are fierce, that are proud of their bodies, that are not afraid to stand up to a man or an organization to protect their rights. Women that don’t ask how they look in their dresses or if their ass looks big, but instead they own the dress and the ass and give zero fucks what people think of them in it.
Hopefully these young, powerful and body-conscious females can use that security and tenacity to bind together and bond with the women around them. We can show solidarity, love and support rather than apathy, competition and cruelty. To realize that celebrating our female coworkers, peers, friends or even family members, doesn’t mean we are any less fierce ourselves. Celebrating and cherishing the women around us will just create a more powerful sense of self, and a camaraderie that cannot be bought or faked, and will give us a shield and superpower to properly deflect the misogyny in everyday life. It will create a new normal filled with Powerful Women – taking our rightful place equally among the men in our society and lives.