“Slut-shaming” vs. Exploitation: the expectation of empowerment from without

butterfliesMost people aren’t uncomfortable with dichotomies, which never leave us groping for ways to describe some troubling thing–we simply take sides. They’re especially convenient to the tired, overwhelmed, and frightened among us, a relief to the taxed faculties of the too acutely self-aware. They make things clear, even easier!  And spare us. Once a decision is made, further decision is forthcoming and fluid, saving time and angst. Most importantly, we’re less apt to think any more about our evaluations; most importantly, this creates casualties. In their defense of personal issues, people unwittingly exclude other interpretations and possibilities while stridently believing they’ve condemned only what they’re taking offense to. In my title, I refuse to play by rules, because these rules create quandaries–and never acknowledge the elephants in the room. We need better examples, not ones that over-simplify things short-term, only to perpetuate problems we talk so much of resolving.

And so it has ever been? Oh, but increasingly so, today. More and more, we gorge ourselves on opinion, and throw ours in, repeating what we’ve read. Subtle distinctions are rare, decisions are snap, and that relentless binary branching that seems so helpful obstructs a more nuanced view. Many ready expressions people use in their discussion of certain provocative topics function as discussion enders, and accusations of “slut-shaming” (or “fat-shaming”), occur increasingly as a knee-jerk response to the beginnings of critical rather than hypocritical or similarly faulty observations. Ironic, no? That the anxious, sensitive and starved individuals who could most use free and open discussion–that would likely validate things unrepresented  within the oppressive commercial criterion we call “culture”–should shoot these conversations down?

The beginnings of these potentially uncomfortable conversations–and I will furnish an example, soon–are often bad, being untried, so such ready severity in response to them seems both unfair and jarring, esp. if we consider their intent. But we aren’t encouraged to consider that. Instead, we isolate, label and dismiss, leaving ourselves frustrated while the topic’s taken from the table–and the unpleasantness, that some uncomfortable dialog should have ultimately mitigated, remains intact–as we, without egress from the domain of the neglected and repressed; yearning and unrecognised; fail to self-actualize because we’ve reinforced external forms we’re too quick to acknowledge. (And also because external validation is simply much easier to guage. <<be the first to like this!>>)

My thoughts here originate with things a relative said to me more than a decade ago, given how much she spoke of doing stuff for herself (that never satisfied her), which punctuated several unfulfilling relationships with men such things also happened to attract. (Things always started-off so well, alas.) More recently, my ideas have developed in relation to certain Third Wave feminist/Naomi Wolf/skinny-shaming memes I’ve taken issue with–as a consistently and effortlessly thin, healthy, politically active, and hardly “obedient” woman.*

As promised, however, the most recent occurrence was enough. It started with a softcore child porn-worthy “human interest” story about some prepubescent girl imitating the suggestive dance moves of almost any female pop star–because even wedding updos are sold to us as “sexy“. (Well, if she acts or sings and is of a breedable age, you know, who’s going to pay any attention to her without highly-stylized T&A?) A male friend shared a link over the 4th of July, introducing it with an incendiary “FREEDOM to be a ten year old sex slut. This girl has all of the sexy moves and she is a famous AMERICAN, also, the interview is so bizarre, 40 year old man interviewing and congratulating her on her dancing talents.”

1st responder: “Inappropriate to call any 10 year old a sex slut. People are to blame here, but not the ten year old. Your slut shaming impulse is misplaced.”

Then no responses; 5 people “like” this.

With as many problems in 1st responder’s reading of his criticism as there are in the phrasing of that criticism, and after an hour of no one’s daring to venture, I enter:

“Wow–she became an ‘internet star’ for all the wrong reasons? It’s a spectacle–no less disturbing because she’s not very good? As a trained dancer, as someone who knows dancers who teach young children, this girl has memory for the steps, but her moves are choppy and exaggerated. It’s gross to watch, and that’s without thinking about the evident sexualization–in her dress and in her gyrations–of a sexually immature female. It’s not new–and not news–I’ve seen little girls for years shaking it all over the place, in public, because culturally those are ‘our values’–our celebrity models. It’s way f’d to see a 6 or 7 year old in a restaurant or store start rump-shaking, when you know she’s playing, it’s imitative, and she’s not aware of sex appeal or sexual suggestion… which is tragic. You can point your finger at me, but as a sexually expressive woman, I say it’s sad. This is not a dream perpetuated by empowered women. The sexuality she’s imitating is a stylized product itself and ‘sex sells’. Sometimes people are exploited, and encouraged to spout off about how independent and free they are; this is denial. ‘Slut and ‘cute’ are flip-sides of the same coin in this child’s case–one condemns, one enables; they both trace a well-worn definition around her, socially. Our ‘news’ is spectacle. This is tabloid reporting. Child beauty pageants are just as creepy, but we don’t see them in the news unless there’s tragedy; but it’s quite analogous. Really, X–, the word I most take offense with is ‘sexy’ because if I replace her with a sexually mature figure–male or female–her moves come off like the porn stars who jackhammer, or fist pumping. Which is the absolute opposite of sexy.

And, in one oppressive sentence: we live in a commercial culture that’s reluctant to consider feminine talent and opinion /unless/ it’s sexy.”

I get a “like”. Hoorah.

Comments which neither add nor subtract follow, but the best is last:

Final responder: “Her parents surely must be hoping she will be their meal ticket (hence posting that trash on you tube and Katy Perry should be ashamed of herself), otherwise how could any parent allow their child to dance and dress like that. They are the ones who are disgusting. The child is exploited and misguided.”

Well, almost–because, sadly, we have an actual, albeit subtle, example of slut-shaming. Not surprisingly, no one calls final responder out for it. In fact, final responder gets a quite a few likes, too. And then… silence.

 

Going back to the original outrage at slut-shaming, hidden among the footnotes of wikipedia I found “This type of despicable behavior is part and parcel of a time-worn tradition of Slut-Shaming. When women step out line, they are demeaned and degraded into silence.” Unfortunately, as is often the case with Huff Post, the writer belabors their point and a wider applicability is lost. That silence should have been emphasized; our lack of dialog. Despite so much outspokenness, and our use of handy phrases, a refusal to hash things out–as if we were too delicate–results.

If you’ve been kind enough to read through this, I’m sure I don’t need to explicitly  draw together my observations–that I can leave them as a constellation about the given theme–of definitions imposed without, and how we limit ourselves by taking-up unoriginal ideas that reinforce our insecurities and betray our efforts. We’re all at liberty to form our own conclusions, and, with so much information about, I wish we were better stewards.

Finally, a quote I prefer to Wolf’s, “…there is in many women a ‘hungry’ one inside. But rather than hungry to be a certain size, shape, or height, rather than hungry to fit the stereotype; women are hungry for basic regard from the culture surrounding them. The ‘hungry’ one inside is longing to be treated respectfully, to be accepted and in the very least, to be met without stereotyping.”
― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

***

*[Wolf’s superficial salvos fail to observe fashion’s longstanding (heresy!) aesthetic orientation toward taut androgyny and delightfully gender-ambiguous extremes, where men and women “suffer” equally. She’s misinterpreted fashion or at least misread certain elements within it. For instance, a lean figure serves as a more uniform hanger, never diverting from the clothes, but also, in some print campaigns, esp., a seemingly unseemly unhealthiness heightens (when it doesn’t undermine) the beauty still evident in the forms — only bodies in the prime of life could sustain such abuse and still look desirable; so the deliberate effeteness serves both as an intensifying counterpoint to the youthful figures and a warped consolation/nod to the jaded abasement of the no longer young. The sad, twisted wistfulness of an age beset by too much irony, perhaps, though it predates that. (Not itself ironic given the age and wealth of those who did well in the 90s, though.) N.B. all of which is but one aspect within The Great Hydra’s repertoire, and not really a component of mass /pop culture. Wolf’s sloppiness does worse, however, because her complaints could be leveled against certain reliable commercial tropes that  bank on insecurity, want, and conformity, but she makes no distinction. Commercial oppression is much more akin to political oppression, but she prefers the implicit censor of artistic expression? Fortunately without having noticed ballet. Still, anytime I see a “fat-shaming” comment in relation to an article on obesity, I thank her for it.]

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During on-line research re: the very undemocratic events occuring in Greece, I came across a really good blog–much less abstract and farther-ranging in its detail than mine. Of particular interest here:

http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/07/01/whorephobia-an-attack-on-all-women/

http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/06/21/rape-porn-and-its-malcontents/

And this happened to be making the rounds on facebook at the time. BTW, the vid’s source site is long defunct, but interesting all the same: http://deadstate.org/video-anti-abortion-protesters-asked-to-consider-what-should-happen-to-women-if-abortion-is-illegal/

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