A Personal Reflection on Slut Shaming

I’ve been called a “hoe” since I was 15. I got into my first relationship at 17. I lost my “virginity” (virginity is a social construct and it doesn’t actually exist) at 19. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that being called a hoe or a slut actually has nothing to do with a woman’s actual sexual activity, but her perceived modesty and sexual restraint (I hate the word “modesty”; it carries this implication that people who are less sexually active are more modest and more “pure” in character. Let’s separate sex from modesty). In other words, I was called a hoe because I was perceived as being “loose” although my true personal life involved academics, goals, and very little, if any, sex. Maybe I was too confident, too friendly, too happy, too outspoken, too sexy, and was too uninterested and unaware of the rules of the game.

In a patriarchal society, “good women” are seen not heard, not carefree but reserved, not outspoken, not rebellious, and very cautious about their perception. “Good women” do things for others, not for themselves. The so-called hoes and sluts love to party, hop on stripper poles, dress how they want, give their hearts freely without worrying about titles, don’t wait on the right time to voice their opinion, and aren’t afraid to challenge men. They have welcoming and intoxicating smiles. Their wild and playful spirits make “good women” nervous and entice “good men” to make mistakes. They don’t follow rules because they choose to live life. Unfortunately, they will eventually suffer the consequences of shame and humiliation by misogynists of all ages and genders.

Patriarchy and misogyny is a universal problem that women around the world have to deal with at varying degrees. Just like racism, some misogyny is mild and some is lethal. But at the end of the day, misogyny trails back to this belief that women are worth less than men and have to prove their value by being good, whatever “good” means .  Slut-shaming, a derivative of misogyny, operates from the idea that a woman’s value is derived from her sexual history and behavior. (This could lead to an entire piece on respectability politics but I’ll leave it here). Being a black woman, this problem is three-fold. I have to deal with negative perceptions of black womanhood from the outside world, intense misogyny within my own African-American culture which I find too trigger happy to degrade, expose, and bully a “female”, and a special hatred reserved for black women that can be found all over the internet, often led by black men.

Luckily, feminism and my awareness of the world around me has made it easier for me to navigate all of this. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been painful in the process. I never want to change for anyone but I do want to be seen, recognized, and valued. Reconciling these two desires can be difficult as a woman. We’re always negotiating between ourselves and society whereas cishet men can live more freely. In a patriarchal society, I can’t embrace and openly discuss sexuality without being sexualized or without it being seen as a “green light” to be taken advantage of. I learned the hard way that you can’t be open about sex, especially in this puritanical American culture, without people thinking you engage in orgies every night. Furthermore, when a man openly talks about his sexuality, he’s not seen as a whore, he’s seen as a human with biological needs. When a woman openly discusses her sexuality, she is seen as an opportunity for unwanted desire, sexual pursuit, and rape. Unfortunately, sexuality and morality are mutually exclusive to society when it comes to women.

I yearn for the day where women will be seen as people and not objects that depreciate in value when you touch them. I yearn for the day that Monica Lewinsky wouldn’t be slut-shamed and could enjoy her career in politics just as Bill Clinton did. I yearn for a day where black women like Anita Hill are not seen as race traitors for speaking out on the sexual, verbal, or physical abuse at the hands of black men. I yearn for the day where Nicki Minaj’s sexiness and sexual openness doesn’t give permission for people to devalue her talent, her drive, and her character. I yearn for the day that sexuality is just another part of who we are and not made to be our entire identity and worth.

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