What Slut-Shamers Have In Common With Anti-Abortion Activists

AP

In 2013 Emily Lindin began putting her diary entries online. The pages that she posted detailed her experience, between the ages of 11 and 14, of being labeled the school slut and slut-shamed.

Since that first entry went live, The UnSlut Project has grown to include the stories of teens, women and men who have had experience with this particular form of harassment and bullying. Lindin is currently working on “Slut: A Documentary Film,” a movie that expands on some of these stories and looks at the larger implications of slut-shaming and what the term says about female sexuality and how it is viewed, discussed and judged in contemporary society. (Lindin is currently in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for post-production.)

There have been a number of stories about teenage girls who have committed suicide after being the victims of slut-shaming (along with the victims of varying kinds of sexual assault). But we’ve paid less attention to the less extreme but still damaging effects of treating girls’ or women’s sexuality as fair game for scorn and judgment.

These effects are seen on both the micro level—the rumors and gossip that an individual has to contend with, and the myriad ways those can damage her self-esteem and relationships—and the macro level. It’s no secret that our culture has a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to how to talk about sexuality in general; witness the dismal state of sex education in public schools around the country, the mixed messages that both boys and girls get in regards to sexual behavior, or how much more difficult it is for a teenager to see a movie with one or two sex scenes than a movie with countless acts of gratuitous violence.

But those effects are also apparent in our politics, perhaps nowhere more so than when it comes to abortion. Scratch the surface of a lot of objections to abortion, and it’s not to hard to conclude that what people really object to is the idea of women having consensual sex. Consider this: In a 2011 Gallup poll, 75 percent of respondents thought abortion should be legal if the woman became pregnant as the result of rape or incest, and more than 80 percent thought abortion should be legal if the woman’s life or health is in danger. Unsurprisingly, respondents did not support abortion for all women, regardless of the circumstances, in such robust numbers.

So, even those who generally oppose the procedure consider it acceptable to have an abortion when a woman either did not consent to sex, or when her health is in grave danger. It seems churlish to nitpick anything that lessens abortion restrictions, and I’m glad that support for abortion in these circumstances is so strong. But these exemptions are also further evidence that what so many people really don’t like about abortion is the very concept of women having control over their bodies, lives, and—most importantly—their sexuality.

“Even politicians will say, ‘what about cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is not viable? What about those women, they deserve to have an abortion,’” Lindin says. “You really need to justify what you want to do with your own body. Abortion and slut-shaming are both tied in to women’s bodies not really belonging to us, and women having to apologize when we want to act as if they do.”

And the idea of who “deserves” an abortion is also echoed in ideas about who “deserves” to be slut-shamed. “I hear from a lot of girls who say, I was labeled a slut and I didn’t deserve it, or I was a virgin, it’s not like I was having sex and I was labeled a slut,” Lindin says. “They use this word ‘deserve’ as if, had they been sexually active or behaving in a way that felt sexual to them, then they would have deserved it.”

How can we have honest conversations with children, teens and ourselves about sexuality, behavior and judgment? There’s no easy answer, but Lindin offers a few suggestions, particularly when it comes to adolescents and pre-teens. “It’s an understandable impulse to take [teen] confusion and insecurity out on someone else…It’s not good or thoughtful, but it’s an easy insult and that happens often.

“It’s a lot easier said than done, but teaching people not to do that and to think critically is a good goal,” she says. “And we also owe it to everyone that’s too young to have the adult perspective that things will get better, and other people’s opinions don’t define you, to help them through the time that we know is so shitty. People lack so much compassion for teenagers, and I don’t think it’s fair.”

And Lindin also brings up a powerful tool for having these conversations, one that has long been championed by the reproductive rights movement (and other social justice movements) as well: consciousness-raising.

“The UnSlut Project is about is personal story sharing,” she says. “One of the reasons I’ve embraced that model is because it matters what happened, and all the individual differences and ways that it happened around the world—those matter, and those voices matter, and together they make a big chorus of people who have survived it and wish that it was different.”

It may be no easier to share stories than it is to model critical thinking, but both actions are essential steps in creating a more thoughtful and less judgmental culture.


Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

Comments
Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Managing Editor:
Senior News Editor:
Assistant Editor:
Editor at Large:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Political Correspondent:
Reporters:
Newswriters:
Front Page Editor:
Social Media Editor:
Editor for Prime & Special Projects:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Designer: