Slut-Shaming and Victim Blaming: One and The Same

By Lauren Redding
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I was enjoying a lazy afternoon on Sunday, laying in bed with my poodle and reading Lean In, when my iPhone buzzed and alerted me to a text message. It was one of my oldest friends from high school, informing me of some salacious small-town gossip.

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One of our female classmates from the class of ’09 had apparently sent someone a video of herself masturbating. The person she sent it to forwarded it to someone else. That someone else passed it along to another. Etc, etc. Eventually, my dear old friend was showed that video at a party.

Here’s how our texting conversation went:

Her: “Oh my gosh. [Name of classmate] made a home video of her playing with herself. It’s like 7 minutes long. I was showed it last night.”

Me: “Whattttt?”

Her: “Yeah. I’m not joking. It’s all over [town].”

At this point in the conversation, I’m thinking to myself, “This is so messed up. This young woman sent an intimate video of herself to someone and now it has spread like wildfire. We graduated from high school four years ago, people! We just graduated from college! Aren’t we too old for this?”

So I vocalize that to my friend.

Me: “Wow that’s really sad. [Town] is so f***ed up, people should be deleting it not passing it around.”

Her response?

“She’s the one who sent it out.”

There it is, ladies and gents: A classic case of what we in the feminist biz like to call “slut shaming.” When a woman dares to *brace for it* actually like sex, she has broken some age-old moral code of what we ladiez are supposed to do. We’re not supposed to have sex! Well, we are, but only to make all those babies we’re expected to have! But actually enjoying that sex? Or having sex for some reason other than procreation?

Call the church. We got a slut on our hands.

Now, when I was in high school, the young woman in the video was often talked about. Even back then, she was slut shamed. And I’ll admit, I participated in it. It was gossip and it was good. It didn’t matter that I — and all my friends — were also having sex. We were doing it with boyfriends! We were in love! It was private and beautiful and positively orgasmic! (False). This girl? She was running around all willy nilly, having sex left and right with random boys like she actually had autonomy over her own sexuality. The nerve of some people.

Then I went to college, took a women’s literature class, and started to understand a little thing called Ye Old Patriarchy. I learned about slut shaming. And, perhaps more importantly, I learned about victim blaming.

Victim blaming, for those of you who don’t know, is a common phenomenon of rape culture. AKA, when a woman is sexually assaulted, the first thing she is asked is “What were you wearing?” or “How much did you drink?” or “Were you flirting with him?” We automatically assume she somehow contributed to her own assault, instead of doing the logical thing and blaming the rapist for the rape.

I learned about rape culture the hard way — my sophomore year of college, I was raped after a night of partying. I was petrified to tell anyone, absolutely convinced I was somehow responsible for what had happened to me.

So let’s fast-forward to now, two years after my assault and lots of counseling. I get this text from one of my best friends. And I get really, really angry.

Because here’s the thing: Slut shaming and victim blaming? They aren’t that different from each other. In fact, they’re good friends. And when you engage in one of them, you’re directly feeding the other.

They have the same central component: Judging women for the decisions they make. She took a video of herself masturbating and then it got sent to our entire high school? She shouldn’t have touched herself in the first place. I got too drunk one night and was raped in a basement? I shouldn’t have been acting so wild.

We were both slutty. We were both stupid. We both deserved what we got. We are the ones to blame — not the guy who forwarded her private video or my rapist.

Now, to be clear, I’m in no way trying to vilify my dear friend who texted me or the people I went to high school with. I get the temptation to gossip about something scandalous. But I wish they would understand that when they show that video to someone else or laugh about how she had it coming, they’re contributing to a culture that made it OK for me to get raped.

It’s similar to the Steubenville rape case. A 16-year-old girl went to a party one night in Steubenville, Ohio. She had too much to drink. Two football players raped her several times throughout the night, carrying her limp body from party to party. As if that weren’t bad enough, several people at those parties saw what was happening and never intervened. They took pictures and posted them on Instagram. They tweeted about her. They laughed — she was dumb enough to get so drunk, she was getting what she deserved.

It’s the same situation with the girl from my high school — instead of saying, “You know, she probably never intended for that to get sent around, I’m going to delete it,” people laughed. They sent it to others. They showed it at parties. She’s a slut — what does it matter?

I hope the people from my high school realize some day that what they did wasn’t funny — it was cruel. I hope the text time they see a girl stumbling around drunk, they help. I hope the next time they get sent a photo or video of someone vulnerable, they delete it. And I hope they learn about victim blaming before another Steubenville situation happens and it’s too late.

Women Gossiping from Shutterstock

 

By Lauren Redding

Lauren Redding is a former editor in chief of The Diamondback and former CARE to Stop Violence peer educator. She can be reached at laurredding@gmail.com and @Lauren_Redding on Twitter.

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