Girl Talk Stop Defining Us By Our Sex(uality) Julia Gazdag

When Rosea Lake’s ‘Judgments’ photo of skirt lengths started making the internet rounds, I thought maybe it was time to pull together the thoughts on slut/prude-shaming (sex-shaming?) that have been floating around my head lately, and put them into writing. Then a friend posted it to Facebook. Which is fine. Except then people commented. And kept commenting. And… uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

“I guess I’m just proper.”

“I fall somewhere between prudish and matronly!”

“Between flirty and proper. Usually closer to proper.”

Etc

Etc

Etc

I was just going to write about how arbitrary it is to define women, or anyone, by their sexuality, and how it contributes to marginalization and objectification and all that. Now I have to go on a tangent about how easily women fall into letting themselves be objectified? Come on, guys. It’s 2013. We’ve got a Congress to run and maths to pwn and all sorts of other fun not-medieval things to do.

The idea that so many women looked at this photo and saw, not a commentary on how we’re judged, but a fun game of “oooh which one is meeeeee” is horrifying. It’s like the time my friend shoved a TigerBeat under my nose and told me to pick which Backstreet Boy I liked, because I was a tween girl so clearly I had to be in love with one of them (I wasn’t, though the dude with the goatee made me really uncomfortable). I mean, if we don’t all pick an archetype to fit, people will have to think and other hard things just to get to know us! How do you even define yourself by one of  the notches in Lake’s photo, let alone why? If you’re a serial monogamist who has a drunken one-night stand in between two relationships, are you old fashioned or a slut? Does it actually matter, or are you just a human person doing things with their life? (Answer: human person! Yay!)

It doesn’t matter. These labels are arbitrary and serve to categorize people based on their sexuality. Oftentimes they are also meant to be insulting – it’s gross to be a slut and lame to be a prude. It’s not the same kind of insult as calling someone stupid, though (not saying sluts are stupid, just comparing insult options). “Stupid,” like “intelligent,” “insightful,” or “funny,” to name a few, is an adjective, a trait, something that describes a person. “Slut” and “prude” and everything in between are nouns – they’re not descriptive, just categorical. There’s no such thing as a slut, it’s a social construct that exploits a person’s private life to marginalize them, which is why the difference between labeling someone and noting one of their traits matters.

We’ve been talking about this for decades, and I wish we could stop already. I’m tired of conversations about sexualizing women, of the books and movies that talk about being a slut if you kiss someone too soon and a prude if you don’t, because when you’re trying to connect with someone you’re into, that’s what it should be about and not some archaic patriarchal idea about the worth of your vagina that dates back to the days when women had no rights and could be price-tagged in sheep. I’m tired of people who assume you’re a slut if you have boobs, and a prude when you’re more interested in being a person with them than f*cking.

Which isn’t to say every single person is a shallow jerk, but these ideas are around, and do inform a lot of people’s perceptions, which makes it really hard for me to get through a week without encountering some mind-bogglingly ignorant sh*t. We all somehow still have it ingrained in us that women are inherently here to be sexed with, and the body they had no control over growing into defines that. Fun fact: one person’s sexual disappointment has no bearing on the other’s worth.

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  1. This article makes some good points, I do think, however, that some of the concepts are a bit simplistic. Because frequently it is not the viewer defining the person, but the person defining herself (or himself) by her appearance/sexuality.

    For example, the woman walking through Costco dressed in an extremely “slutty” manner, with a lower-back tattoo that says, “enjoy the ride” (true story). Who’s defining her? Those clothes and that make-up didn’t put themselves on her body. And the tattoo artist didn’t break into her house, drug her, and put that sex advert on her lower back. Similarly, the bible-carrying woman with the neck-to-toe-thick-wool-brown-dress, no make-up, and hair-in-a-tight-bun, did dress herself. These women dressed themselves knowing full well what assumptions the overwhelming majority of society would make about them based on their appearance.

    We can all agree that there are large clothing and behavioral gray-area, and judging or making character assumptions about people is oftentimes stupid. For example, twenty years ago I had very long hair, an earring, etc. Occasionally certain people (even police) made assumptions about me (drugs, rebellious, and so on). All of them were wrong and their assumptions were unjust. However, if I’d have added Cannabis t-shirts, anarchist tattoos, or the like, then it would have been the height of stupidity and hypocrisy to be offended if others made those assumptions about me.

    It is irritating to be judged by people over the innocuous, gray-areas of our behavior, choices, and clothing. But to dress and behave in certain obvious ways and then act surprised or offended when someone makes a judgment about us based on those extremes is disingenuous or hypocritical, or at the very least ignorant. Like it or not, in the real world there are social norms and mores in every society. To knowingly choose to live outside those norms and then act surprised or offended when someone makes a judgment is patently foolish or juvenile.

    Make your choices, and more power to you. Be happy in those choices if possible. But don’t expect others to like or approve of those choices, especially if the choices you make lie somewhere on the fringes of societal norms. I would argue that if you choose to live or dress on that fringe, then you are defining yourself to others, not the reverse. Live with the consequences of your choices.

    • Conforming to others and their values is in one way to say that their opinions are better than yours. You may find this agreeable if you are part of some religious cult. Be thankfull that you live in a country where you can call the cops – unless you are too afraid to.
      Fear kills democracy.

    • Because it’s not at all possible that some women define themselves by the standard they were given and seek approval within the historically male-centric culture that has told them their worth is measurable by their sexuality. While I think that it’s important for individuals to put thought and intention into how they define themselves, intelligence and insight are luxuries that aren’t afforded every person.

  2. Well put!

  3. Simply amazing

  4. I love this article. But, I cannot help but wonder how many people would classify it as “feminist” and don’t get me wrong (although you probably will) but when did common sense became feminist?

  5. well said…brilliantly articulated….thank you….so proud my 16 year old daughter shared this before i did…..

  6. If I look at you it will be with my own eyes – not yours. The info. will then pass through my brain – my memory, experiances, desires, wants, values, opions, knowledge and so on. All of wich has absolutely nothing to do with you – unless you find yourself agreeing with me. By wich time I will have move up a little closer. Hopefully starting a conversation – perhaps for life.

  7. Great article and commentaries ! As a male Feminist, Marine, Football Coach, Cheerleader Coach, and Teacher of English – I offer the reply I would give to my Daughters concerning their skirts and my students concerning their essays – “Keep it long enough to coverthe subject and short enough to be interesting. ” I stand by that. God Bless All, Jim Spellman, 100 Brook St., Groton , CT 06340

  8. I expected to read this article and hear more about the objectification of women. I thought it might be the same old things I know and have read before, when suddenly, wham! This article hit me with a thought that goes somewhat unspoken, the fact that women “easily … fall into letting themselves be objectified.” (I literally wanted to jump out of my chair and yell, “EXACTLY!”)
    It always makes me so flustered and frustrated when people fall victim to such off-the-cuff thinking and instantly, share those thoughts. I find it horrifying that there is no reflection and deeper thought as to the real meaning behind the image from this article (those Facebook comments are lovely examples).
    I have had a similar thought that people, especially women, still have some backwards thoughts that keep the photo from being merely a commentary on objectification. It became example of how they allow themselves to be objectified when they labeled themselves using it. Unfortunately, the labeling the image captures is perpetuated by the people who should be questioning it (why do I picture so many of peers playing the game of ‘which one is meee’?). I had not seen or heard this thought so articulately vocalized.
    So this was me extending a virtual high five to the writer of this article. I really appreciated this commentary and plan on sharing it.
    My favorite line: We’ve got a Congress to run and maths to pwn and all sorts of other fun not-medieval things to do.

  9. The biggest thing that I feel like needs to happen is respect. If we would respect each other, there wouldn’t be judgment or any type of cattiness. We would be able to respect the person for who they are and if you don’t like them, at least respect them as a human being. A quick note on the whole idea of ‘prude’. There are many religions in the world that hold sexuality very close to their hearts. Sex is meant to be used as a relationship builder, an expression of love and trust in a committed relationship. Sex isn’t something to flaunt or even to hold like it’s more valuable then gold. It is a tool (a very fun tool!) that connects us to one other person.

  10. People seriously need to stop judging each other. As long as all the people involved are grown up and legally sane it’s nobody else’s business and no one else is in a position to judge. Period. Who is anyone to tell another person how he or, mostly, she is supposed to live her life? Mind your own business and leave other people alone (well, except maybe it’s a good friend and you think she might be harming herself with her behavior then talk about it but for heaven’s sake STOP JUDGING OTHER PEOPLE!).

  11. I think someone needs to get laid… :p

  12. just saying, that also as a tall woman (6’1″ to be exact) i really have no choice but to wear a cheeky to flirty length skirt. they just aren’t made for big and tall whores like myself. ; )

  13. The human race is stupid, it’s stupid and it’s ignorant. But not all of it tho, and i am tired of talking about it as well. But that is something we need to learn to accept. not saying that i condone it.

    The way i see it, you either learn to live with it and move on, or suffer being upset about it. but i never believed in ones power to change others anyway.

    • But isn’t accepting it almost the same as condoning it? Accepting it is having a passive attitude towards the issue and doesn’t help at all.
      I do agree that it’s almost impossible to change other people, but by not going along with it, you make society progress (since we all are part of society).

  14. I have never seen a greater bunch of over sensitive pantywaist crybabies freakout about somebody judging them on their personal choices in life before. So what babycakes?!?!? If someone drinks and drives, do we judge them for this bad decision? Hell, yes we do! Do we judge all drinkers? Hell, no we don’t! We are judging the CHOICE, not the man or woman than indulges the occasional intoxicating beverage. When you make a stupid decision, utter a stupid phrase out of your ignorant mouth, make a dumb over-generalization about something everyone already knows just isn’t the case, someone has a right to express their amazement at your “slut logic” as Jenna Mourney humorously puts it. When you go to the doctor, and you tell him it hurts to pee, he/she asks you clinically, ” Exactly how many people have you had unprotected sex with recently.?” Is the doctor now judging your precious liberty as a modern woman in this world? Actually, like most people with common sense, they are trying to ascertain exactly how big of a slut you are to figure out the possible self-destruction you have inflicted upon your BODY and to prevent its spread. We are judged by our choices in life, right and wrong choices. Women are wonderful as separating the BODY from the MIND, why not in regards to unprotected sexuality? What is so hard to wrap your mind around in regards to making BAD CHOICES and make BAD DECISIONS? It is a bad choice to have unprotected sex with lots of random people and that habitually makes bad choices like that, BE PREPARED to be judged upon those bad decisions you make. Deal with it! No amount of squirming around the subject by using feminism is going to convince anyone else that being a dumb unprotected slut is a good thing. Nobody, except enabling those who make a career for themselves out of bad decisions in life. I’m really tired of people who make excuses for other people who make bad decisions for themselves. I’m all for educating them, and not everyone can afford a college woman studies course either. If telling young people that being a slut and having unprotected sex is bad with random people you don’t really know isn’t important or correct – when it is correct to tell them about making important life decisions? After they are infected with HIV or some other STD? You can do better. Grow up.

    • What on earth does unprotected sex have to do with skirt lengths? Isn’t this article about how we are judged by our femininity, and how judged women are to the point of even losing sight of ourselves and criticizing other women for these silly standards?

    • Can we just talk about the fact that this person has compared drinking and driving (something that is an extremely high potential of harm) and consensual sex?

    • What a dumb response. The doctor specifically says UNPROTECTED sex…he doesn’t care if you are a hooker as long as its protected, if you had unprotected sex with one person you risked your health and he needs to know that.

      Having lots of safe sex is not something to be judged. Having lots of unprotected sex is because your risking your health (scratch that, risking your life) and all the people your sleeping with.

      So all in all, why the hell are you even bringing up STDs? It has nothing to do with the article!

    • Bob – Where in this article does she say it’s ok to have unprotected sex!? I’m pretty sure you’ve missed the point.

  15. First of all, greetings from Brasil. Well, gotta say, it’s really good to see these ideals being discussed like this! Here in Brasil. we have, what is called “Marcha das Vadias”, something like, Bitches’ March, where women fight for their (our) rights, getting as much attention as possible, and say NO to violence against them (us). Our society is based, even though people try (hard) to deny it, on a really sexist structure, that somehow blames women for the violence they suffer! And this been going for so long that sometimes (not rarely) even women blame themselves for it, as if they deserved that . I mean, how absurd is to hear that, as you said “Come on, guys. It’s 2013″… IT’S FREAKING 2013! I guess it’s easier to blame women behavior, when she’s been raped, or abused (sexually and psychologically) than to actually solve the problem. Let’s get as much attention as we can for this, then, maybe, society will wake up for the actual problem.
    Thanks for bringing up this topic, and motivate this kind of discussions.
    Beijos,
    Ana Luiza Gussen.

    • I agree with you. I actually had a female friend quit a religion of hers because she was being beat by her husband and when she finally had the guts to tell someone her church official told her that she should have been a better wife. Society loves to blame women.

  16. Good article a lot of good points made, you even consider the effect these ideas have on the whole human population not just how it effects women. But why blame these judgements on an invisible all powerful unverifiable notion of patriarchy? Its like a lazy fundamentalist that doesn’t want to do the homework on evolution and just declares “god did it” Why do people call scantily clad women sluts? Why are men that spend money on bling and cars to get girls called douches? “patriarchy did it”? If men are subjected to the same judgments and not benefiting how does patriarchy fit the bill? An overly simple explanation that just perpetuates the narrow rigid feminist gender narrative, and does not expose the real problems or offer any solution

    • I think perhaps you missed some of the finer points made here. The only mention of the patriarchy is saying that the ideas of slut and prude are figments of a “patriarchially low-brow imagination”. The author didn’t say patriarchy did it – they actually specifically stated that people too lazy to get to know other people who were looking for quick categories to assign people “did it.”

      • “because when you’re trying to connect with someone you’re into, that’s what it should be about and not some archaic patriarchal idea about the worth of your vagina that dates back to the days when women had no rights and could be price-tagged in sheep.”

        It should be about connecting with people not “old patriarchal ideas”

        Yes the author is stating “patriarchy” is the reason people judge and categorize. Still doesn’t add up, still doesn’t address real reasons, still offers no real solution, still perpetuates feminism’s narrow rigid definitions of gender.

  17. THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Someone putting into words my own thoughts on this very same photo! I was shocked and disappointed when some of my own friends took this photo as a legitimate rule for how women should dress. Best read of today’s internet browsings.

  18. Wonderful article and can I just say how much I love that John Spencer/Leo gif!!!

  19. “which makes it really hard for me to get through a week without encountering some mind-bogglingly ignorant sh*t.” Lol!! That part cracked me up and I totally feel you.

    Wonderful article! Everyone is different and will do what they feel is right for them. Some people will kiss on the first date, some wont. Some people will have sex after a month or more of dating, some will sooner. Some people will even wait ’till they’re married. There is no “right” way that everyone in the entire world should follow, or fit in to. It all depends on you and how you and that person are feeling.

    Life is crazy and will throw twists and turns at you. You may stay with the same person for years, thinking you’re going to marry them someday, but then you break up and a month later you have sex with someone else. That doesn’t make you a slut, you were just doing what you felt was right for you at the time. This is why people can’t be categorized into groups like “Slut” or “prude”. Because some who has a one night stand isn’t always going to have one night stands, eventually they might meet someone and want to be in a relationship. And someone who’s in a relationship might not be in that relationship forever, and then find themselves wanting a one night stand.

    But i’m just referring to what people do in their private life, how you dress is another story, if you walk around in a tube bra and super short shorts, you may get called a slut haha. I agree with Veronica Basye when she says self respect is important.

  20. Well said.

    I am normally that guy trolling with a quick feminist bash trying to get a rile out of everyone, but I have to say you hit some key points. I have been witness (and also arrested for intervening) to some pretty sick F*cks out there treating girls like objects… I am no saint. I had my fair share of playing with their emotions in High School, but I was younger and naive.

    I have a younger sister and although we don’t always get along she knows I am the first one to call if some guy messes with her (as mentioned above I have been arrested for this before). My father taught me at a young age “you don’t lay a hand on a girl, for any reason”, and my father is a great man so I have never veered from at least that one request.

    Anyways here I am still posting… (like I said, I dug the article) so I think it is time to let some other readers have their say.

    Thanks for the good read… Tough to find on the internet these days.