THE BLOG

Between the Generations: Slut-Shaming

10/28/2013 12:33 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Between the Generations: two women from two different generations giving their perspective on issues that matter

During one of our many engaging conversations, it occurred to both Elissa and I that regardless of the years between us, there are many things that we both happen to find worthy of drawing our communal ire. This week, we delve into the culture of slut-shaming.

In the middle of the early autumn heat wave, my daughter went to school in leggings and a long-sleeve shirt.

Why? The school dress code police were out.

Here are the code's highlights for girls: shorts below the knee, tank tops with straps 5 cm wide, no lycra, and no razor back tops "where shoulders can be seen."

I was compelled to check what year it was. Yep, it's still 2013.

As a comparatively older mom of a 13-year old, I've seen and wore all the fashion trends. I remember my first pair of purple corduroy hot pants with white plastic go-go boots. I wore them to school (hey that was trendy in the early 70s!) and no one thought otherwise. Clothing was not a differentiating factor in how I was treated.

Fast forward 40 years and we seem to have turned back the clocks. To be sure, there are no such stringent dress code rules for the boys; nothing about tight T-shirts showing burgeoning pecs nor anything about shorts covering bulging quads. Save for "no wearing hats inside and no clothing with questionable messaging" double-standards are firmly entrenched.

I looked at my daughter: she's tall for her age, fit and healthy. Yet, someone wielding a rulebook told her otherwise, deeming her clothing as "too sexual." She had "too much leg" showing.

I'm glad they pointed that out to her because it certainly wasn't on her mind before. All I know is she was ashamed at being called out and fretted over her clothing decisions for the next day.

This folks, is where slut-shaming begins; by hyper-sexualizing our young girls' bodies we are perpetuating the idea that dressing a certain way incites nasty, sexual thoughts in young boys, thereby excusing them from any untoward behavior that may ensue, either now or in the future. It also opens them up to a world where empowerment is defined by patriarchal expectations

It's where phrases like "she was asking for it" start. Worse, it gives permission for boys to be boys -- because we set those rules for them when they're young.

But, we also set the rules for girls: follow them, or else. Or else what? Be asked to leave school that day, be sent home or have a parent drop whatever they are doing to bring in a new set of conformist clothing. Anyway you look at it, it's dripping with shame.

High-minded theories by those of us who apparently "know better" continue to frown upon young girls and their fashion choices. Until we create more balance on how we view boys and girls we don't have a hope in hell in changing perceptions where how you look informs how you are treated.

So the next time you hear yet another news report of frosh week chants degrading women, just remember how young these girls and boys were when the seeds of shame were first sown.

***

I don't eat bananas in public. It's silly, I know. But it seems easier to cut out one of my favourite fruits than having to deal with vulgar observations from strange men I do not know. I learned at a very young age that there are men of all ages, races, religions and creeds that will go to painstaking lengths to make sure a young teenage girl feels exceedingly uncomfortable.

And yet, the general discourse surrounding the everyday street harassment facing women and girls tends to focus on what women were wearing, doing or drinking when being verbally accosted. Worse still, is the way our media portrays sexual assault victims, which results in a widespread culture that seeks to shame women due to any perceived degree of promiscuity -- colloquially referred to as slut-shaming.

Accordingly, when the media landscape seems to be captivated by an allegedly shocking or particularly salacious headline -- whether it is the way the media portrayed the Steubenville rapists or just how two Canadian universities on opposite ends of our coast managed to have the same frosh chant advocating for the rape of underage girls -- I tend to err on the side of ambivalent apathy. I wish I could be as outraged and indignant at the gripping sexist headline du jour but the stark reality is that anytime a "women's issue" such as rape culture or slut-shaming happens to be dominating our media discourse, the ensuing backlash is noticeably formulaic.

Step 1: Break a story insisting that some sort of weird sexist anomaly has taken place. Step 2: Have various experts weigh in on the potential root causes of this one instance, refusing to concede that it is part of a larger problem within our society. Step 3: Get every right-wing columnist to opine on the demonization of our young men by militant feminists, forever championing their token axiom of boys merely being boys. Step 4: The media moves on. Step 5: Repeat.

That this happens with such consistent frequency in the 21st century only furthers my apprehension of what our next generation of young girls will have to grow up with, and how it will shape their perspective of the world they live in. The bleak reality is that our girls face a future in which what they wear can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion -- if not in an actual court of law -- and our boys will grow up thinking cat calling a teenage girl for eating a banana on the bus is par for the course.

Post 50 Female Legends And Icons