Mean Girls and Slut-Shaming

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This blog entry was going to be on slut-shaming and Aintree Races.It has ended up a collection of a few current thoughts. Thank you for all the views, shares and comments so far. It is an excellent tool for me to develop my research and ideas. I really do appreciate it. I am always looking for people to collaborate with, or even take a few soundbites from, so please do get in touch if you would like to be included.

Both writing this blog, and writing a paper on Aintree Races (which is a major research interest for me, and I hope to present on it this year) has got me thinking about Mean Girls the film (if you haven’t watched it, you must!) and slut-shaming. This was seemlessly brought together by Dr Alison Winch at the Talking Bodies conference in Chester, March 2013. Dr Winch is interested in the Girlfriend Gaze, as opposed to the male gaze, and combined with the wonderful Allie Carr’s thesis on Showgirls, it has made me re-evaluate the concept of the gaze. I shall be examining the gaze in much closer detail in the future. My recent post on ‘My Problem With No More Page 3′ and the subsequent feedback and debate, has also brought these issues to light.

But moving on the Aintree Races Ladies’ Day and the regulating of women through slut-shaming. The first image I saw of Aintree 2013 races, was this one:

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The Daily Mail is usually my cauldron of knowledge wonder and material on most celebrity culture, and especially the races, but this picture was being shared around Facebook. The comments underneath were telling of women’s attitude towards other women. Specifically, women who dare to flaunt their bodies, to be excessive, to spill out into the public sphere and not contain and regulate themselves.

The comments were mostly negative, that the woman pictures should be “ashamed of herself”, that she was “an embarrassment to Liverpool” “Girls should have more respect for themselves” and the ultimate:

“she’s the reason girls get raped, nice one love”

I cannot imagine being a woman who writes that about another woman. But how many people secretly have these views? That a woman who spills out in the public sphere like this is a slut, ‘letting the side down’, or ‘asking for trouble’. How many support the rapists in highly publicised rape cases like Steubenville or Wales and Sheffield United striker Ched Evans. Can a woman’s dress/body/behaviour/previous sexual experience/s cause rape?

One of my main problems with the nomorepage3 and OBJECT campaigns, are the alleged correlations between page 3 and sexual harrassment, porn and rape, and lap dancing clubs and rape. A Rad Fem staple. That an image or visual performance or exotic dance, or any display of female flesh deemed provocative can cause rape.It is one of the most disturbing things I read about. I am terrified about the implications such views have for women’s freedoms. (Though I am, of course, always eager to hear from those with a different view, so please do comment on the article or tweet me).

I have a particular interest in the regulation of the hyper-visible hyper-sexual woman, particularly in terms of white deviance and the excessive ‘chav’ woman; celebrity culture in general and via social networking sites, where woman police each other and serve to uphold the boundaries of ‘respectability’. The idea of protecting society from women’s bodies and the harm they can cause, or protecting women from the contagion of wayward women, is ingrained in society. We do not hear positive stories about sex work, or try to engage with sex workers/ performers/ models in the mainstream media, it is assumed that it is bad, negative, harmful.. It is presumed that women who make these choices (and it is not just women who make sex work their profession!) are damaged and unable to make their own decisions. They must be addicts, sex-abuse survivors, ‘forced’ into such a terrible fate. The conflational of consensual sex work and abuse/ trafficking/ rape does not help anyone at all. It says as much for our societal attitudes towards sex and the body than anything else.
The idea is that the excessive woman must be stupid, or ill-informed, or a victim of false-consciousness. Or worse still, she is going to contaminate the ‘good’ respectable women, and she must be made an example of and punished. The hyper-visible woman is going to effect all of us. She will make objects of us all. Even by having these images of behaviours in our culture, they will cause us harm.

Zahra Stardust delievered a wonderful paper at the Talking Bodies conference at the University of Chester, where she argued that terms such as ‘raunch culture’ are used to police women. Stardust argued that the sex industry can defy objectification. Stardust cited Strip Show: Performances of Gender and Desire by Katherine Liepe-Levinson which I have scanned through online, but have added to my Reading Mountain. . It is clear we cannot rely on the reductive Rad Fem idea that all sexual imagery featuring women is inherently evil and harmful, and we need to revaluate the terms we use, why we are using them, and the idea of a male gaze (As mentioned in a previous post, Allie Carr’s work on this is incredible).

If we are to say that certain female behaviour or depiction is ‘bad’ or ‘out of place’, what are we saying about the women who choose to look or act like that? Slut shaming is a growing phenomena, the meme, Hey Girl, Did You Know went viral. The idea that women should contain themselves, should not flaunt themselves, and should not be so ‘dirty’, ‘slutty’ ‘desperate’ for attention. These ideas have existed since (and long before!) I was a teenager, but with the internet young women are able to slut-shame and discipline one another constantly. In my paper on Aintree Races I refer to Foucault’s panopticon, it is a great tool to investigate this area.

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Hallowe’en is now an excuse to regulate women, with tips on being ‘sexy not skanky’, or horror that Hallowe’en is now just an excuse to look ‘slutty’. “Best of all, on Halloween, dressing like a slut doesn’t mean you actually are one”. Because we want to be good girls who pretend to be sexy, not actual sluts.. Passive dolls pretending to be sexy, not actually being active and engaging with our bodies and sexuality. And then website Jezebel went viral with “A reminder that you can wear clothes on Hallowe’en and that’s ok” . Feminists jumped on this one, sharing it round twitter. Their blog has a song which features the line “Keep your tits in”. Of course this expression, that Hallowe’en is the one time of the year you can dress like a slut and no one can say anything, is actually from teen film Mean Girls. Is this what we have become?

As always, thoughts, comments, problematic content, suggestions, feedback, are all welcomed. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

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