Dirty Doll, Slut-shaming in The Valleys and Taylor Swift

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Ok, so I must come clean. I am not a regular viewer of MTV show The Valleys, it will never take the place in my heart of TOWIE, (which will never take the place in my affections of The Hills, which will never take the place of Laguna Beach, you get the picture). However, I have watched the odd episode. These musing are based on Season 2, Episodes 2 & 3. The cast member I am focussing on is Natalee Harris, pictured below.

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For those concerned about the effects of pornography, and a misogynstic culture of objectifying women, turn your eyes to this show and do a case study of how the male cast speak about women. It makes me glad I am getting old. My concern here however, is how the female cast speak about Natalee.

I have mentioned in previous blogs Leora Tanenbaum’s ‘Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation’ and Dr. Alison Winch’s concept of the Girlfriend Gaze, which I will return to here. I will also mention the work of Sue Lees, ‘Losing Out Sexuality and Adolescent girls’.

What is interesting in The Valleys, is all the young women are seemingly sexually active and ‘liberal’. Yet in this culture of casual sexual encounters, Natalee is singled out for being a ‘slut’. This is fascinating. Tanenbaum states that ‘slut’ is “very often a stand-in for something else: the extent to which a girl fails to conform to the idea of ‘normal’ appearance and behaviour” (Tanenbaum, 1999, p. 11). So if everyone (in context of this show) is having sex outside relationships, random ‘hook ups’, it must be something else that causes the women to single Natalee out as a slut.

Natalee is a scapegoat, by calling her a slut, the other females can continue their behaviour as un-slutty, they have clearly marked the Other, and that is what they are not.

Dr Alison Winch’s The Girlfriend Gaze (http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2012-12-04-winch-en.html) talks of the significance of the female friendship bond in regulating bodies and behaviour. The women in The Valleys are portrayed as close friends, whereas Natalee is deemed to be an outsider. It is her lack of belonging or fitting in that makes her a slut in the others’ eyes. A female who doesn’t hang out with the girls, and prefers male company, is deemed dangerous and unnatural. That danger is recoded as soiled and damaged.

These are comments made about Natalee in Season 2, Episodes 2 & 3:

“What a slapper”

“Do you think Natalee will bang any of the twins”

“Nat’s cock-mad, or course she’s going to bang, it’s just a matter of who”

“What a slag”

“The bunny boiler is back”

(To Natalee) “Just imagine it’s a cock…you know how to do that”

“Natalee has no class whatsoever”

“I’ll tell AK that you’re not coming because your fanny’s battered. yeah”

“Natalee’s not coming to work ‘coz she’s been f*cking all night…she thinks with her fanny”

“She loves the cock”

“Her fanny must be a f*cking blue waffle”

“Her fanny’s hurting so she’s in bed”

“Her fanny’s injured”

“You’re going to work stinking of sex”

“Nat the slapper with her tits out once again, ans she’s buzzing off it”

“All she gives a shit about is getting her fanny bashed”

All the females in the house like the attention of the males, and actively court it. However it is done in a girle, giggling, submissive way. Even when the women attend a pole dancing lesson, they are thinking of the men, and what they would think of it.

Natalee is viewed as soiled femininity, as unable to perform femininity correctly. She is seen as hyper-visible, spilling out of her clothes, and too aggressive in her pursuit of sex. The other women are much more passive even though they are sexually active, they do things for men, not (overtly) for themselves. Take Jenna Johnathan, who claims “I gave him a blow job to keep him sweet”. Nat is seen as a slut, because she appears to enjoy sexual activity for herself, not to impress males or ‘keep them sweet’. Nat is seen as the “easy lay” (Willis, 1977 cited in Lees, 1986, p.33) the girl that men will have sex with, but not date (Ibid).

Calling Natalee a slut also distances the women from their own ‘promiscuous’ behaviour. The Unslut Project (www.unslutproject.com) has a twitter account @Unslutproject that evidences this. Female tweeters admit that they join in slut-shaming/ slut-bashing because they are just glad it isn’t them being victimised, and because by slut-shaming someone else, you are distancing yourself from the action.

Taylor Swift is a very interesting case study for this. A very beautiful, very rich and successful young woman, who has dated very high-profile men, and is constantly called a slut (Taylor could be a whole blog post in herself). We don’t even know if Swift engages in sex, she could be a virgin who merely dates men, but because she is confident, can ‘get’ the men she wants, and has high profile romances in the media, other women, regardless of their own sexual behaviour, label her a slut. Taylor doesn’t abide by the rules of other young women, she does not seem to have body insecurities or worry about a guy asking her out. Taylor dates who she wants to, and when the relationship ends, she writes a new song and makes millions more dollars. The media does not show pictures of Taylor heartbroken and crying over an ex boyfriend, but rather perfectly made-up, in-control and having fun.

Sue Lees in her book ‘Losing Out Sexuality and adolescent girls’ interviews teenage girls, who report that ‘slag’ has a range of meanings and usages, you can be called a slag because you won’t have sex! You can also be called a slag if you are deemed too loud, or taking to a boy with a girlfriend (1986, pp. 36-39). Taylor Swift is often called a slag by jealous teenage girls, especially after her romance with Harry Styles of British pop group One Direction.

When boss AK tells Natalee that she will come to work regardless of the fact she “stinks of sex” it is as if Natalee wears not only the marks of a slut physically through dress and behaviour, but that they can actually smell the sexual deviance on her, as if they are animals.

The women talk about Natalee as if she is physically damaged, that she has a permanently disfigured or altered vagina because of her sex life. The girls talk about sex in traditional laddish language, but always to the detriment of Nat. Natalee’s vagina is seen as the stereotypical passive vagina, that the men are doing things to.

In these 2 episodes, no one even pretends they are joking, or insult Natalee passive-aggressively, it is overt aggression.

By slut-shaming Natalee, the women put her sexual behaviour under the spotlight to be scrutinised, so they will be left alone.

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