Slut Shaming: The Anxiety of Excess

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I gave a paper on Friday at the BSA Youth Sexualities conference at Durham called Slut Shaming: The Anxiety of Excess.

I have written a few blog posts on these ideas before. Mean Girls and Slut Shaming; Bad Barbie: Farrah Abraham; Glee Naked: Slutty Barbie;, Dirty Doll Slut-Shaming in the Valleys; Inked Doll: Cheryl Cole and Disgust; Chav Barbie Tulisa: Down with the Doll; and my guest blog for Celeb Youth UK Snog Marry Avoid: The Moral Economies of Whiteness.

These ideas were going to form the basis of a PhD titled: The visualisation of deviant raciality: a study of racial neoliberalism and the moral economies of whiteness in ‘post-racial’ Britain explored through the construction of white women as deviant/inadequately white. I am very interested in the excessive woman, the celebrity chav, the roles of disgust and emotion in ‘casting out’ and creating distance, and hope to publish on them. I am presenting at Literary Dolls in Durham, March 2014 on Ladies’ Day: Bodies of Excess. My interests cluster under the regulation of the female body, specifically the working-class body.

I have a major interest in the regulation of the hyper-visible and hyper-sexual woman, framed as deviant, inadequate, soiled. This lent itself to the phenomena of young women policing and disciplining each other via social networking sites such as facebook and tumblr, serving to uphold the boundaries of respectability.

Of course, as my previous blog post explains, this is framed as danger and contagion. All are at risk from this pollutant. The excessive woman is going to contaminate us all.

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Even by having these images or behaviours in our culture, we will be harmed.

‘Slut is a way of controlling females. Slut-shaming or slut-bashing is about “keeping sexuality under control, and an efficient way to do that is to deal with one person at a time” (Deborah Tollman cited in Tanenbaum, 1999, p.110).

The idea that women should not contain themselves, should not be ‘dirty’ or ‘slutty. Now, this is not only seen as a personal failing, but causing danger to other women, contributing to a ‘rape culture’ or ‘objectification’ whereby images deemed sexual can cause a man to rape (extremely problematic).

With the internet, young women are able to have 24/7 surveillance. This leads to self-surveillance and a fear of not being marked as Other, deviant, damaged goods.

The meme Hey Girl, Did You Know? went viral, with copies and parodies. plastic10

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Hallowe’en or ‘Skankowe’en’ is now an excuse to regulate women, with tips or being ‘sexy not skanky’. “Ah, Halloween. The time of year when a girl’s inner kitty-cat prostitute can run free“.

Jezebel ran this helpful article on keeping your clothes on at Hallowe’en with their song Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked. The ditty features a line “Keep your tits in”. Slut-shaming at its finest and evidence that at nearly 30 I have not yet left the playground.

The expression, that Hallowe’en is the one time of year you can dress like a slut and no one can say anything, is from teen film Mean Girls. Girl gang The Plastics govern the other girls’ dress and behaviour, they decide what is slutty, what is acceptable. Remind you of anyone?

Leora Tanenbaum talks about the label ‘slut’ saying: “Very often the label is 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.1).

So an overweight girl can be called slut; a gothic girl; a tall girl; a girl with large breasts; a girl who wears a lot of make-up; a girl who plays sports; a girl who is outspoken; a girl who laughs too loudly; a girl who has guy friends.

Interestingly, this pictures of Miley Cyrus and a doll have been called ‘slutty’ ‘disgusting’ ‘obscene’. Coz you know, she’s like objectifying dolls… oh wait.

Miley Cyrus Performing On Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Prof Sara Ahmed argues that “to name something as disgusting is performative… it generates the object that it names” (2004, p.93 cited in Tyler, 2008, p.24).

Professor Bev Skeggs helpfully states that “The excessive immoral woman is also a useful figure… providing the soft porn grotesque for titillation and disapprobation” (2005, p.968). Because hey, Miley is disgusting, but we will use her to sell papers and magazines, and we will willingly consume the images.

I argue that the work of Nikos Papastergiadis is useful here, these constant framings and images of dangerous ‘sexualized’ girls are evidence of an ambivalent or ambient anxiety (Papastergiadis, 2006, p.429; Tyler, 2013, p.9) a roaming danger through which the ‘slut’ serves as the ‘other’ to fix wider cultural anxieties onto. Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben, Papastergiadis talks of the Invasion Complex, “The fantasy of the anxious self relies on strong boundaries and heightened vigilance against any sign of violation. The boundary becomes invested with the need for security against decline and contamination” (2006, p. 433).

The body of the ‘girl’ the ‘sexualized’ celebrity or girl, can be read as evidence of wider cultural anxieties.

Dr Danielle Egan argues: “...it soon becomes clear that within the popular literature the sexualized girl is a monster- the end point of defiled middle-class heterosexual femininity… a legacy of deeply problematic assumptions regarding race, class, gender and sexuality inform this construction” (2013, p.8).

Egan continues:

“By displacing our impotence onto something more manageable and potent- the cultural and sexual corruption of the girl child- our rage, disgust and anxiety can be voiced and a fantasy of the future free of such defilement can be sought” (2013, p.9).

I think we should be asking, why are we continuing to slut-shame girls. And feminists out there, come on, how on earth is this feminist?