THE BLOG
05/15/2013 01:12 pm ET | Updated Jul 15, 2013

Slut-Shaming and Rape Culture

Alamy

There were two major things that prompted this article. First of all, around school and just around in general, I've been hearing people -- boys and girls -- calling girls "sluts." And many of them? They don't even seem to know that they are saying. The other major things was when I read several articles about girls who were raped and -- after pictures circulated the Internet and they endured relentless torment for being a "slut" -- committed suicide. The story made my heart want to explode, that may or may not have made me cry, and that I just wanted to talk about. So, I knew I had my topic: slut-shaming and rape culture.

Slut-shaming is the act of shaming or ridiculing girls for their (supposed) promiscuity. In order to understand slut-shaming, you first have to understand and break down the term "slut." In our society, girls that are confident or open about their sexuality (both good things) are labeled as sluts. And with that label comes the idea that they are dirty, unclean, impure. People view sluts as loud, aggressive and pushy. They are seen as bad, and not at all deserving of respect. Ultimately, girls who are labeled as sluts are girls who don't conform to the things that are traditionally labeled as "feminine." Girls who are loud rather than quiet, dynamic rather than submissive, or independent rather than dependent on men are considered to be sluts.

Essentially, the word "slut" is used as an effective tool of subjugation. Because, when acting outside of traditional femininity is considered bad -- and girls that act differently are in a sense dehumanized- then of course girls will be discouraged from deviating from the norm. This keeps things safely going the way that they always have.

And if a girl does dare to wear a short skirt or talk about things that are usually considered taboo? She is shamed and bashed to the point that she either changes her personality, or her existence is, to a certain extent, invalidated by general society.

Now, slut-shaming can be very obvious, or it can be very nuanced. Nuanced slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for "making the first move."

For a blatant example of how slut-shaming leads to rape culture, look to the aforementioned stories. First of all, let's break down what exactly rape culture constitutes. Rape culture is blaming the victim rather than rapist for the assault, and saying that the victim did something to provoke the attack. Rape culture teaches women to not get raped, rather than teaching men not to rape. Rape culture involves sympathizing with the rapist -- as many did in the recent Steubenville rape case, by lamenting the fact that their "promised futures were ruined." Rape culture is dangerous because it leads to the victim not speaking out about the rape, and the rapists therefore not getting in trouble.

About half of rapes are being reported, and only 3 percent of rapists spend at least one day in jail. Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for "asking for it" by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren't, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.

Back to the recent cases. There have been three cases lately in which intense levels of slut-shaming and rape culture are involved. The first, the Steubenville rape case. A young girl went to a party and was gang raped by several of her classmates, while one of them recorded it. She was drunk, far past the point of consent and the rapists were respected school athletes.

Because of this, and because of the stigma surrounding sexual assault, she was labeled as a slut and viciously tormented by her classmates. Two other girls, 17 year-old Rehtaeh Parsons and 15 year-old Audrie Pott, recently made news for committing suicide after being raped and labeled as sluts. In November of 2011, Parsons was raped by four boys at a party. A picture was taken and spread around their school, and Rehteah was labeled a slut, literally. Because she was at a party, and because she had been drinking (to the point where she clearly was unable to give any sort of consent whatsoever), she was labeled a slut, and the boys got off with nothing.

Very similarly, Pott was raped by her classmate and, after pictures of it were spread around her school and she was the victim of severe slut-shaming, she killed herself. This vicious cycle can continue only if people keep subscribing to the idea that people are raped as a result of something that they themselves did.

These are very complex and nuanced issues, and it's impossible to cover them in such a short piece of writing. However, I believe that talking about them and opening up a dialogue is the first and most important step in eradicating them.