ENTERTAINMENT
09/18/2014 03:26 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Slut-Shaming 101: Featuring Mayim Bialik, Ariana Grande And Underwear

Jun Sato via Getty Images

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Over the weekend, a blog post for Kveller surfaced in which Mayim Bialik asked who Ariana Grande is and why she has to "sell herself in lingerie." The supposed billboard in question features the "My Everything" album cover and is approximately as scandalous as a high-waisted crochet bikini, but that's not the point. Here are a few Frequently Asked Questions about Bialik comments and slut-shaming in general.

Wait, did that woman who used to play "Blossom" really call Ariana Grande a slut?
She didn't say the word "slut." She asked if the billboard is good for "humanity or society" and called out Grande's role specifically. Here's a quote:

Which is why a few billboards I have seen lately really bug me. There is one for Ariana Grande, and I will go ahead and admit I have no idea who she is or what she does. Based on the billboard, she sells lingerie. Or stiletto heels. Or plastic surgery because every woman over 22 wishes she has that body, I’m sure. Why is she in her underwear on this billboard though? And if she has a talent (is she a singer?), then why does she have to sell herself in lingerie? I mean, I know that society is patriarchal and women are expected to be sexy and sexually available no matter what we do in society, but I guess now I need to explain that to my sons?

So, that's what slut-shaming is? I though it was when sluts shamed people for not being slutty enough.
I think you know that's not what it is.

Fine, what is it then?
As GeekFeminism puts it, "slut-shaming" is "the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity." In short, the term refers to, as Jezebel has put it, "insidious sex-negative sexism."

Insidious? That sounds bad! Is that a real term, though? "Slut-shaming" is, like, an official thing and not just feminist slang?
Yep, even the New York Times uses it. In fact, in the past year, the term has become so prolific that some feminist writers are concerned it's actually losing value.

So, I shouldn't say slut-shaming? Are you just trying to tell me more words that I can't say?
You should be more concerned with not saying "slut" than "slut-shaming." This is definitely not about shaming people who call out slut-shaming. That said, it should just be reserved for specific issues of sex-negative sexism, not just any instance when someone comments on sexuality from a less than positive angle. That weakens the value and impact of the term.

What should the impact be then?
To take down the double standard that surrounds sexuality.

Oh, is that the whole "women are sluts, men are studs" thing?
That's the basics of the double standard that "slut-shaming" hones in on, yes. Men can pursue sex for any reason while women have to be in a committed relationship and are only expected to have a limited number of sexual partners.

But I thought that was just about making out in bars and stuff. What does this have to do with billboards?
The way that kind of thinking applies to the music industry is a paradigm for the way it affects society (and making out in bars and stuff) as a whole. Consider that when sexy images are used by a woman promoting her own record, for example, people are scandalized by it. When those same images are being created for a male audience, there's no issue.

The music industry has gotten too sexy, though! Why can't we call out all the too sexy performers?
This idea of the music industry having gotten "too sexy" is probably the most rampant version of slut-shaming in pop culture. Take Warpaint calling out Rihanna and Beyoncè for "the hypersexualization of the music industry" for example. There's also a troubling racial overlay worth discussing there, but the core problem with this kind of comment is that it criticizes individual women for not ridding the world of sexism, without criticizing sexism itself.

What about when women are just looking out for other women?
That can still be slut-shaming. Sinead O'Connor's open letter to Miley Cyrus is a good example of this. So is Rashida Jones' #StopActingLikeWhores piece for Glamour. Heralding these kind of pieces as powerful commentary misses the mark. The issue is with "the context of that sex and nakedness" (as Summer Anne Burton wrote for Buzzfeed). Why don't Jones or O'Connor make mention of any male figures in the music industry?

I love Rashida Jones! I find her so endearing. Maybe she just wanted to make sure those women were valued for their talent.
The views Rashida Jones expressed in Glamour can't just be chalked up to good intentions. As The Frisky noted in response to her tweets and subsequent essay, there are intelligent ways to discuss "raunch culture" without shaming specific women. The reality is that placing blame is just a form of containing women's power to express her sexuality. Using "whores" as the derogatory point of reference is also not okay.

I think I get it now! You're saying that everyone should be sexy and wear onesies all the time.
No. The point is not that all women should be one thing. It's that we should respect individual choices.

So, you can respect individual choices without doing sexy stuff that makes you uncomfortable?
Yep, think about Lorde or Janelle Monaè. Both of them dress rather conservatively; Monaè's style is often androgynous. You couldn't call either of them "too sexy," but both have openly expressed their sex-positivity through respect for other female performers. As Lorde said, "It’s not like I have a problem with dancing around in undies -- I think you can use that stuff in a hugely powerful way. It just hasn’t felt necessary for me." Monaè has expressed a similar sentiment, while saying her specific "uniform" makes her feel "10 feet tall": "It’s always been about being in control of our bodies or our image," she said. "I see nothing wrong with showing skin or wearing a tuxedo," she said. "I just think it’s up the artist and the woman. There should not be any pressure that they apply to themselves because of media, men or women."

At the end of the day, that should really be the question of whether or not to wear or do something. Does it make you feel empowered, in control and 10 feet tall? There's a long way to go to dismantle the systems that allow for these double standards. In the meantime, making sexy decisions based on whether they are going to offend "humanity or society" or Mayim Bialik should not be our primary concern.

Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca

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