I’ve lately been reminded, yet again, that slut shaming remains a huge problem, especially in high school. Though it’s been almost three years since I graduated and went on to college, my connections with those still in high school remind me that slut shaming is just as prominent now as it was during my high school years. This makes me extremely angry and also deeply sad. Because the fact is, slut shaming kills.
I was horrified and heartbroken to read the story of Felicia Garcia, a 15-year-old who literally jumped in front of a moving train after days* of being harassed and bullied at school for her so-called “slut-like” behavior. On October 24, 2012, she tweeted, “I can’t, I’m done, I give up.” This girl, only 15 years old, chose to end her own life rather than continue to deal with the harassment she suffered at the hands of classmates. And the worst part is, Felicia’s story is not unique. So many young girls in similar situations see suicide as the only way out. Slut-shaming is not some funny joke or prank. It can literally end lives.
The word “slut,” in reality, really only refers to a female who takes advantage of her sexual freedom. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a slut. It’s the stigma that society attaches to the word that creates a problem. When a man has sex whenever and with whomever he wants? No problem. When a woman does the same, she’s a slut or a whore. The word “slut” is used to punish women for openly exploring their sexuality and prioritizing their own sexual wants and needs. As Jessica Valenti explains,
“Calling a woman a slut sends a message that it’s open season: you can harass her, malign her, ruin her life. It’s the same kind of dehumanization that assumes women aren’t people, but bodies there for men’s enjoyment—whether they consent or not.”
So it makes me extremely worried and upset when I hear my brother’s high school friends talk shit about particular girls whom they see as dirty and unattractive because they have had sex with too many people (whatever that means). I’ve heard them describe these girls as “thirsty” because they “thirst after the dick.” Whether or not the girls have had sex with whomever doesn’t matter – it’s the fact that they might, *gasp*, want to. Who knew that girls had sex drives too?! Not to mention the hypocrisy in the fact that some of these boys “sleep around” themselves and see nothing wrong with their own behavior. The double standard is so painfully obvious.
I’ve learned a story about one particular girl that reveals just how damaging slut-shaming can be. After being taken advantage of by older men at an early age, she was branded a slut before even reaching high school. Guys continued to use her for sex in high school, and consequently she’s no longer seen as “date-able.” Few people want to be friends with her, and most talk about her behind her back. Slut-shaming has reduced her to nothing more than a sexual object in the minds of these boys, and she’s left to deal with the consequences. It truly and profoundly breaks my heart. And again, this story is not unique.
No one deserves to be subjected to that kind of treatment. No one. It doesn’t matter how many people she sleeps with, it doesn’t matter how she dresses. It doesn’t matter if you think her skirt is too short. Growing up as a young woman in a patriarchal society is dangerous enough as it is (1 in 4 women will be raped in their lifetime) and still girls are dehumanized to the point where they are willing to take their own lives. This has got to stop. In my own life, I make an effort to point out and end slut shaming whenever I hear it/see it happening. I’ve worked hard to eliminate the words “slut” and “whore” from my vocabulary and I refuse to judge someone based on their sexual history.
Slut-shaming and victim blaming go hand-in-hand, and both contribute to rape culture. They have serious consequences and should not be taken lightly. Women are more than sexual objects to be exploited and judged. We are human beings that deserve to be recognized for all of the aspects that make us who we are. Our worth is NOT inherently tied to our sexual history, and lives should not be lost because we are made to believe that is true.
So the next time you start to call a girl a slut, think before you speak.
*Correction: I mistakenly wrote months instead of days here. It took only a few days of torment before Felicia had had enough.