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Sep 27 2012

This is how slut-shaming works

Rebecca Watson has provided an insightful overview of why calendars featuring pin-up photos of women, even for important causes, may be doing more harm than good:

The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

It’s all worth reading, but this part stood out as especially important for everyone to understand. Regardless of the noble ideals of the movement for sex-positivity, the reality is that we live in a world where many men will make it simply impossible for any woman to exercise the full range of her choices as a sexual person without incurring intolerable penalties. They do this by using women’s personal and sexual decisions which they disapprove of as a cause to brand them for all time and invalidate anything else they’ve ever done. That’s how they police women’s sexuality: by threatening to erase her entire history, body of work, and depth as an individual, and reduce her existence to a single scarlet letter if she ever fails to obey their (unjust, suffocating, no-win, double-standard) norms.

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  1. 1
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s how they police women, period. Not just their sexuality but every god damn thing.

  2. 2
    The Nerd

    That was the exact same quote I excerpted when I shared this with friends for the exact same reason. We can’t live as though our society is free from gender oppression unless society is actually free from gender oppression.

  3. 3
    AtheistRapist

    Baaawww, RB feels oppressed because she takes seriously, the inane drivel of obvious trolls.

    Here’s some advice for you internet n00bs, DON’T FEED THE TROLLS!!!

    People send this crap to RW because they know she’ll respond to it. FFS, I’m autistic and even I know not to respond to this crap. I can’t believe that people take RW seriously.

    1. 3.1
      jamesfrank

      @3

      I can’t believe you’d believe anybody would take a user going by ‘AtheistRapist’ seriously. Well, take seriously besides noting how even by trolling you’re making an effort to trivialize the difficulties women face. Real trolling requires a detached view of the affairs with a false image set forth to attack (since it’s not really yours, who cares?), but ya kinda can’t do that when your very actions represent the problems being faced. More likely you’re one of the various fake trolls who fall into a self-delusion where you believe you’re incredibly clever, witty, and cool when you’re just like any other bozo getting angry on the internet. I mean, I understand that we all have issues, but what are you really getting out of this?

      1. Who Knows?

        You should have taken the advice and not responded to the troll.

      2. AtheistRapist

        I’m not the one trivializing the difficulties the women face, RW is. That was the point behind Dawkins comments about elevatorgate. She trivializes womens issues by crywanking every time some idiot says something poopy about her in the internet. “Waaaaaaaahh!!! someone said I should be raped” “Waaaaaaaahh!!! someone said I’m too ugly to be raped” “Waaaaaaahh!! someone said I can’t complain about being groped” “Waaaaaaaaahh!! someone said I’m an attention whore” Are you so dense that you can’t see a pattern of behavior comming from Rebecca Watson?? Wake the fuck up!

        1. Natasha

          Wanker, Rebeca has faced a unrelenting campaign of harassment for simply saying ‘don’t do this’. Harassment aided and abetted by clueless twits like yourself who engage in victim blaming. If Rebecca would just shut up everything would be sunshine and roses, or at least it would be for the harassers as that is exactly what they want to shut Rebeca up.

          1. AtheistRapist

            RW is not a victim, she just has a victim complex. She might even have Broderline Personality Disorder but that diagnoses can’t be made over the internet. She didn’t just say “don’t do that” she has turned atheist confrences into a platform to complain about her hate mail. This is obvious attention seeking behavior and I’m getting sick of it. You did get one thing right, if she would just shut up about this stuff, people won’t harass her about it.

    2. 3.2
      ibbica

      Your ‘n00bs’ accusation is adorable. Do you really need others to explain, yet again, why “just don’t feed the trolls, dur!” has not worked, is not working, does not work, and will not work?

      1. Who Knows?

        Feeding trolls, like this guy, is simply pointless. They are not interested in a discussion of any subject they comment on, they are not interested in changing their minds, they only are looking to get a reaction. IMO, ignoring the troll takes away their reason for commenting.

        It’s not the trolls minds that need changing anyway. It’s everyone elses.

        1. The Nerd

          “It’s not the trolls minds that need changing anyway. It’s everyone elses.”
          What an excellent reason to respond!

          1. Who Knows?

            The appropriate way to respond to a troll is to not respond directly. Make your point in a comment that is not a direct reply and doesn’t reference the troll.

        2. AtheistRapist

          I’m not trolling. OK, my name is trolling, but I’m serious about what i say.

      2. AtheistRapist

        It’s not my fault people are stupid. I can only point to their stupidity.

        1. F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

          Can I then assume you have one finger fixed so that it is always pointing at yourself?

          Not feeding, just a light snack.

          1. AtheistRapist

            Aaah, the good old 2nd grade “I know you are but that am I” argument. It suits your intelligence level.

    3. 3.3
      Jared

      “Here’s some advice for you internet n00bs, DON’T FEED THE TROLLS!!!”

      Very meta, AtheistRapist.

    4. 3.4
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      OK, I won’t feed you.

    5. 3.5
      Raymond

      You’re a shithead, my friend, you should change your moniker, besides. You have no idea what women go through, nor do I exactly as a man, but I took a pledge in 1980 after seeing what was going on around me and not much has changed since. Here it is:
      “It is my observation that there is far too much violence, inequality, & disrespect shown to women in the forms of sexism, misogyny and more, around the world and it should, albeit MUST stop immediately & I, one human being, pledge to do what I can to end the abuse, beginning this very moment of the obvious, the overt, and covert subtle abuse of women.” -RNash

  4. 4
    Greta Christina

    Regardless of the noble ideals of the movement for sex-positivity, the reality is that we live in a world where many men will make it simply impossible for any woman to exercise the full range of her choices as a sexual person without incurring intolerable penalties.

    So here’s my question. How are we supposed to get to a world where women — and men, and people who don’t identify as either or any gender — can exercise the full range of their choices as a sexual person? Isn’t the existence of some brave women — and men, and people who don’t identify as either or any gender — going ahead and doing whatever the fuck they want to with their bodies and their sexualities part of what’s changing that picture?

    I know it was for me. I know that the people ahead of me who defied the social and gender norms about sexuality made me feel more free to run my own body and my own sex life the way I want. Not perfectly free, and not free of fucked-up unfair penalties… but certainly more free than my mother, and much more free than her mother.

    I know these are hard choices, and hard balances. I know it’s a hard line to walk and a hard balance to strike between “contributing to exploitation and objectification” and “breaking stereotypes and reclaiming one’s own physical and sexual autonomy.” But I really, really wish that feminist women would recognize that this is a difficult balance, and that not everyone strikes it the same way — and I wish we would support each other’s choices in this arena. I have a hard enough time walking this impossible line between prude and slut, without worrying about whether my own choices about my own body are somehow letting down other feminists.

    1. 4.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      This.
      Where should we draw a line and how the fuck do we move that line over time?
      I agree with the arguments that intent isn’t magic and that just because you’re doing it all cool and totally empowered and with lots of fun doesn’t mean it doesn’t reinforece the idea that woen are decorative things.
      And also that they’re not something particularly original.
      But yeah, how do we change that?
      Saying “you mustn’t judge a woman by the fact that she showed herself nekkid once” while at the same time telling women that they mustn’t show themselves nekkid doesn’t really cut it for me.

      1. The Nerd

        Saying “you mustn’t judge a woman by the fact that she showed herself nekkid once” while at the same time telling women that they mustn’t show themselves nekkid doesn’t really cut it for me.
        I can see how it can come across that way, but I don’t think that’s the actual message here. I don’t see it as being on the models, but rather on the producers and distributors. It’s like “how can you say ‘women’s bodies in skepticism don’t exist for your consumption’ and then turn around and sell them for consumption?” People who produce calendars need to know the effects, take responsibility, and actively address the cultural implications.

        Say there are women (and hopefully all genders) who want to pose for a calendar, because they like to publically celebrate their bodies and also want to help out their favorite skeptical organization. That skeptorg isn’t doing an immoral act merely by creating a calendar. But they know that this is a society where ethical sexual material is the exception, not the rule, so they actively state “hey, the contents of this calendar are not a license to dehumanize any of the participants”, and possibly even (depending on how much of a warrier vs diplomat they are) “hey, if you’re just going to use this as a license to harrass any of the models, fuck off forever”.

        And they can also stop acting like it’s some sort of revolutionary act to do merely produce a sexy calendar in secular USA. It’s not! Selling woman’s bodies as a commodity is not revolutionary. Making an ethical sexy calendar is revolutionary. Taking responsibility to inform the consumer base is revolutionary. Presenting women and gender minorities as sexual agents and whole people with dignity and respect is revolutionary.

        1. John Horstman

          It’s like “how can you say ‘women’s bodies in skepticism don’t exist for your consumption’ and then turn around and sell them for consumption?”

          Well, there’s consent, the fact that it’s a false equivalence (one is a specific image of a body, the other is the actual body that forms a person who has agency), context (one is specifically produced for consumption, advertized as such by the fact that you can buy one; the other is a person with agency)…

          Selling woman’s bodies as a commodity is not revolutionary.

          Again, this isn’t selling women’s bodies – it’s not slavery. It’s selling an image of women’s bodies that they actively pursued for this purpose. That’s agency of body and image. These aren’t images contained without consent, and as far as I know, there wasn’t even any sort of economic coercion pushing any of the women to pose for the calendar (the ones described that were fundraisers, like the Skepchick calendar, weren’t for basic necessities, so I don’t read the incentive as coercive). Stop blaming the women who want to pose naked and blame the people who take that fact as somehow legitimizing their harassment for being assholes. End of story.

          1. The Nerd

            “Stop blaming the women who want to pose naked”
            Yeah, that was the point of my post.

          2. jamesfrank

            Uh, John, I think you missed: “People who produce calendars need to know the effects, take responsibility, and actively address the cultural implications.”

            That’s a great point since there are issues which need to be resolved and turning sexual expressions into a consciousness raising effort could do well for overcoming this climate of slut-shaming and appropriation of female sexuality by males.

        2. Nepenthe

          Note also that this is a particular form of celebrating one’s body. Women who do not want to pose sexily are not included in pinup calendars, yet presumably they are equally capable of celebrating their bodies and owning their sexuality. It just so happens that the ways that the “sex-positive” branch of feminism has come up with to be sexually liberated are the same ways liberal patriarchy considers acceptable for women. Funny that.

    2. 4.2
      AtheistRapist

      Hear! Hear!!

    3. 4.3
      John Horstman

      I find Rebecca’s post appalling. The fact that so many commenters are clamoring in agreement with the victim-blaming, agency-denying, anti-sex-work proscription over at Skepchick is likewise shocking. What you (you Greta, in this case specifically, and you everyone, generally) do with your body and image is your business; the piece that’s entirely missing from Rebecca’s analysis is consent, asserted with agency. The fact that some will (perhaps willfully) ignore the giant gaping chasm between the context of one posing for a calendar in a sexualized (or not sexualized but naked) way on one’s own terms and one being groped without consent at a conference doesn’t make the former behavior problematic (hint: it’s the misogynist interpretation that’s problematic). I guess we just abandoned over three decades of feminist and queer activism on people other than straight white men deserving a right to personal and bodily agency? What is going on?

      1. punchdrunk

        Does it hurt when your monocle pops out like that?

        You’re ignoring that women are treated as the sex class. You’re ignoring the ubiquity of the male gaze. Sexy pictures of attractive women are subverting the paradigm, how? To my eyes, it looks like the same shit in a new box.
        Sexual liberation doesn’t equate to more naked hotties for fapping.
        I’m sympathetic to the goals, but using naked women is counter-productive. It reinforces everything I thought we were fighting against.

        1. noen

          Except your analysis depends on the failed Lacanian theory of psychoanalysis. All the “male gaze” nonsense is bullocks. Men find certain visual stimulation sexually arousing because that is just the human reproductive strategy. We are not cattle. Human females do not go into estrus like virtually all other mammals do.

          Men finding women sexually arousing is not immoral.

  5. 5
    Michael Shand

    A good piece of writing by both you and Rebecca, thanks for the post but I dont think the answer to sexist assholes (Both sexist Men and Women, females are not innocent in this), I dont think the answer is to not do calanders or not to be sex positive

    I dont know but it feels too close to the idea of veiling because we dont trust men, I may be wrong, I probably am but it jst feels like the wrong move / admitting defeat.

  6. 6
    brenda

    “How are we supposed to get to a world where women [...] can exercise the full range of their choices as a sexual person?”

    The same way we did it in the 70′s, by advocating for one’s beliefs in the free marketplace of ideas and convincing others that your ideas are better. If a belief cannot win people over then it doesn’t deserve wide acceptance.

    For example, Mitt Romney is losing to Obama right now not because of his gaffs or stiff formal presentation. He is losing because his conservative ideology is toxic to the general electorate. Nobody wants what he, and conservatives, are selling.

    It is highly unlikely that everyone can have everything they want. People want different things and the things they want are in conflict. It is never going to be resolved, there will always be competing interests and desires. This is how it should be.

    Public shaming is perfectly normal. It is how societies regulate themselves. So when you scowl at someone for budging in line you are publicly shaming them and enforcing a social norm. So… the way to reduce “slut shaming” is to speak out against it and make it a norm that such behavior is inappropriate. One will of course have to keep doing this and maintain the norm. That’s ok, it’s how things are done.

  7. 7
    John Horstman

    Zinnia, your post title is absurdly ironic: this kind of victim-blaming is exactly what slut-shaming looks like. You’re lending credence to the repugnant rape-apologist idea that once a woman has consented to do something sexual once in a given context, she has somehow consented to do anything and everything in any context. WTF?

    (I’m leaving the section above in case my impression from the first read-through was correct. On first read-through, Zinnia, it sounds like you’re agreeing with Rebecca’s call to stop the calendars. On second read-through, I’m less sure whether you agree. I *think* the title of the post refers to the men who are using the women’s posing in the calendar as an excuse to harass/assault them, but then your seeming agreement with Rebecca is confusing, since she’s basically saying that instead of challenging the slut-shaming, women should not pose for naked pictures, which is victim-blaming. Rebecca’s post is itself slut-shaming; in no way, shape, or form should she feel/be pressured to pose for naked or sexualized – not the same thing – photos if she doesn’t want to, but her proscriptive declaration is pretty much the definition of slut-shaming.)

    Rebecca’s post is the absurd anti-porn/anti-sex-work argument repackaged for a specific skeptical context. To point out how absurd it is, let’s tackle something that both Rebecca and you, Zinnia, use: cosmetics (unless your lips are that pinky-red without, in which case, wow!). Cosmetics form a massive industry that spends millions on advertising that pushes a fantasy ideal of women’s bodies (a literally impossible ideal that can only be achieved with extensive digital editing) and heavily objectifies women. This has been linked to eating disorders, depression, and the construction of a passive, objectified, non-agentic cultural norm of femininity – it is a decidedly oppressive force. And yet, Rebecca’s not decrying the use of cosmetics; she use them herself. Her actions, because of the cultural context and how they are read, re-inscribe sexist, oppressive cultural norms (not to mention funneling material support to companies that actively push the problematic norms, something the calendars don’t do). By the same logic Rebecca objects to the calendars, she should be objecting to the use of cosmetics, the wearing of ‘slutty’ or ‘sexy’ clothes, in fact, anything that can be read as a way to make a woman look ‘pretty’, as that is objectifying.

    This is ridiculous. We can’t escape our sexist culture, so most of the things we do are either going to reinforce or challenge sexist norms. Telling women to limit their behavior because other people and cultural constructions read it in ways that are anti-feminist instead of telling the people pushing the anti-feminist interpretations and normalizing them to knock it off is victim-blaming. Have an analogy: because women wearing ‘slutty’ clothes and dancing suggestively in clubs plays into norms of objectification and sexualization and result in some men who watch them getting all hot and bothered, women need to cut it out, because if one of those women is assaulted on the way home from the club, men will come along and use the fact that she was grinding in the one context to excuse the assault in the other. I feel like I’ve stepped into Bizarro World or I’m reading a Mirror Mirror version of Skepchick. What is going on?

    1. 7.1
      brenda

      What is going on is what always happens when political factions become epistemically closed. Third wave feminism, critical theory, post modernist, post-post-structuralism ideas and beliefs have lost their connection to objective reality. When truth claims have no objective referent well… you can say anything then.

      These kinds of feminists get direction of fit wrong. So… it isn’t the use of cosmetics that objectifies women, it’s women who choose to be objectified who will use cosmetics. People are free moral agents so it isn’t the use of cosmetics or publishing racy calendars that objectifies oneself. Objectification goes to *intent* not behavior.

      People get lost when they retreat to a hermetically sealed in-group. Just ask the Tea Party how that works out.

    2. 7.2
      Zinnia Jones

      You’re lending credence to the repugnant rape-apologist idea that once a woman has consented to do something sexual once in a given context, she has somehow consented to do anything and everything in any context.

      Yeah, I don’t actually believe any of that. The only people I’m blaming are the ones who seek to police women’s sexuality by penalizing them for expressing themselves. This isn’t “women, don’t do that”. It’s “misogynists, don’t do that”.

      1. Raymond

        Zinnia, I’m glad you made that point, as I was about to, and as far as Feminism goes, the term actually is unfortunate, because Feminism as I understand it is about human rights more than just women’s rights, though, Gloria Steinem had to break the ice somehow just to get folks to wake the hell up and see that there is a problem here in the society we live in and it affects over half the population, directly and everyone indirectly. Patriarchical societies are partly to blame I suppose, but once you get the message you hang up the phone. Gloria did a good job of getting the message across, but strangely, in 2012 there are still blatant problems where women are concerned. Look at the 112th Congress of 17% women. Would HR 3 and HR 358 have passed if say the 112th Congressional House were 50% women? I highly doubt it. Women have the vote, but are they truly represented?RW’s problems are real and it’s not exactly fair to accuse her of just whining, since she wants others to at least take a walk in her shoes. The whole thing she went through should not be cast aside without a fair hearing, and far too many men failed to do that. When I point this out to some they call me a mangina, and it turns out the very ones who need to be reached are absent(absentminded, in this case). I happen to be sexually attracted to women, but that doesn’t give me license to act like a Neanderthal, or to disrespect any particular woman. Women are as varied as flowers and should be treated as such, yet there are books out there on how to pick up women, as if they are a monolithic group. Lastly, I put this pledge in an earlier comment, but I want you to see it, since I wrote it in 1980, and not a whole lot has changed since then that I can see:You’re a shithead, my friend, you should change your moniker, besides. You have no idea what women go through, nor do I exactly as a man, but I took a pledge in 1980 after seeing what was going on around me and not much has changed since. Here it is:
        “It is my observation that there is far too much violence, inequality, & disrespect shown to women in the forms of sexism, misogyny and more, around the world and it should, albeit MUST stop immediately & I, one human being, pledge to do what I can to end the abuse, beginning this very moment of the obvious, the overt, and covert subtle abuse of women.” -RNash

  1. 8
    Kalex's Tome &raquo | Kalex's Tome

    [...] This is how slut-shaming works Rebecca Watson has provided an insightful overview of why calendars featuring pin-up photos of women, even for important causes, may be doing more harm than good: The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shit… [...]

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