As usual, one of the most talked about things on the Internet for days after an awards show is the people who performed on it. Who can forget the 2013 VMA’s where Miley Cyrus performed with Robin Thicke and caused much of the nation to gasp in horror over the “twerking” and other sexual innuendos that were involved. The words “slut,” “skank,” and “whore” revolved around the young woman, despite the fact that she wasn’t the only one on the stage.
The Grammy’s aired on January 26th, and singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter sang her latest hit, “Drunk Love” with her husband, singer Jay-Z. Like Miley, Beyoncé was scantily dressed and danced sensually with the man on the stage. Most of public opinion was in favor of this, and others rose up to say why wasn’t Beyoncé being labeled a “slut" too? Tweeting with disgust, one young woman wrote, “Miley gets hated on for showing off her ass in a performance. Meanwhile, Beyoncé is out in her thong.”
Today, I’m speaking to all of the women out there. First off, let’s acknowledge one very real difference between the two performances: Miley got sexual on stage with a married man—who was not married to her. Beyoncé was moving around with her husband. Say what you want to about the current ideals of marriage in the United States, but a married man flirting or—God forbid, twerking with a young woman that is not his wife is still not generally accepted. So there’s that.
However, this also doesn’t get behind the real question: Why is Miley or Beyoncé being considered a slut? Because they were sexy? Because they let millions of people view their adult bodies? Or because we, as a culture, are so ingrained to label any women who embraces her sexual self as something to be hated?
“Slut shaming” has been around for centuries, just called different things. For generations, women have been punished or condemned for enjoying their sexual desires, for choosing their own partner, for even thinking that they had the same sexual rights as men. Why are we still doing it in the 21st century?
My ideas of a woman being sexual or sensual are different than many of the women out there, but that doesn’t mean I get to call them out and shame them the way we have been for generations. Even now, I have been labeled as a “slut” for my recent relationships because they do not fit the preconceived notions of many here.
Teen Girls and Sexism
It’s our children who are suffering the most. The next generation. The ones who will someday be leading this country. One parent Tweeted after Beyoncé’s performance, “Grammy Awards . . . Beyoncé . . . there might be children watching.” She wasn’t the only one; horrified parents shamed Beyoncé’s dancing and grinding, not caring that she was with her husband, or that she was a capable adult.
What these parents don’t realize is that their attitudes are what is going to harm their children; not the children watching Beyoncé or Miley dance with sexual swagger. I understand parents screening for what they feel will be appropriate, but if they do this along with blatant criticism and name-calling, just what exactly are they passing on to their children?
It is an interesting and disturbing fact that there are no demeaning titles for sexually promiscuous men—nor are men derided for dressing with fewer clothes on. How many times have you called a man a slut for appearing somewhere without a shirt? Yet a woman walks in showing some cleavage and perhaps what you would consider a “little too much leg,” and she’s likely to be called a “whore.” Even the more recent term “man-whore” for men fails to address the real problem, as it still needs to be justified by using the word, “man.” Otherwise, of course you would be referring to a woman.
These stereotypes don’t seem to be changing, and our kids accept them without question. This really hit home to me as I asked my 12-year-old daughter the other day about a friend she used to have in elementary school. “Oh,” my daughter said casually, “she dresses like a slut now.”
The idea that any 12-year-old could be a “slut” is preposterous, along with the realization that this is what my daughter is learning—and not from me. As a teacher and feminist, I refuse to use those words in my home. And yet, not only did my daughter know them, they fell off of her tongue with an ease that is more than a little disturbing to me. This was immediately followed by a long talk of how we do not demean other people, most especially fellow tween girls, but it got me thinking: Just how many different ways are our children learning that this is not only okay, but important and validating to label another girl as a slut? Well, media was full of such lessons today.
Regardless of your sexual ideals and teachings, it is time to take a step back and realize that the ridiculing of our fellow sisters needs to stop. No one says you need to twerk; no one demands that you grind against your husband on national television, or even that you accent the female characteristics that line your body. But we, as a female sex, need to take a stand against the constant barrage of insults that are allowed merely because we have more curves and different genitals. We are beautiful. We are unique. And no matter your differing view, we are all gloriously human. And that is something to celebrate instead of desecrate.