“Shoot the Slut:” The 21st Century Backlash Is All About Sex


As Susan Faludi demonstrated in “Backlash,” attitudes about gender and sexuality tend to be cyclical.  Women’s success in the workplace, especially, has a tendency to create anti-feminist backlashes.  As Faludi documented, the 80s backlash in response to the normalization of professional work for women took shape in demands that women embrace more feminine-submissive behaviors and fashions, the idolizing of housewives as perfect women, and attacks on reproductive rights. 

Despite the previous anti-feminist administration, the past couple of decades have been good for women: education levels rose to meet and exceed men’s, women’s leadership became more normalized from Condie Rice to Hillary Clinton, and the public debate over sexual harassment in the 90s was won by feminists (though social disapproval of it remains no more than an inch deep).  Even the existence of the feminist blogosphere can be counted as a major triumph.  The tendency of news magazines to periodically declare feminism “dead” can’t withstand the overwhelming online evidence that feminism is very much alive.

And now we’re in a backlash period, and the focus hasn’t been on fashion or even sending women to the home as much—it’s all about sex, baby. Or more precisely, there’s been an alarming trend towards glamorizing chastity standards that have often been out of fashion for 50 years.  It’s not just the nearly 1,000 bills in state legislatures aimed at punishing and controlling female sexuality by depriving women of access to birth control and abortion, though god knows that would be enough.  As Faludi demonstrated in her history of the 80s, these things tend to spread and morph and infect the discourse and behavior of all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. 

One story recently brought home how very terrible the situation is getting when it comes to the policing and punishing of women for their lack of commitment to chastity. Jasmijn Rijcken was visiting New York City from her native Holland, and was pulled over by a New York City police officer and threatened with a ticket for wearing a short skirt on a bicycle.  He called her skirt “distracting,” and only backed off when he learned she didn’t actually live in the city. He used the age-old excuse that women’s bodies are so “distracting” that they must be covered up, as men cannot control themselves when exposed to whatever body part the complainant deems too damn sexy.  At least the cop in this case wasn’t suggesting men would be forced to rape her; he simply claimed that women’s alluring flesh would cause car accidents. Here’s a picture of the supposedly scandalous skirt:

bicyclist in a skirt

As a reminder, this incidence happened in New York City, a place where you can walk down the street wearing only a pair of underwear and many people won’t even look at you.  On an average day in the city, you’ll see at least 50 women wearing skirts shorter than that, and yet the mass chaos on the streets has yet to break out.  I’m sure said police officer would probably laugh if you suggested that the United States have legal dress codes for women on par with Saudi Arabia or Iran, but really his asinine argument was different than those laws only in degree and not in kind.

This whole thing comes on the tail of the devastating acquittal of two NYPD police officers for rape, even though there’s tons of corroborating evidence for the victim’s claim to wake up after sobering up from being black-out drunk to find herself being raped.  There’s tapes showing the officers repeatedly returning to her apartment for no good reason and the taped confession of one who said he used a condom, for instance.  But the jury refused to convict, and interviews afterwards make it clear that many jury members simply couldn’t muster sympathy for the victim, who had violated the standards of modesty by drinking so much in the first place. 

In fact, one of the favorite games of the tabloids now is Good Girl vs. Bad Girl.  From my perusal of tabloid magazines at the grocery store and gossip blogs, it appears that most of the stories fall into one of two categories:

1) Glowing, flattering portrayals of women who follow the increasingly strict rules of chastity and modesty.  Weddings,  pictures of women holding babies and canoodling with monogamous partners, women in pastels, and especially women renouncing any kind of behavior in the past that might indicate a fondness  for partying or the penis are all subject to being photographed in flattering light, looking well-rested and content.

2) Slatterns who are pictured under flashes or unflattering lights while drinking or wearing sexy clothes or doing anything that doesn’t involve snuggling a baby.  Female celebrities whose only “sin” seems to be having spent the night at a man’s house are photographed and mocked, as if their behavior fell way outside of social norms.  (Last time I checked, it’s generally not expected that single women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s should spend every night knitting on a porch while suitors come a-calling under the watchful eyes of their chaperones.) 

Look, Bristol Palin is only a celebrity because she’s willing to give in to cultural demands that she apologize for having sex.  Without that, she’s just another child of a politician.  That our culture makes this demand—that we’re so hungry for it that we’ll elevate someone to a cultural icon simply because she fills it—tells you all you need to know.  We’re in the throes of a cultural bout of misogyny, and its focus is on sex. And the people who pay the highest price are women whose access to abortion and contraception is threatened by this national game of “Shoot the Slut”.  

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  • goatini

    I thought this was only a so-called “issue” with those ultra-orthodox neighorhoods, where it’s the local asshole myogynistic Hasidic men who attempt to impose their insane hatred and fear of autonomous females by harassing females who ride bikes and run in normal summertime workout wear. I heard that most recently, in Crown Heights, the Hasids put up posters on utility poles threatening women who **go sleeveless** in the hot, humid, disgusting summer temperatures.

    But NYPD is joining in with the harassment too???

  • ahunt

    I foresee a nasty backlash from the women of New York.

  • mchimes

    Dear Amanda,

    I appreciate your writing, and look forward to hearing what you think about this extraordinarily Victorian reactionary piece in the Daily Mail… thanks…

     

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2002887/Slut-Walks-prove-feminism-irrelevant-womens-lives.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#

  • anonymous99

    You know Amanda, a lot of “men’s rights” people think you’re bat-shit crazy (to put it politely), but I always liked you.  You’ve hit the nail on the head with this.  My daughter is in middle school and this shit is already starting.  If a girl wears her shirt a little tight  its a major scandal.   What’s worse is its often the girls who are the biggest critics. 

     

    Thanks for the post.

     

    BTW Those legs ARE distracting, but I love the skirt.  Am I the crazy one?

  • alphabet-soup

    I’m all good with everything in this piece, except for the “women in pastels” promoting chastity.  Perhpaps women in conservative clothing, generally in pastels, but just wearing pastels isn’t chaste.  I wear them all the time because of my skin tone, and I can say with confidence it has little impact on my chastity.

  • crowepps

     He called her skirt “distracting,” and only backed off when he learned she didn’t actually live in the city.

    There’s a dress code for city residents?

  • anonymous99

    So why are you people marking my posts as troll/spam when I AGREE with the post?  I just wrote that Amanda “hit the nail on the head with this”.  I’d agree my post wasn’t “brilliant”, but voting it as spam is a bit absurd don’t you think? 

  • arekushieru

    Ugh, I don’t know why, Anonymous.  I HATE it when people do that (as I’ve made clear, SEVeral times on this board).  I think it’s some of the lurkers. They can’t distinguish between content and poster.  It anNOYS me.  

  • arekushieru

    Part of the reason is because girls have been indoctrinated to believe that men will like them better if they make an appearance of being more conservative.

  • ahunt

    Well…not everyone is kneejerk, A99…but I hope the wake-up has been noted. Good job.

  • intelligiant84

    This article confirmed for me what I am finding on blogs such as Huffington post where everytime an article appears about equality for women and sexism, abortion and so on the misogynists come out of the woodwork and go on and on about how poor white men have no rights anymore and so on it is very telling. So sad in this day and age that we have to go through this again and the only way it will be reckoned with is if the younger women stay engaged in this subject and don’t believe what they are told, but believe their own eyes and hearts. You don’t have to act like men to be liberated. Read Helen Luke a wonderful Jungian analyst that talks about this very subject. 

  • anonymous99

    Thanks!  I’m the father of a teen girl and posts like this are important to me and the main reason I “lurk” here.  And from what I hear in my hometown from both men and women, and girls and boys, the level of “slut shaming” and the like is ASTOUNDING.  Amanda has been spot on about the “chastity” movement for the couple years I’ve been coming here.  It’s nice to be able to read what people like Amanda and Heather, etc. have to say.  It helps arm me as a parent so I can talk to my daughter about this and other parents in an effort to stamp this stuff out whenever I can.

     

    “Part of the reason is because girls have been indoctrinated to believe that men will like them better if they make an appearance of being more conservative.”

     

    I agree, but I think it’s even beyond that.  Allow me to rephrase:

     

    “Part of the reason is because girls have been indoctrinated to believe that men will MARRY them if they make an appearance of being more conservative.”

     

    Right?  Isn’t that the biggest part of “slut shaming”?  “We wouldn’t want her to get a “reputation”.  No one will marry her.”  Right?

     

    Amanda wrote:

     

    “We’re in the throes of a cultural bout of misogyny, and its focus is on sex. And the people who pay the highest price are women whose access to abortion and contraception is threatened by this national game of “Shoot the Slut”.”

     

    Correct.  I think it’s even deeper than that though.  To me the “slut shamers” just don’t think very highly of women.  To me it all comes down to the fact that many STILL think women just can’t be independent/or they don’t want them to be independent, so they need to be a “nice” girl, so they can find a man to “support” them, so they can be “secure”.  Which is all a pile of @#$%. 

  • crowepps

    Girls are indoctrinated that they have to APPEAR TO BE ‘chaste’ or ‘modest’ or ‘virginal’ in order to earn respect and liking from EVERYONE.  It isn’t just men looking for wives who will despise you, if you are a ‘slut’ EVERYONE will despise you: Mom, Dad, siblings, friends, teachers, other students, employers, passersby on the street, people who merely see your Facebook profile picture.

     

    EVERYBODY will make a judgment on a girl or woman’s ‘value’ depending entirely on whether her APPEARANCE makes it clear that the price for access to her sexy bits is very, very high.  And this is justified on the basis that men judge books entirely by their covers and are so stupid that they believe a twinset and a calf length skirt are a guarantee that the occupant couldn’t possibly have carnal knowledge.

     

    H.R. Mencken’s book In Defense of Women covered this whole meme in 1918, and the basic arguments don’t seem to have changed one iota.

    http://www.prismnet.com/gibbonsb/mencken/defense/Introduction.html

  • anonymous99

    OK.  I’ll understand if I get a bunch of spam votes on this one although it won’t be deserved.  And what I’m about to write in no way detracts from Amanda’s viewpoints as I’ve already agreed 100% with her conclusions.  I declared on this very website some time ago that Amanda is my favorite feminist.

     

    And I’m not joking around here.

     

    I’m probably going to be sorry for this.

     

    Keep in mind, man’s viewpoint here, so maybe I can see something that might not be clear to everyone.

     

    So, I keep looking at the picture and … it’s very sexy.  As I said earlier it IS very distracting.  The skirt with the low-cut boot.  Her leg is PERFECT.  (OK I’ll get to my point)  So she’s not from America, let alone NYC.  So she may not be great with the language or customary NYC flirting.  Am I the only one who thinks she may have simply misunderstood the “advances” of one of NY city’s “finest”?  Is it possible he was just hitting on her and she didn’t realize it?

  • ahunt

    And you can blame the  booming “romance novel” market for promoting this crap. Full disclosure…I sell books for charity at the back of the shop, and the overriding, and mind-numbing theme of each and every romance novel is “I’m a slutty, wanton, cheap woman, but only for you, Pookie….you studly,  wicked, irresistible bad boy redeemed by the virginity of this innocent but overly eager, teutonic breasted, (or possibly possessed of peach sized mammaries) who may or may not be coming off a bad break-up with Chad, the cowboy stock broker who tomcatted around because…

     

    And hey, I don’t wanna hear it. Women are gonna buy and read this rubbish…they may as well be contributing to the Fistula Foundation when they do.

     

     

  • ahunt

    Not gonna lie…yes, this was among my initial reactions…

  • wendy-banks

     

    Nah, not really. But the woman haters are.

  • arekushieru

    Except that she works in advertising, so, isn’t it possible, just slightly, that she knows the difference between harassment and flirting?

    Even so, if someone wants to ‘hit on’ someone, it should be a mutual situation.  And NEVER done while you’re presumably on the job.  Once you are aware that your actions are not being taken the way you intended, you should back off, which, apparently, this cop didn’t, at least, not unTIL she explained that she wasn’t FROM this city.  Once the situation continues, even after the other person signals that they are uncomfortable with it, it should be considered harrassment.

    Btw, I must have angered one of the lurkers, because I noted that ahunt received a four, while a99 received a five.  That doesn’t imply that whoever is doing the marking is paying attention to the content anymore than they were.  If you rated ahunt’s comment a four merely because YOU thought she was repeating what someone else was saying, that means, according to YOU, it shouldn’t be rated, at all.

  • arekushieru

    Well, justified on the basis that men obviously promote the belief that books (women) should be judged SOLEly by their covers, which trickles down to the rest of the masses, women and children included.

  • crowepps

    So, I keep looking at the picture and … it’s very sexy.  As I said earlier it IS very distracting.  The skirt with the low-cut boot.  Her leg is PERFECT.  (OK I’ll get to my point)  So she’s not from America, let alone NYC.  So she may not be great with the language or customary NYC flirting.  Am I the only one who thinks she may have simply misunderstood the “advances” of one of NY city’s “finest”?  Is it possible he was just hitting on her and she didn’t realize it?

    Yes, it is very sexy.  That said, the idea that women have to rein in their attractiveness because otherwise men will be walking into traffic and crashing their cars says a lot about how stupid men are presumed to be, and ZERO about how women should dress.

    There was quite the small town scandal here about cops in uniform hitting up women they had stopped for one reason or another, or calling them after a stop to see if they could get a date.  The consensus finally reached was that it was a GROSS abuse of the authority vested in police officers for them to EVER “hit on” women while they were on the job, because there is ALWAYS the threat of a ticket/fine, arrest, future hassles implicit in the law enforcement role.  You are right, he may have been “hitting on her”, and if he was, then he should be in MORE trouble than if he just was being stupid.  There is lots and lots and LOTS of crime in New York, and  citizens are paying him to try to prevent some of it and investigate that which happens anyway, NOT to line up dates while he’s on their dollar.

  • squirrely-girl

    I’m going to guess they’re about as distracting as a few of the hot, yummy guys that go running shirtless in my college town ;)

  • worriedbklynmom

    but nowadays, in my daughter’s elementary school only girls are in fitted shirts with little skirts or short shorts–in pink, purple or yellow and the boys are ALL in baggie shorts & shirts.  I keep reading how “girls” are repressed because they aren’t free to wear skimpy clothes but that’s not what’s happening to real girls (under 12 years)  in Brooklyn. 

    Lke the toddler girl I saw in little fitted pink shift and matching sparkly wedged mules while her twin brother was in shorts and sneakers.  As he raced along, the mom said brightly to their grandmom ‘he’s so active!’ while little girl clung to grandmom struggled to walk. 

    The chldren’s gender clothing ghetto is virutally impenetrable–particularly if you want inexpensive clothing.   This freedom for women to wear skimpy clothes has morphed into feminine = skimpy clothes.  So girls under 12 wear skimpy clothes (& shoes) which ends with girls who are afraid to move for fear of falling or scraping something or showing something.  Seems to me that is far more repressive than this incident.

    And why is this skimpy clothes freedom only for females and gay males?  I remember when basketball was fun to watch because of the guys in short shorts.

    I support the right to bike in a short skirt across the Brooklyn Bridge,  but having dodged the summer crowds on the bridge, I prefer to wear pants to prevent a loss of skin in the event of accident. 

    Yeah that policeman is a pig but welcome to NYC where our police force commutes in from the suburbs–wouldn’t want a representative force then they couldn’t repress so effectively. 

  • worriedbklynmom

    but nowadays, in my daughter’s elementary school only girls are in fitted shirts with little skirts or short shorts–in pink, purple or yellow and the boys are ALL in baggie shorts & shirts.  I keep reading how “girls” are repressed because they aren’t free to wear skimpy clothes but that’s not what’s happening to real girls (under 12 years)  in Brooklyn. 

    Lke the toddler girl I saw in little fitted pink shift and matching sparkly wedged mules while her twin brother was in shorts and sneakers.  As he raced along, the mom said brightly to their grandmom ‘he’s so active!’ while little girl clung to grandmom struggled to walk. 

    The chldren’s gender clothing ghetto is virutally impenetrable–particularly if you want inexpensive clothing.   This freedom for women to wear skimpy clothes has morphed into feminine = skimpy clothes.  So girls under 12 wear skimpy clothes (& shoes) which ends with girls who are afraid to move for fear of falling or scraping something or showing something.  Seems to me that is far more repressive than this incident.

    And why is this skimpy clothes freedom only for females and gay males?  I remember when basketball was fun to watch because of the guys in short shorts.

    I support the right to bike in a short skirt across the Brooklyn Bridge,  but having dodged the summer crowds on the bridge, I prefer to wear pants to prevent a loss of skin in the event of accident. 

    Yeah that policeman is a pig but welcome to NYC where our police force commutes in from the suburbs–wouldn’t want a representative force then they couldn’t repress so effectively. 

  • arekushieru

    So, which is it? Repression or freedom?  In my opinion, it’s definitely not the latter. Girls are indoctrinated to believe they should wear tight-fitting clothing and short skirts but not be obvious about it.  What you described was lead to by the instances described in the original post, after all.   

  • anonymous99

    Police officers should not be hitting on women when on duty, for sure.  Harassment?  Sure.  I’ll go with that.  Completely out of bounds whatever the reason. 

     

    I’m leaning towards an epic fail on the part of the officer to secure a date.  But, sure, I think its more than slightly possible that she truly understood the officer’s intentions.

  • anonymous99

    Hmmm… I’m not sure girls are being indoctrinated into wearing tight-fitting clothes.  Some do, for sure, but some don’t.  The option is there.  The “hoodie” is very popular in my daughter’s school.  The boys don’t seem to have the option of anything with a tight fit, but I’m not sure why.

     

    I think the indoctrination is more along the lines of having Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Pink, etc. splashed all over the place.  The brand names have changed over the last 30 years since I was in Jr. High.  What at the very least hasn’t changed is that many, and I’m shocked how much I hear this, criticize girls for dressing like a “slut”.  Boys can wear their pants down past their butt and adults think its a fashion mistake.  Girls wear a tight fitting shirt and she’s a slut.  This is what’s happening in my community.

  • equalist

    I HATE the sagging pants trend!  To me, it’s the most vile, disgusting “fashion” possible.  Nobody wants to see guys nasty undies hanging out all over the place.  And you’d think the fact that they have only one free hand at all times, since the other one is keeping their pants from falling to their ankles would be at least some incentive to wear properly fitting clothes.

  • prochoiceferret

    I HATE the sagging pants trend!

     

    Then you’ll LOVE this guy!

  • catseye71352

    I have always been of the belief that “Barbara Cartland” is a particularly misogynistic male writing under a female pseudonym.

  • catseye71352

    Girls can’t seem to win no matter _what_ they wear.

  • ahunt

    Naw…she was Princess Diana’s relative in some capacity, I think.

     

    No one has donated any of her books…but I remember her from my aunt’s used bookstore, back in the 70′s.

  • ahunt

    Precisely. Women who dress to attract a man they would be interested in are also subject to the attentions of men they are not interested in…Catch 22 indeed.

     

    The kicker is that women are held responsible for the conduct of ALL women…AND…and…and… ALL the behaviors of men.

     

    I think it should be a handsomely paid position.

  • equalist

    OMG I want to stream that to the security monitor we’ve got facing the customer’s at work and play it ALL DAY LONG!!!