Emily Spangler is a 15-year-old high school student and one of RH Reality Check‘s youth voices.
“Wow, look at that sexy body!”
“She has another boyfriend? What a slut.”
“Dude, go tell her how hot she looks today.”
This sexist language sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? It’s used every day, including in schools, public places, and on sidewalks. It’s not only used by disrespectful classmates or cat-callers; it can be used by teachers, family members, and close friends. Even you can be spreading sexism without realizing what messages you’re sending.
My generation, Generation Z—made up of people who were born between the early 1990s and 2010—is so accustomed to everyday sexism that most of us do not even notice when demeaning language is used, let alone call it out. From accepting slut-shaming, promoting degrading music in pop culture, and not addressing street harassment, my generation often overlooks sexism in our society. Although it is easy to overlook sexism, it is not the most moral thing to do.
Let’s start with the widespread acceptance of slut-shaming within my generation. Slut-shaming means shaming or attacking women by making them feel guilty or inferior for their real or presumed sexual behaviors or desires. As a teenager, it is normal to walk down the halls in high school and hear the demeaning word “slut” used to describe a young woman wearing short shorts, as a nickname for someone’s best friend, or to describe the young woman in your math class who has a new boyfriend every week.
The word can be used in many different ways to demean women, but the real question is what exactly constitutes a “slut”? The answer: No one is a slut. Not a single human on this planet. Yes, including that girl your ex-boyfriend cheated on you with during freshman year. Society uses the term “slut” and “whore” to attack women for simply being sexually active, wearing “revealing” clothing, or having sexual behaviors or desires. A woman can have sex with one person or ten people and still be called this sexist term. The fact is, no one should be using it for any purpose. Whether using the actual degrading word or having your actions suggest it, slut-shaming is unacceptable and does not create an environment that embraces equality.
My generation often tends to overlook the true meaning of a “slut” or “whore,” with the words popped into sentences as part of everyday vocabulary usage. But they are hateful and demeaning terms to use to describe someone, their sexual behaviors, or the way they dress. So rather than overlook the practice by ignoring it the next time it is used, call the person out on it. Fighting back against our patriarchal society, including minimizing the use of disempowering language, is one step toward achieving equality.
My generation also tends to overlook sexism by promoting degrading popular music that demeans women in every way possible. Perfect example: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell, which was one of the most popular songs on the radio this summer. The catchy tune seems to hide the song’s sexist lyrics. The first few lines of the song shout, “Everybody get up!” which makes you want to get to your feet and dance. But nearly a minute into the song, you start to hear the repeated rape-culture infused lyric “I know you want it,” which should make people feel uncomfortable, as it suggests a sexual act that might not involve consent.
Songs like these are not uncommon. Plus, it’s not the first time misogynist artist Robin Thicke has pitched in on a song that objectifies women. For example, take a look at his past contribution to the less-catchy tune “Pregnant” by Thicke, R. Kelly, Tyrese, and The-Dream. The lyrics include, “Girl you make me wanna get you pregnant,” “She’s more than a mistress enough to handle my business, now put that girl in my kitchen,” and “Put them pills on chill and girl give me my baby.” These lyrics are derogatory to women, treating us as objects who are just baby-makers, not human beings.
Sadly, these are the types of songs that are played on the radio, and many in my generation embrace them as if they are no big deal, no matter how sexist or demeaning they are. Even condoning rape culture can be part of a popular dance song! Music is a part of everyday life and surrounds us everywhere we go. To embrace less degrading songs, or at least acknowledge that the current songs on the radio are sexist, would be another small step toward equality for Generation Z.
In addition to giving slut-shaming and degrading music a free pass, many in my generation also overlook a serious issue that has affected women for generations: street harassment. Street harassment can vary from cat-calling and whistling to honking cars and threatening behavior that puts women’s lives in danger. Across the country, women of all ages are prone to experience street harassment throughout their lives. According to two Stop Street Harassment studies, 99 percent of women respondents said they had experienced street harassment, including honking, whistling, sexist comments, vulgar gestures, and being followed.
My generation often sees street harassment as something women have to deal with every day and accept for what it is. The problem with that is that street harassment is inappropriate. My generation can be the generation that comes to realize how shameful street harassment is and helps to stop it once and for all. For example, we can work with groups aimed at limiting inappropriate public behavior, including Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment. By not overlooking street harassment and accepting it as the norm, but rather calling it out, we can help pave a path toward equality and appropriate public behavior aimed at women.
Generation Z overlooks slut-shaming, degrading music, and street harassment all too often. These practices should not be tolerated in today’s society, as they are demeaning to women and are an encumbrance to achieving equality. It would be a step in the right direction for our society if we understood that no one should ever slut-shame, if we discouraged degrading music that promotes rape culture, and if we put an end to street harassment. Our generation is the future, and for young men and women to be guaranteed equal opportunities in the world we must start taking a stand to end these demeaning practices.