Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you. —Spanish proverb #slut shaming

Raise your hand if you have ever been on the receiving end of slut-shaming? How did that feel?

Now, raise your hand if YOU were the one slut-shaming someone else.

I’ll never forget the day I learned that the moms at my daughters’ school were spreading a rumor that I had sex in the bathroom at a parent night fundraiser with my then-boyfriend. It was completely absurd. Of course, even if I did there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it in the sense that I am a grown-ass woman, and I can do whatever the f*ck I want with whomever I want, as long as it is consensual and legal. However, in reality, I was pissed at him for an argument that began earlier in the day. The bathroom was the only place at the venue that was available and private for me to air my grievances because I was NOT going home with him (Okay, alcohol was involved too, and as a result, I felt it necessary to tell him right then. I couldn’t just step outside to yell at him because people were outside smoking. How would that look? Nobody says booze helps you think things through clearly).

It was early in my days of studying sexology, and I was at the point where I could see the rumor for what it was – an attempt to shame me. I was a divorced mom, and my then-boyfriend was another divorced dad at the same school. Did they think I was on the prowl for their husbands too? There could be any number of reasons why I became the talk of the playground – nothing better to do with their time or lives, wishing that they had kinky-fundraiser-bathroom-sex? Who knows really. Maybe it was simply shocking at what I was studying in school and this was an attempt to scandalize that. I’d also heard a rumor where this group also tried to suggest I was a sex worker, presumably because of the subject matter I studied. Whatever the case, I wasn’t bothered because it was ridiculous. I shared the story with another mother who was new to the school that I had befriended. She thought it was ridiculous as well, and it was nice to have her validation.

Slut-shaming has a long and illustrious history. I’m being sarcastic on the illustrious thing, because, in reality, it sucks. Many women experience real emotional or physical pain as a result. Slut-shaming is a way to control others, and more specifically, a way to keep women – and their sexuality – in check. Even though some men experience this too, women are primarily the targets. My kids can tell you it starts as early as 6th grade. Dr. Ted McIlvenna, president of IASHS, used to say to us, “If you control someone’s sexuality, you control them completely.” Human beings have found pretty hard-hitting ways of doing this. How do you control the sexual behavior of others? In my mind, you use the Three G’s – God, Guilt, & Gossip.

How is this done? slut shaming

First, use God: establish restrictions on sexual behaviors and base them on the beliefs associated with religion. There are many religions that have strong views about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to sexual behaviors. For instance, what you can do and whom you can do it with. Some examples are the views of homosexuality, gay marriage, sex for pleasure versus procreation, masturbation, birth control, sex before marriage, and more. Non-Christian religions have a few of the same restrictions on sexual behaviors and practices and some other restrictions that are entirely different.

If that does not work, then try guilt: instill a belief that a person’s behavior is somehow wrong or that it will bring shame to the family. Mostly, this comes from immediate family but the guilt can originate from the extended family. In some subcultures in America, parents want their children to date within their religion, race, social class, or some other perceived important factor. Some families may threaten or actually go so far as not to recognize the marriage of their children if they do not obey their parent’s wishes. In other parts of the world, a few cultures allow “honor killings” where male family members commit these crimes against female family members. Some examples here and here. Sometimes the women are rape victims, this crime literally forced upon them, but the families believe they are unclean and carry out the murder themselves.

If that does not work, try gossip: engage the social system to control a person’s behavior through pressure or shaming. This one is more insidious because it has such humble beginnings – in schools, in social settings, and in the media starting when we are young. Think back to the drama in middle school – did someone calls someone else a slut or a whore, or a prostitute even if they didn’t know what those words meant? Kids know the words are bad words and don’t want them hurled at them. My daughter told me a story of a Classmate A calling Classmate B a prostitute just because B wanted to dye her hair blue. Think about how ridiculous that is. Does this girl know any prostitutes in the first place to know if they have blue hair? I think not. Besides, sex workers are people too and deserve our respect and deserve to be treated with dignity, whether or not they have blue hair.

I find it fascinating that this shaming and naming behavior begins so young. I have tried to fill the toolkits of my kids with information to help process this crap that girls hurl at each other. Thankfully, when these situations have come up, my kids have reached out to me and asked for help. I know of too many tragic examples of girls who had gossip spread about them and they could not or did not get the help they needed and saw a tragic end. I don’t always know the answers but I do know it is good to bring this stuff to the surface and air it out. Doing so takes away the power the words have. I would much rather tackle this topic with my kids instead of making them suffer alone. Certainly, until their little psyches have matured to a point of knowing this stuff is made up to control others. This slut-shaming doesn’t stop in middle school – it is only the beginning.

The bitchy, petty, mothers at my kids’ elementary school tried to create gossip to impact my behavior in some way. But not only was it false and ridiculous, but I also was not able to be shamed into some submission. These Three G’s are powerful. But if we see them for what they are – a way to control us – and we can get the support we need to move out of those situations, then we can feel that much more empowered. Knowledge, confidence, and support are strong antidotes against the Three G’s.

xxoo

The MamaSutra

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

  1. It’s a vicious cycle, gossip. Probably the best way is to just not mind it and or totally ignore it. If not possible then just maybe, listen but not talk bout. Great blog by the way, just found it. Bookmarked! 🙂

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