Friday, February 8, 2013

Beyonce, Butthurt Douchebags, and the Culture of Slut-Shaming

She should be ashamed of herself! 

It seems that anyone who caught the Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday had a strong reaction to Beyonce’s performance.  Many people, including First Lady Michelle Obama, applauded the singer for her bold and empowering all-female performance.  Not being a huge football fan, it was easily the most exciting portion of the evening for me (yes, I saw the 108 yard touchdown).

But for others it was more cringe-inducing than the bizarre Go Daddy commercial (that sound! blech!). Pseudo-celebrity and occasional Elizabeth Hasslebeck stand-in Rachel Campos-Duffy (some may remember her as the uptight chick from Real World San Fransisco—you know, the one who was afraid to live with a gay guy who was HIV positive, and who also had a fling with snot-rocket enthusiast, Puck, before he was booted from the show) tweeted this:

What a doll...

This, dear readers, is what we call slut-shaming. The term has become fairly ubiquitous of late, but in case you're unfamiliar with it, Know Your Meme defines it as "the practice of criticizing a woman for engaging in certain sexual behaviors outside of traditional gender roles, whether it be actual or presumed based on her manner of dress, speech or personality." It's also a form of bullying that's been the impetus for several teen suicides in the last few years.

I'm just sayin'
Duffy's characterization of the halftime show would have you believe that Beyonce's performance consisted of the singer having her way with the defensive line of the Ravens on national television.  Unless I missed something, though, that's not what happened.  In fact, there weren't even any men on stage.

There was that lady who wailed on her guitar while sparks shot out of both ends, which I found pretty empowering. 

The only part of KYM's definition I take issue with is the "outside of gender roles" thing.  It seems very much a part of the female gender role to be a sexual object, at least in our culture.  It's really the timing of the sexiness that matters.  For instance, a few months ago Beyonce inspired another controversy when she posed in her underwear on the cover of GQ.  It was shocking! It was inappropriate! It was...totally normal given that a quick google search of “GQ Covers” will show that just about every female celebrity that’s graced the cover is mostly unclothed.  Their male counterparts are often dressed in sharp suits (the most risque cover I could find was one of Michael Phelps baring his abs), but I believe that says a lot more about what the editors of GQ think will sell a magazine in this culture than it does about the moral fortitude of anyone who appears on it.   

What do Tina Fey and the butler from Downton Abbey have in common?

Remember how on the second season of Downton Abbey there was a maid who had an affair with a convalescing Army officer?  Later, when Lady Grantham found out the housekeeper had been sneaking food to the disgraced and dismissed maid, the butler had something to say about the idea that the officer should bear some responsibility in the whole affair: “men will always be men, but for any young woman to let her judgement so desert her”.  Oh those turn-of-the-century Brits and their antiquated attitude on sex.  But wait! You might be surprised to learn that Tina Fey (who I love, please don’t mistake me) has said similar things--albeit only about women with tattoos and large breasts (the modern day "housemaid"?).   

Let me say again that I love Tina Fey.  Truly.  But this is the very definition of slut-shaming. She assumes that any woman with tattoos and big boobs is making it more difficult for all the successful, accomplished, mature woman in this world because how can men possibly be expected to resist these whores who go around flaunting their sexuality? This kind of commentary makes it seem like women must be in constant competition with each other for the attention of men (rather than putting any expectation on men to just keep it in their pants already), and if you're losing the competition, it's just because you're not a huge slut, and good for you for getting your boobs all the way inside your shirt! The fact is, regardless of what Bombshell McGee’s character might be (you can’t really defend that Nazi crap), it’s the societal view that some women are “lesser” because of how they chose to dress, where they work, or how they spell their names that’s really doing the most harm.  It hurts all women--no matter how modest or immodest they are.  

To be honest, I'm not sure women can ever really win.  If we dress modestly we’re unfeminine or prudish, but if we show a little skin we run the risk of being judged on our sexuality alone.

A whole leg full of adjectives and not one of them says "interesting to talk to".
And there’s a huge double standard.  Take NASA Systems Engineer, Bobak Ferdowsi, and former Disney Channel star, Miley Cyrus, for example (odd comparison, I realize, but bear with me).  Bobak’s unusual haircut and highly visible position in the control room during the Mars Curiosity mission earned him some notoriety as “the mohawk guy” and even garnered the attention of President Obama.  On the other hand, Miley Cyrus got a similar haircut and gets called a slut on a regular basis.

Who wore it sluttier?

Don't get me wrong--I think it's *awesome* that Ferdowsi got so much attention.  He did a really cool thing, and he should be celebrated for it. I’m also willing to admit that there are other reasons Miley has gotten a bad rap—apparently, at the tender age of 17, she did what amounted to a striptease during one of her concerts, though that seems par for the course in pop-stardom these days—but I don’t remember hearing much about her before she ditched her wholesome Mickey-approved image last year.  My point is, men can often present whatever image they like and still earn respect, whereas women are judged far more often (and more harshly) on how they present themselves to the world.

To make matters worse, anytime someone defends Cyrus, it’s at the expense of another pop princess, Taylor Swift, who’s much-publicized dating life often gets dragged through the mud as an example of why she’s actually the slut, m'kay you guys?

well, that was productive...
First, I'd like to point out that Ken Baker, the reporter who originally tweeted this, used an old picture of Miley even though it was posted after her punk-rock makeover.  I'd be willing to bet that was at least a subconscious decision to ensure she was perceived a certain way.  And, frankly, the argument he's making isn't even a good one.  I can’t speak to Baker's thought process, but it seems to me that this is more an indictment on our culture than on either of these girls.  Miley dresses a certain way, thus she gets tagged with the dreaded “s” word despite her personal conduct, whereas Taylor *looks* wholesome so no one cares what she does behind closed doors (nor should they).  It’s the old adage of “a lady on his arm but a whore in the bedroom”.  How dare a woman display her sexuality for just anyone to see?!  She should know better!

It’s an absurd attitude, but it’s pretty damn pervasive.  Slut-shaming masked by faux-puritanism.

The “mercy” sellers

In the Middle Ages it was very common for professional “pardoners” to extract payment on behalf of the catholic church for anyone seeking an indulgence (forgiveness for temporal sins).  Although Rome has since abandoned the business of pay-as-you go forgiveness, apparently there are still people out there who are a-okay with it.  That faux-puritanism I mentioned before reached a new low last October when a website was registered that allowed anonymous users to post the pictures and personal information of women they deemed as “potential prostitutes."  I refuse to link to it here because I have no desire to drive traffic to the site, but here's a lovely description of how it works:

So, the premise here is that these "offenders" need to be shamed by their communities because, safety!

The thing is, though, any woman listed on the site can have her information removed if she's willing to fork over $100. It’s terrible and detrimental for communities to have "offenders" who *might* be involved in sex work (side note: sex worker ≠ sex offender), but at the same time, those women can be forgiven of their “sins” for $100 bucks.  That'll teach 'em.

Yes! Now I can potentially be a prostitute over and over again!

The most disturbing thing, though, is that anyone can post information anonymously without fear of reprisal.  The site even claims they’re immune to legal prosecution, though legal experts have questioned that claim . I could go on and on about the ramifications of this ludicrous policy, but I couldn't possibly sum it up any better than Gizmodo contributor, Jesus Diaz, who said, "This means that any butthurt douchebag may be able to defame his ex-girlfriend or ex-wife."

The whole thing is pretty appalling. It's also extortion. But they're getting away with it because there are a lot of people out there who think it's totally cool to make potentially ruinous character judgements based on what a woman is wearing in her Facebook profile picture.

They should be ashamed.


1 comment:

  1. I guess Beyonce's outfit was kinda slutty... I really just found it to be ugly and the performance to be a good expose on the sad state of pop music (then again, I've never appreciated much pop music).

    That said... douchebags suck.


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