This piece first appeared on HG January 29, 2013
Stop Defining Us By Our Sex(uality)
When Rosea Lake’s ‘Judgments’ photo of skirt lengths started making the internet rounds, I thought maybe it was time to pull together the thoughts on slut/prude-shaming (sex-shaming?) that have been floating around my head lately, and put them into writing. Then a friend posted it to Facebook. Which is fine. Except then people commented. And kept commenting. And… uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.
“I guess I’m just proper.”
“I fall somewhere between prudish and matronly!”
“Between flirty and proper. Usually closer to proper.”
I was just going to write about how arbitrary it is to define women, or anyone, by their sexuality, and how it contributes to marginalization and objectification and all that. Now I have to go on a tangent about how easily women fall into letting themselves be objectified? Come on, guys. It’s 2013. We’ve got a Congress to run and maths to pwn and all sorts of other fun not-medieval things to do.
The idea that so many women looked at this photo and saw, not a commentary on how we’re judged, but a fun game of “oooh which one is meeeeee” is horrifying. It’s like the time my friend shoved a TigerBeat under my nose and told me to pick which Backstreet Boy I liked, because I was a tween girl so clearly I had to be in love with one of them (I wasn’t, though the dude with the goatee made me really uncomfortable). I mean, if we don’t all pick an archetype to fit, people will have to think and other hard things just to get to know us! How do you even define yourself by one of the notches in Lake’s photo, let alone why? If you’re a serial monogamist who has a drunken one-night stand in between two relationships, are you old fashioned or a slut? Does it actually matter, or are you just a human person doing things with their life? (Answer: human person! Yay!)
It doesn’t matter. These labels are arbitrary and serve to categorize people based on their sexuality. Oftentimes they are also meant to be insulting – it’s gross to be a slut and lame to be a prude. It’s not the same kind of insult as calling someone stupid, though (not saying sluts are stupid, just comparing insult options). “Stupid,” like “intelligent,” “insightful,” or “funny,” to name a few, is an adjective, a trait, something that describes a person. “Slut” and “prude” and everything in between are nouns – they’re not descriptive, just categorical. There’s no such thing as a slut, it’s a social construct that exploits a person’s private life to marginalize them, which is why the difference between labeling someone and noting one of their traits matters.
We’ve been talking about this for decades, and I wish we could stop already. I’m tired of conversations about sexualizing women, of the books and movies that talk about being a slut if you kiss someone too soon and a prude if you don’t, because when you’re trying to connect with someone you’re into, that’s what it should be about and not some archaic patriarchal idea about the worth of your vagina that dates back to the days when women had no rights and could be price-tagged in sheep. I’m tired of people who assume you’re a slut if you have boobs, and a prude when you’re more interested in being a person with them than f*cking.
Which isn’t to say every single person is a shallow jerk, but these ideas are around, and do inform a lot of people’s perceptions, which makes it really hard for me to get through a week without encountering some mind-bogglingly ignorant sh*t. We all somehow still have it ingrained in us that women are inherently here to be sexed with, and the body they had no control over growing into defines that. Fun fact: one person’s sexual disappointment has no bearing on the other’s worth.
Rosea Lake’s photo defines the core of this problem bluntly and brilliantly: as you move up the woman’s leg, the more intimate a space you reach on her body, the harsher the judgment. Just a step below “slut” and “whore,” is “asking for it” – that vile, abhorrent excuse of rapists and anyone who thinks that what a man wants, he is entitled to take, because what would a woman be for if not to be used? Move up a notch to “slut”, and you have a woman whose identity is steeped in her sexuality. Move up one more to “whore,” and you have the word that brings together sexually empowered women and impoverished ones exploited as sex workers.
There is no such thing as a slut, or a prude. They are figments of a patriarchally low-brow imagination. Two consenting adults having sex is just that – whether it’s lovemaking or f*cking, on a first date or the tenth, it’s a personal choice and nowhere near anyone’s business enough to warrant being deemed anything except a person. There’s an inseparable connection between sex-shaming and the “she was asking for it” mentality. Anything that perpetuates the sexualization of women (or men, for that matter) is dehumanizing and encouraging the idea that we’re all just walking sex organs. And since genitals take up only about a 16th of a person’s body (rough non-scientific calculation by me), that’s a lot of person to ignore.
Truth is, I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s so much more interesting and inspiring to talk about who a person is and what they think and do, than who they slept with and how often. There is so much to read, write, explore, discover, invent, create, repair and renew that we can’t afford to waste our time with objectifying people’s sexuality and the marginalizing power struggles that come with it.