JudgyBitch was recently on a radio panel discussing slut-shaming, and while the show has yet to air, I think it will be interesting. It was a lovely set-up – four feminist panellists against me, but I like to think of myself as the lone voice of reason in a sea of straight up craziness.
One of the topics that came up was whether or not shaming even works as a strategy to change behaviour. The idea is that even if we can agree that young girls should not be walking around dressed like mini-hos, calling them out for that behaviour, and subjecting them to public ridicule isn’t going to work in terms of affecting any change.
That’s an interesting idea. Does shaming work?
There has been one huge public health triumph in the western world over the past 20 years that strongly suggests shame, combined with information and useful strategies for affecting change does indeed work:
Smoking used to be the hallmark of coolness. James Dean smoked. Madonna smoked (still does, I think). When Sandra Dee wanted to ditch her good girl image and hook up with the cool boy, the first thing she did was light up a smoke.
So what happened?
Well, first of all, the very real harm that smoking can do a human body became increasingly evident. For years, the tobacco lobby refused to admit that smoking was in any way dangerous. Why, even doctors smoked!
Despite mountains of evidence, it took decades for the public health organizations in developed nations to acknowledge that there was a problem with smoking. Smoking was framed as just a choice, with no real consequences. Sound familiar?
Eventually, reality kicked in, and campaigns began to encourage people who DID smoke to quit, and to prevent people (especially young people, who tend to lack the maturity or experience to truly consider the implications of their choices) from taking up smoking. What did those campaigns look like?
Smoking is ugly.
Smoking will make your dick limp (if you have one, that is).
Smoking makes you look old and wrinkly.
Smoking makes you lame.
And hey, all of those things are true. By making people feel ugly and stupid and sexually inadequate and wrinkly and just plain old GROSS!, smoking rates have declined dramatically across virtually all western cultures.
Shame works. Public health officials are now trying to tackle obesity with the same tactics, much to the chagrin of the Fat Acceptance movement. Does shame work to reduce obesity? These people think so:
The simple reality is that shame is a powerful motivator to adjust human behaviour.
“Slut-shaming” is a way of making young girls and women feel socially unacceptable, based on their clothing choices. Slut-shamers are resisting the idea that it is OK, or socially normal, for women’s bodies to be displayed in overtly, inappropriately sexual ways. They resist the idea that their value is some function of their bra size and fuckability. Slut-shamers are sick and tired of their worth being equated with their physical assets.
Do slut-shamers always engage in appropriate shaming tactics? Nope. They don’t. They will often engage in total character assassinations, be relentlessly critical even after a girl has succumbed to their shaming tactics, cross the line from shaming into straight up bullying.
Know why? Because they’re teenagers and they lack experience and maturity and emotional development to constructively and appropriately critique their peers. And that is exactly WHY they shouldn’t be wandering around dressed as hookers. Because they lack the experience and maturity and emotional development to understand what messages they are conveying and what the consequences of early sexualisation will be.
The fact that teenagers feel the need to slut-shame one another is a testament to the fact that there are no reasonable, rational, sane adults offering guidance to young people who simply don’t know any better. No girl should get slut-shamed, because no girl should be leaving her parent’s house dressed like this:
Girls who have to live in slut culture WILL fight back. One of the most effective weapons they have is peer pressure, and they will use it. The fact that they have to because all the grown-ups have pissed off and just left them to fend for themselves?
Now that is a fucking shame.
Lots of love,