"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Patriarchy’

Why Do We Live In A World That’s Petrified Of Women Who Love Sex?

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Oldspeak:Men are expected to be constantly-horny fuckbeasts, and women are expected to not want sex all that much, but trade it for things they do want, like trinkets, cuddling, and babies. This ugly idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex, doling it out carefully as a reward, the entire conception behind “sexual economy” nonsense and most misogynist conceptions of women: made up by the church 400 years ago…. Women who are afraid to give enthusiastic consent because they don’t want to be seen as one of those women, those rare freaks who really like to fuck, those awful sluts. Unable to ask for what they want or even admit how much they want it, they end up feeding the same kinds of thinking, the same stereotypes, the same ugly behaviors. Lacking the freedom to say yes, they lose the ability to say no, leading to a terrible and all-too-common outcome: a woman who wanted to fool around a bit with a guy, but didn’t want things to go as far as they did, and now she isn’t sure if it was wrong, because if she wanted something, she must have wanted everything, right? There’s no middle ground in the virgin/whore dichotomy.” –Noah Brand Unbridled patriarchy is a hell of a thing. Women are having their genitals removed, their vaginas sewn shut, physically and psychologically abused and made to feel like whores and sluts for expressing their sexuality. Why? Why is our culture dominated by disdain for the wonderful perpetuators of our species?

By Noah Brand @ The Good Men Project:

I recently came across an interesting post about a very interesting study concerning high-libido women. It was striking for me how much it resonated with my own experiences as a high-libido man, and very revealing in how it differed.

The study talks about how the women interviewed all described needing multiple relationships to be sexually satisfied, and I thought “Whoo, I know how that is.” It’s not practical for me to ask any one woman to be everything I want in a lover, so I stopped trying ten years ago. Polyamory has proven to be a much better fit for me emotionally and sexually. The study also talks about high-libido women consciously organizing their lives around sex to some degree, and again I thought “Oh yeah, right there with you.” I prioritize nookie over some things other folks might consider more important, and when I think about the things I consider successes in my own life, getting laid a lot tends to be near the top of the list.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. My culture tells me I’m supposed to like sex, supposed to make it a high priority, indeed supposed to define my worth as a person by it. I’m a man, after all. The study also talks about very sexual women having to fight slut-shaming, both internal and external, and having to deal with a culture that wants to pretend they don’t exist. These are not problems I have as a very sexual man. One of the perks of male privilege, I guess.

Except that like all privilege, it’s got the fucked-up dark side. Yeah, I get validated by mainstream American culture, because I largely fit the stereotype of the horny dude. What about low-libido guys? They get erased and denied as much as high-libido women do, to say nothing of asexual folks. A guy who would rather finish his homework than fuck is basically flat-out told that he’s not a real man. That’s not cool, and it can’t be good for anyone’s GPA.

Hell, there have been occasions when I’ve told a sexual partner that I wasn’t in the mood. Of course, as a guy who questions gender assumptions and thinks deeply about these issues and so on, I was totally cool with saying that to them.

Nah, just kidding. It was awful. It was wrenching. I literally spent a lot of time trying to think of any alternative or excuse I could offer other than “I’m not in the mood,” and when I did say it, I felt like a failure. It felt like an admission of something shameful. I very keenly felt the idea that I had failed as a man by having one evening where I wasn’t wildly horny. And that’s going into it knowing that this stuff is bullshit.

So that’s the situation with regard to high-libido folks: horny men and horny women have, in my experience, a lot in common in terms of desires and lifestyles. However, we both deal with the same cultural shit that damages and constrains us in different ways. Not trying to say those ways are perfectly symmetrical or equivalent, just that I’m as validated by the current system as anyone is likely to be, and I still get mindfucked by cultural expectations.

Of course, assumptions about male libido, as godawful as they are, pale in comparison to the incredibly creepy cultural ideas about female libido. One of the earliest known postclassical joke books is the 15th-centuryFacetiae of Poggio, in which we find the following anecdote, presented in the painfully stiff English translation:

A woman who was once asked by a man, why, if the pleasure of cohabitation was equal for both sexes, it was generally the men who pursued and importuned the women rather than vice-versa, replied:
“It is a very wise custom that compels the men to take the initiative. For it is certain that we women are always ready for sex; not so you men, however. And we should therefore be soliciting the men in vain, if they happened to be not in the proper condition for it.”

Somewhat later, in the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, we find this bit, described thus in the DVD package for those who don’t want to watch the video:

Larry is drifting off when Cheryl asks him, “Why am I the one that always has to initiate sex?” Larry explains that he’s always available, and all Cheryl has to do is tap him on the shoulder. Otherwise, he tells her, “I’ll just be mauling you all the time.”

In other words, it is the exact same joke, but the genders have been reversed. (Also, the original version had a perfectly good boner joke, but 21st-century assumptions are forced to omit it. This is not a net gain, from a comedy-writing standpoint.) What the hell happened between the 15th century and the 21st?

Okay, admittedly, several things happened. But the one we’re concerned with is that women’s libidos went from being considered as powerful or more so than men’s to being essentially erased. Pre-Renaissance examples of horny ladies abound, from the Greeks onward: make your own list, but do include Chaucer. He’s such fun. This change in attitudes appears to have been religiously motivated, and based on the idea that women are more spiritual and sacred than men, meaning “less horny.” Again, make your own list of contemporary leftovers of this attitude: there are plenty.

By the 18th century, it was taken as read that a woman who did experience (or at least express) sexual desire was suffering from a disorder. One important 1775 study of the subject linked the problem to “secret pollutions,” i.e. wanking, and (I swear I am not making this up) eating too much chocolate. I guess that’d go a ways toward explaining this advertisement. Women were diagnosed with, treated for, and often operated upon for “nymphomania,” the dread condition that causes a woman to want sex. (Talk to your doctor; you may suffer from it yourself!) And yes, by “operated upon”, I mean clitoridectomy. And yes, that’s fucking appalling.

Now, this is not an attempt to draw an equivalency, but I for one can’t help thinking of drapetomania, a disease discovered in the antebellum South which causes slaves to want to escape. It sounds like a tasteless joke now, but back then, it was the subject of serious research. In both cases, we’ve got authority telling people how they’re supposed to live, and then labeling any desire not to live that way as a mental illness. Again, not saying women’s libidos are the same issue as slavery, but there’s a structural analogy between the two “diseases.”

So yeah, this ugly idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex, doling it out carefully as a reward, the entire conception behind “sexual economy” nonsense and most misogynist conceptions of women: made up by the church 400 years ago. Total construction, and a relatively recent one at that. Commence dismantling all worldviews and Cosmopolitan articles predicated on it, please.

So, those are the two gross, ruinously fucked-up stereotypes we’ve got: men are expected to be constantly-horny fuckbeasts, and women are expected to not want sex all that much, but trade it for things they do want, like trinkets, cuddling, and babies. Both of these are wrong, but they remain insanely prevalent.

Take, for example, the “porn for women” joke done both by 30 Rock and the utterly godawful Porn For Womenseries of books, calendars, and assorted junk. The joke here is that women don’t want men to have sex with them, they want men to do housework, listen to their tedious female jabbering, and explicitly promise not to fuck them. So since women hate sex, porn for women should depict no sex whatsoever! Tee-hee!

In the real goddamn world, porn for women looks nothing like the joke. The two examples linked are all about images of hot men, but as the late, lamented On Our Backs demonstrated, lesbian porn for women is also hot and joyous. The disconnect between the joke and the reality is too wide to be funny.

We live in a world where yaoi manga sells too fast to be kept on the shelves, where slash fiction is one of the largest gift economies on earth, where romance novels comprise fifty percent of all paperback book sales, and we’re told women don’t like porn. Some of you may think romance novels aren’t porn. I suggest you read one. That’s how deeply invested our culture has become in the women-don’t-like-sex lie. We have to throw out basically all of the data to make that theory fit, so we blithely do just that.

This grotesque misrepresentation of women’s experience has, with the usual cruel duality of gender stereotypes, created a terrible problem for men. Because straight or bi men want to have sex with women. That’s… kind of the definition, really. We are told, however, that women don’t want sex. Thus, those of us who desire women must believe that we our desire is unwelcome, barely tolerated, and kind of gross. It’s like being biologically driven to fart in crowded elevators.

This, of course, feeds rape culture. Because after all, if there is no situation where any woman genuinely wantssex, then having sex with women who don’t want it… well, that’s just how it works, isn’t it? So if you have to trick her or get her insensibly drunk or lie to her or ignore all the times she says no… that’s basically how everyone does it, right? And there we start down the road of a lot of rape apologists, the “I’m entitled to sex, and women dole out sex as a rationed commodity, so if I rape a woman that’s basically like a starving man stealing bread” theory. I trust I don’t have to explain to anyone reading this how impossibly fucked up that line of thinking is. Short explanation: REALLY fucked up.

The other rape-apologist meme that arises out of this set of cultural assumptions is “Men always want sex, so they can’t help themselves.” Geez, your honor, she shouldn’t have tempted my urges like that. You shouldn’t dress that way because you know what men are like. If you dangle meat in front of the animal cage, don’t act surprised at what happens. You’ve heard these lines. They’re a perfect example of dual-direction ugliness, as they reduce men to animals and blame rape victims for the crimes committed against them. That’s horrible coming and going.

Male rape victims being mocked or disbelieved, or simply afraid to come forward? Arises from the same shit. Because after all, how could he say he didn’t want sex, when everyone knows all men constantly want sex? It’s on simply every sitcom! These poor guys may even tell themselves they must have wanted it, it couldn’t have been rape, because they’re normal healthy guys, right, so they couldn’t have not wanted sex. People will go a long way to rationalize something if it means finding a way to live with it.

The libido meme feeds the same culture from yet another angle too, with women who are afraid to give enthusiastic consent because they don’t want to be seen as one of those women, those rare freaks who really like to fuck, those awful sluts. Unable to ask for what they want or even admit how much they want it, they end up feeding the same kinds of thinking, the same stereotypes, the same ugly behaviors. Lacking the freedom to say yes, they lose the ability to say no, leading to a terrible and all-too-common outcome: a woman who wanted to fool around a bit with a guy, but didn’t want things to go as far as they did, and now she isn’t sure if it was wrong, because if she wanted something, she must have wanted everything, right? There’s no middle ground in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

High-libido women may not get caustic agents up their ladybusiness any more, as was a popular 19th-century treatment for “nymphomania”, but they still get slut-shamed for being on the wrong side of that same old dichotomy. Being told that only sluts and whores want what they want may lead them to decide “Okay, I’m a slutty whore” and behave according to what they think that means. This can lead to a lot of bad and painful choices, when thinking “I’m a woman who likes plenty of sex” might have led to some better ones.

Then, too, there are the low-libido fellas, the guys for whom fucking just isn’t that high a priority. They’re told that they don’t exist, that they’re not men, that their experience is either mythical or deeply wrong. A lot of these guys will try to have sex just to prove that they’re “normal,” and being driven by a desperate need to fit in, rather than by their own natural urges, may lead them to make bad choices. Maybe they’ll hurt themselves with those choices. Maybe they’ll hurt someone else. Maybe they won’t hurt anyone, just feel lonely and freakish and wrong their whole lives. None of these outcomes are okay.

The way we think about libido in our culture now is deeply broken. It involves denying the experience of damn near every person alive, everyone who doesn’t fit into a binary men-horny/women-not framework, and since human experience falls into a spectrum far more subtle and complex than that, that’s everyone. Feminism has made a good start on helping women embrace their sexuality in a healthy way, as some of our blog friends are living exemplars of, but that’s only a start. We have a lot of work yet to do.

Noah Brand is an author, editor, raconteur, and man-about-town.

© 2012 The Good Men Project All rights reserved.

 

 

Why Are Men Obsessed With Being Tough? How Unrealistic Expectations Hurt Men And Women

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Oldspeak:“Like women, men are pushed to obsess over unrealistic ways of looking and acting. And that hurts everyone. ‘It’s a worthwhile conversation for all of us because men’s anxiety about their appearance and men’s fear of not measuring up to an unattainable standard is the great unspoken problem in the fight against body dysmorphia, against eating disorders, against low self-esteem and so many other things. For men, the enemy is softness. When a man wants to put another man down, he’ll often say “he’s soft.” And that means both physically and almost psychically. So for guys, the obsession is being hard, which means being badass, which means being tough—it means being physically hard in terms of what people can see in your body, it means being sexually able to perform on command because that’s what they see increasingly in pornography, and it’s this tremendous fear of weakness.’ –Hugo Schwyzer Fascinating discussion on the cultural and social psychological implications of maleness and how it drives behavior, socialization, and perception.”

 

By Cristen Conger @ Bitch Magazine: 

Before I got too much farther in “Isn’t He Lovely,” I figured it would be a good idea to chat with a male about this whole “male beauty” business. Hugo Schwyzer is a proud feminist, the Gender and Sexuality Editor over at The Good Men Project, and a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer fielded questions about how the beauty myth applies to young men these days, how body image standards affect non-white and non-straight men, the intersection of male grooming and dress, and the modern male’s latent fear of developing “man boobs.”

Bitch: Do you think we even need to have a conversation about male beauty and body image? Is it relevant?

Schwyzer: Absolutely, it’s a worthwhile conversation. It’s a worthwhile conversation for all of us because men’s anxiety about their appearance and men’s fear of not measuring up to an unattainable standard is the great unspoken problem in the fight against body dysmorphia, against eating disorders, against low self-esteem and so many other things.

And it’s correlated to a lot of very unhealthy, very destructive behavior by men. As anyone who works in the field of domestic violence and violence prevention will surely attest, lack of confidence and anxiety are hallmarks of predators. That certainly doesn’t mean that every guy who has low self-esteem about his body is a predator, but it does mean that most guys who are abusive are also facing a whole host of other social pressures that include negative feelings about body image and a lot of rage and anger about that.

Bitch: How would you describe “the beauty myth” as it applies to men?

Schwyzer:  The constant that we see in the last 15 or 20 years isn’t a particular look, although certainly hairless, waxed, and pumped-up is very popular. What it is, is hardness. The ideal is hardness. If you look at men’s magazines today, what is the advertising all about? It’s about building muscle, and it’s about getting and maintaining a stronger erection. What do they have in common? Hardness.

And it’s men’s fear of being soft, like women’s fear of fat. For men, the enemy is softness. When a man wants to put another man down, he’ll often say “he’s soft.” And that means both physically and almost psychically. So for guys, the obsession is being hard, which means being badass, which means being tough—it means being physically hard in terms of what people can see in your body, it means being sexually able to perform on command because that’s what they see increasingly in pornography, and it’s this tremendous fear of weakness.

That’s the real ideal because it’s not just a particular look; there can be some variation in that. It isn’t just “The Situation” and his abs. There is some diversity, but it’s always hard.

Bitch: In response to a study finding correlations between male media consumption and negative body image, Deborah Tolman of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality in San Francisco told MSNBC: “For boys and men, engaging with these media images [that promote unrealistic beauty standards] is more of a choice.” Do you think that young men are somehow more immune to these media messages, or are they just not talking about it?

Schwyzer: It reminds me a lot of what people were saying 25 years ago when I was first starting out when people said that anorexia and eating disorders were a white girl problem and that black and Latina girls didn’t have body image issues. And I had feminists of color tell me that when I was the young man in the room. The research has shown that, in fact, what happened? That anorexia and eating disorders were a predominantly white issue and metastasized to effect almost every community. Part of that was because of the mainstreaming of the white ideal, and part of that was because people weren’t doing the research on young women of color, so it remained invisible, and a lot of them got silenced about it.

A: We haven’t done enough research on this.

B: The pressure to achieve perfection is newer for guys than it is for young women.

C: Absolutely, guys are reluctant to talk about this.

Bitch: Statistically, a majority of girls don’t like what they see when they look in the mirror, and culturally we associate body dissatisfaction and appearance dissatisfaction with females. But would you expect the same to be true for boys and we just aren’t addressing it?

Schwyzer: Yes, but sometimes, you just have to get it more specific. When you talk about vague dissatisfaction with the whole body, that’s different that dissatisfaction with one area of the body. Both men and women are likely to name a “problem area,” but I think men are more likely to not say “I dislike my body” because that sounds feminine, but to say “I wish I had a bigger chest” or “I’m ashamed of my flabby belly,” or the classic one I hear from a lot of guys now, “I’m so scared I have man boobs.”

The anxiety about “man boobs,” which is obviously charged with [so many gender issues], that’s the huge one. That’s one of the biggest anxieties that I encounter. My friends who are trainers say that’s the number one question they get from new male clients: What can I do to get rid of my “man boobs”?

Men can be merciless to each other about that. And of course the culture of waxing and hair removal, there’s less to disguise. For guys, the hair removal and going through that waxing can be a very painful thing.

Bitch: Aside from the image of these sculpted, hairless chests, how is popular culture misleading young men about what they “should” look like and how they “should” perform masculinity?

Schwyzer: It’s a difficult one because it’s supposed to look effortless. And one of the things that happens is that vanity gets re-imagined, or reframed as dedication.

Take the [extreme exercise regimens] P90X and Insanity: How do they market themselves to guys? They don’t say “you’ll look so hot, you’ll look amazing.” They say, “you’ll look ripped, but above all, you’re going to prove your dedication.” It gets reframed as a masculine ritual—the dedication, the pressure. It’s almost like you’re going through your own personal Marine boot camp where you become a man. So it becomes a ritualized way of becoming more of a man, rather than just a guy, just a boy.

Your focus on building your pecs isn’t about looking hot because that would be feminine; it’s about being stronger and tougher and more masculine and proving that you can be dedicated to something and stick with it. And isn’t it a happy byproduct that you look awesome—because you can’t admit that that’s what the real driving force is.

Bitch: In that case, it seems like a big difference between beauty marketing toward women and men is that with women, the message is external, that other people will find you more attractive, whereas for men, it’s all about pumping up the self.

Schwyzer: Exactly. It’s self-centered in terms of meeting your own ideal, becoming the man you want to be. This all started with the Army 20, 25 years ago, when they went with the most brilliant advertising slogan ever: “Be All You Can Be.” They don’t even use that anymore. Now, they use “An Army of One,” which is the same damn thing. They decided to stop selling patriotism because that was old school and start selling personal transformation, and that was absolute genius.

Horatio Alger self-improvement obsession like that is so much a part of American masculinity: the endless desire to prove yourself, to make yourself, to transform yourself.

Bitch: What about this cultural homophobia that seems to exist regarding male grooming? There seems to be a fine line between a man caring about his appearance and a man caring too much.

Schwyzer: And knowing what that line is is very dependent on what group you’re in. And that’s why it’s helpful to have things like P90X and the gym and other things where you’re allowed to do this, where this is OK because I’m working on this.

When it comes to grooming, it gets reframed as an issue of competence. If you look at shaving advertisement, a guy whose got razor burn or a missed spot isn’t less attractive, it’s “Oh, dude, he screwed it up.” What do we say about a guy who’s really well put together? We don’t say he looks “hot; he looks “sharp.” He looks “tight.” When you’re working it, and, literally working it. It’s a job; it’s maintenance. But it’s about demonstrating competence. You’re not a dandy. You’re not feminine in the sense that you’re looking to be gazed at and desired. You’re demonstrating that you know how to put this together. I got the most awesome shave; I’m tight.
There are a lot of complicated permutations to that.

Bitch: What about the role of men of color? Do we need more conversations around how the “straight, white male” standard applies to and affects them?

Schwyzer: Yes, and with the recognition that these mean different things. The black male body and the Asian male body—all I have to do is say those phrases, and it brings to mind a whole host of stereotypes.

For black men, a lot of this is tripled and pushed even harder. There’s this myth out there that black men have all the attributes of white men, and more so.  From being sexual super performers to stereotypically being better athletes to having bigger muscles, able to pack on muscle more easily. And of course, we have the exact reverse stereotype about young Asian men and their bodies.

So, yes, all of these pressures exist, but they exist in an enhanced way in the lives of young men of color. They don’t escape that at all. And for black men, for example, the closer you come to achieving the ideal, the more praise you get, but also the more threatening you become. Your body is an object of desire, but it’s also an object of such extraordinary cultural fear and anxiety.

Bitch: A number of studies have shown that gay men tend to adhere to an even more hypermuscular body ideal than heterosexual men. Might that have to do with a greater cultural pressure gay men might feel to perform masculinity?

Schwyzer: I think that’s fair to say. And where you really notice it is among older men. Among young guys today, body image anxiety is so high that I’m not sure that if you were to take a bunch of 18-year-olds, that an 18-year-old straight guy and an 18-year-old gay guy would have different ideals for themselves. They may have different sexual fantasies, but their sense of what they need to do to be sexually attractive is probably the same.

Older gay men, because they live in so much more of an ageist culture, and there’s a lot of well-known ageism in gay male culture, do continue to feel this anxiety. I think that young gay men and young straight men feel similar levels of anxiety simply because young straight men have caught up to where young gay men have always been in terms of this worry.

You can read more from Hugo Schwyzer over at The Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slut Shame: Attacking Women For Their Sex Lives

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Oldspeak: “In 2011, it’s still considered perfectly acceptable to attack women based on their supposed sluttiness. Sexual patriarchy and gender based double standards are still perpetuated, and it’s not just men who are perpetuating it, women are as well. Meanwhile men are congratulated and celebrated for their sluttiness and promiscuity.”

By Rachel Kramer Bussell @ AlterNet:

On January 26, Loren Feldman wrote an open letter to media personality Julia Allison’s father, alleging to her expertise at oral sex and her promiscuity. The post, which has since been removed, is a prime example of the ease with which the accusation of being a slut is still hurled at women as a way to shame and degrade them.

Allison has plenty of company. To name a few, sex bloggers Kendra Halliday, aka The Beautiful Kind, who lost her job when a technical glitch outed her real name, and Lena Chen, who found herself paired with the Gawker headline “Worst Overshare Anywhere Ever” after posting a photo of herself after her boyfriend had ejaculated on her face. The Today Show’s Kathie Lee Gifford inspired a Change.org petition after she told Jersey Shore reality star Snooki that she should “value herself more. Don’t give yourself away to just any jerk, okay?” Slut-shaming can happen to anyone well, any woman. Maybe you’ve written about your sex life, or maybe you’ve just been bold enough to express the fact that you don’t want to have kids. Maybe you wore a revealing outfit on a red carpet (see January Jones’ Golden Globes dress) or Tweeted a cleavage photo (Meghan McCain).

Lilit Macus, editor of Crushable.com, wrote an essay for the New York Post about why she didn’t want to have children and was told, basically, that she’s a big ol’ slut too. “In the past, most of the comments directed at me had been about selfishness or not doing my ‘duty’ as a woman by having kids, and I think this is because I grew up in a conservative part of the country where most of my peers married and had kids young,” says Marcus. “But the responses to the Post article claimed I was a loose woman or that my desire not to have kids meant that I was sleeping around.” The assumption that women “owe” our bodies for procreation and that if we use them for pleasure instead (or in addition), we are somehow going against nature is part of the backdrop that encourages this type of thinking.

Author Kerry Cohen is an example of a woman who’s explicitly embraced her sexuality in her memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, only to be told that she “wasn’t slutty enough” to truly call herself a slut, proudly or otherwise. After Marie Claire ran a piece on her calling her a “sex addict” (a term she didn’t use to describe herself), Jezebel asked, “Is ‘Sex Addict’ Memoirist Kerry Cohen Even Actually a Slut?” The lesson Cohen took away is that there are nuances to who’s allowed to use the term. “It’s interesting because slut-shaming has morphed lately and now you can either get shamed for being a slut, or you can get shamed for not being the right kind of slut (meaning, you aren’t proud enough of your slutdom).”

Yet there are those who make the case for slut-shaming, explicitly even. Blogger Susan Walsh is one of them. At hookingupsmart.com, she repeatedly encourages readers to call out sluts, for their own good. She writesapprovingly of the much-discussed recent book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, and concludes, “Women are better off when the number of promiscuous women is low. If you are not promiscuous, it is very much in your best interest for your female peers to reject random hookups as well. We may not want to pillory sluts, but societies have always had social contracts to benefit the whole group. There is strength in numbers.”

This issue is tied to our deepest notions about what it means to be a woman, and whether our sexual choices are ours to make freely or not. The through line from Feldman to Walsh is that women who are sexual, or are perceived to be sexual, are somehow going against what’s “right” or “natural.” It’s also clearly not just men who are doing the shaming. As Andrea Grimes confesses in “I Was a ‘Pro-Life Republican… Until I Fell in Love,” her public bashing of other women wasn’t really about abortion, but lording her virginity over her peers. She writes, “I absolutely loved slut-shaming. Because I was saving myself for marriage–well, oral sex doesn’t really count anyway, does it?–-I knew that I would always be right and virtuous and I would never be a murderer like those sluts. The issue couldn’t possibly be up for real debate, to my mind: either you were a baby-killer slut, or you behaved like a proper Christian woman and only let him get to third base.” Clearly, who is a slut is in the mind of the beholder (see Emily White’s excellent Fast Girls for exploration of high school slut-shaming in action) and, more importantly, their decision to use the word is almost always in a way aimed to be insulting, demeaning and denigrating to the woman’s personhood. “Slut” is meant as a way to put women back in their place (with legs firmly closed), and make them ashamed of their perceived promiscuity, as well as make others join in on this shaming.

However the women “slut” is being hurled at feel about it, the fact that it is still, in 2011, the go-to insult for women, is problematic. We need to work to neutralize the term so that it doesn’t wield the impact that it once did. Writers have been reclaiming the word, from the classic polyamory primer The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, to groupie memoirist Roxana Shirazi, author of 2010’s The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. Yet those who continue to use the word mean it as anything but a proud proclamation.

Some activists fighting back against one of the most insidious forms of institutional slut-shaming are the organizers ofSlutWalk Toronto, to be held April 3. The event was organized after a representative of the Toronto police department stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This equation of perceived slutdom with an incitement to violence, the ultimate “she was asking for it” argument, is the logical end point for those who think women’s bodies are under some sort of communal control. Their walk also includes a poster campaign, one of which tells us to “Reclaim the Word Slut” and at the top says something I think speaks to the issue more succinctly than anything else: “Slut isn’t a look. It’s an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it’s never an invitation to violence.”

Editor’s note:This post has been altered since publication to protect the privacy of a previously mentioned individual.

Rachel Kramer Bussel (http://www.rachelkramerbussel.com) is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She has edited over 38 anthologies, including Gotta Have It, Best Bondage Erotica 2011, Fast Girls and Orgasmic, is senior editor at Penthouse Variations and a columnist for SexIs Magazine, and offers up daily food porn at Cupcakes Take the Cake (http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com).