Leora Tanenbaum’s I Am Not A Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet

1.0 Star

Let me start off this review by saying that I am 100% against calling somebody a slut in any form of bullying or shaming. I experienced a lot of frustration while reading this book. I found it very hard to relate to the stories of these girls and I found the focus on the word slut to be a little misguided.IMG_20160621_121710

This book is mostly a bunch of stories about girls who have their feelings hurt because they broke a social taboo, usually not because they wanted to, but as the author claims because they were pressured by boys, girls, social media…etc.

It was really hard for me to relate. I have always defined myself and my identity as somebody who is strong, outspoken and who does not give in to outside pressure. I have convictions about my beliefs and about my way of life, regardless of what other people have to say. Most of the stories were about girls who gave into peer pressure or who were very insecure. And while I feel pity for them I don’t really empathize. I feel like there are many stupid things that young girls and boys do in high school. To say that it has ruined your life or has drastically affected you sexually and emotionally is a little dramatic. I feel that men and women need to be accountable for their own actions and shouldn’t blame others because of their own bad decisions. Yes, there is a double standard. Yes, there is sexual inequality. Yes, as females we should not let men dictate why we wear certain clothes and why we decide to have sex with them, but many girls do. Many girls end up marrying dickbags who emotionally, psychologically and physically abuse them and they still stay with them. It’s hard for me to empathize with these types of women. Have a backbone! Stand up for yourself!

She refers to girls who are labeled sluts as girls who have asserted their “agency,” and because they are so powerful they get the label of slut. There is no accountability for their actions or their ethics. I think she is overreaching. Teenage girls make dumb decisions. That has nothing to do with agency or control or good self-esteem. They are impulsive, just like their idiotic male counterparts.

I think we need to empower young girls to know their own minds and their own bodies and to only put their desires into action when they feel certain that it is with someone they can trust. Even as a 28-year-old, I only want to be close to somebody who I know will keep our interactions private. And that’s because my life is nobody’s fucking business. That is what we should be teaching girls. Privacy rights. Not to cry because they got called a name.

There is so much blame being pushed around: Girls are feeling bad because of the pictures in magazines. Girls are doing bad things because of their reality star role models. Girls are doing things and end up hurting themselves because they don’t want to be a prude. Because they want the boy to like them. Because they want their female friends to like them. Because they want everybody to like them. But they’re not doing things because they want to do them and somehow that is everybody else’s fault. It’s the fault of the media. The fault of Madonna and Beyoncé. So now every catty or petty thing that one girl does to another is suddenly blamed on pop culture and social media? How about we say that most teenage boys and girls are a bunch of little shits in regards to each other. And hopefully, they grow out of that. Yes, we should correct their behavior and try to help them not be little brats, but having them not be accountable for their own actions isn’t going to help anything.

Tanenbaum wants me to believe that when my best friend jokingly says “hey slut” or “you’re such a whore” that she’s doing it to make herself feel better. While I don’t doubt there are girls like that out there, I don’t believe this is universal and it shouldn’t be declared as such. I think she is over-reaching with the word slut. I feel like instead of focusing on the label of the word slut, we should focus on raising strong and independent girls. Girls who are not afraid to say no. Girls who don’t care how many likes they get on Facebook or Instagram. Girls who don’t dress a certain way because it’s going to suit the male gaze. Girls who stand up for one another and for themselves. We cannot blame society’s double standard on the word slut. The word is just a product of the double standard. Instead of focusing on a word we should be trying to raise better boys and girls.

There were a few statements I liked in the book. One was:

“It’s true that one of feminism’s central goals is sexual empowerment, but this can only be achieved within a context of sexual equality. Within the culture of slut shaming and the sexual double standard, sexual equality does not exist and young females’ efforts to subvert the system are turned against them.”

The best line in the whole book wasn’t even Tanenbaum’s, but on of the girls she interviewed:

“Being raped is being abused by a man. Being called a slut is being abused by a woman.”

There are also many stories that I think negate responsibility of the girl involved. For example, an excerpt from the book after a story about a girl who started having sex at 13 and got preggo at 18 and had an abortion:

“Gabriella believed that she became pregnant because of having been labeled a slut. She says, ‘I wasn’t aware of it then, but now I know that the label does matter. Young women need to be educated about the whole slut thing so that they won’t think about themselves the way I did.’ ”

My opinion: Bullshit. She became pregnant because she was selfish and ignorant. She was not properly educated about sexual health and safety and that’s why she got pregnant. Not bc someone called her a slut. It’s anecdotes like this that really makes me hate this book and the idea that Tanenbaum is perpetuating the idea that young girls and women have no accountability for their actions. It’s all the fault of a sexual double standard.

I don’t think the word is to blame. Bullying is to blame. Cliques are to blame. Peer pressure is to blame. Sexual inequality is to blame. The double standard is to blame. Bad parents are to blame. Weak-willed boys and girls are to blame. But it’s not all because of the word slut. The word is just a tool used to beat down a girl’s self-esteem and humiliate her. No, we absolutely should never call a girl who has been sexually active or assaulted a slut. We should teach our kids to stand up for others when they witness bullying. We should teach our kids not to use that word, slut. But we can’t blame a person’s choice to be promiscuous, alcoholic or to abuse drugs on a label. I believe firmly in choice and willpower. We need to teach girls to be strong.

I will say this, parents and  young teen boys and girls should read this book. And I mean young, like read it to your 11 year old. I can see how this would be extremely helpful for young teens to read. It would share with them experiences and suffering from other teenagers. It would hopefully make a boy think twice before he pressures a girl into sex and then talk shit about her afterwards. And hopefully it will make a girl think twice about sending Nudie Judies to the cute boy in Algebra.

IMG_3492I’m pairing this book with an English Barleywine, Blithering Idiot. Even though it’s a Barleywine it isn’t sweet and drinks more like an ale. It’s the perfect medium-bodied brew to help you trudge through some of the stories regarding sexual abuse or misconduct. The 11% ABV doesn’t hurt either.

Beer Photo Credit: Beer Snob Squad
Format: Paperback.

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