So how’s this for something to piss you off? A 16 year old on the pill goes home in hyperventilating tears because the mean girls spent the day telling her she’s a slut who’s “out to sleep with every guy in the school.” The mean girls are repeating what their moms said, and their moms are repeating Rush Limbaugh.
Like, okay, my opinion about Rush Limbaugh is what you would expect. He’s a fuckstick; we’ve known that for years. He bushwhacks through the jungle of the extreme right, creating more and more space for grotesque misogyny, homophobia, and sex negativity in the national political conversation. There is much that could and should be said in response to his egregious yet predictable bullshit.
Fortunately Jonathan Cohn has already made the point that women who have sex out of wedlock are not sluts. So let’s take that as read.
And I’m not going to bother talking about getting him off the air – he’s a rock star, disgusting though he is, and there will always be people ready and willing to pay him lots of money to say cruel and vicious things about the people they disagree with. People think it’s funny.
I want to make the point about an ill-attended way that sex is used as a weapon against women and girls. Straightforward interpersonal violence, with sexual contact used as a weapon, is not the only way that women and girls are hurt by sex.
I recently wrote about relational aggression, the social dynamic in which one person (usually a girl) is mocked and ostracized by a social leader (also usually a girl) based on her failure to conform to whatever virtue is deemed important, from the name brand of her clothing to the circumference of her hips. The other members of the group follow the leader both to be a part of the ingroup and to avoid being ostracized themselves.
Anything can be used as a weapon against a person that the leader has decided is a target. Anything. But very often it’s the target’s body – its size, shape, color, the way it moves, the choices she makes about it, and especially her sexuality.
The cruelest part is that girls can be tarred with the epithet “slut,” as in this case, and they can just as easily be tarred with “virgin.” For boys at least, in general, only “virgin” is the shame-inducing label; while that’s not good, at least it’s simple. For girls, there is no way to be sexually RIGHT.
I want to be unambiguous here: it’s an act of violence. Those girls in that Daily Kos story, the ones who tormented the writer’s daughter? They’re emotionally abusing that girl, using her sexuality against her as a weapon. Because they can. Because our culture has lots of space for shaming women about their sexuality. You can tell there’s lots of space by the fact that their MOMS are teaching it to them. Women teaching girls to hurt and shame other girls through sexuality.
But it’s a further, cultural-level violence. Because those girls are being taught by their mothers that if THEY want birth control, they too are “sluts,” whatever that means. And so they’re more likely to get pregnant or get an STI – because they’re NOT less likely to have sex.
So I’m not angry with the girls who bullied and tortured their peer; I pity them, because their chances of experiencing a some pretty impactful health issues within the next few years are elevated by what they’re learning.
No, I’m not angry about the girls. I’m angry about the moms. The moms who are hurting not just OTHER people’s kids, but their OWN kids, by creating an environment where sex is shameful and wrong.
My new domain name is “The Dirty Normal,” specifically because of shit like this. Sex negativity causes health problems: unwanted pregnancies, STIs, depression and suicidality, sexual violence… how long does the list need to be? How much harm needs to go with a sex negative attitude before people are willing to break free and wonder if maybe teaching young people to feel comfortable inside their sexualities might actually be better?
Those moms are hurting their kids. And if we can’t agree as a culture that hurting your own kids is a bad thing, then what the hell are we doing?