Slut shaming or woman taming?

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When Teja Vyavahare approaches the table at Starbucks, there is just one thing to notice: her big-lettered “I Love Consensual Sex” T-shirt. Confidently, she sits down, unphased by the attention that accompanied her on the walk from Stern Center. This same attention accompanies her now, as people steal quick glances toward our table.

It is this very attention — the stares, the whispers, the judgement — that lies at the root of the problem she is here to discuss. That problem starts with the clothes on her back; more broadly, the way a woman chooses to dress. Female clothing, even under the safety net of daylight, has become synonymous with character judgement. Female clothing has become the battleground for slut-shaming. The brunt of it comes out at night, when tight clothing becomes connoted with an open-leg invitation.

“I think they get mixed messages and they don’t really understand the idea of consent, and just because [I] dress more provocatively sometimes when I go out, does not mean that I want to engage in those kinds of activities,” Vyavahare said.

From knee-high boots to low-cut crop tops, women who choose to wear more revealing clothing are often deemed slutty, easy targets for a hook up. With the latest trends leaning toward the more revealing, fashionable women have thus become misinterpreted as loose women. Didn’t anyone tell you not to judge a book by its cover? The reality is, women are dressing to feel confident. They are dressing to look and feel good. Junior Kimberly Cranmer, who has caught heat for showing cleavage, can attest to this.

“My boobs are out because I like the way they look in that shirt,” Cranmer said. “We’re not wearing those clothes to hook up with a certain person or be a quote un-quote slut. We just like the way our body looks in that and we’re confident in wearing those things.”

Dressing sexy has become confused with promiscuity in the same way that feminism has been confused with misandry. Freshman Sara Prendergast has had a long-term boyfriend her entire college experience, but is all too used to assumptions of promiscuity about her for the way she chooses to dress. Prendergast sees the invalidity of judging her character by her clothing — however, she cannot say the same about those around her.

All photos by Natalie Sealover.

“I notice a lot of my friends, when they get in relationships, don’t dress like they used to,” Prendergast said. “But personally I don’t think I should because that was my style before, I feel like why would I change my style now… I don’t think I should change it because the same way that my boyfriend met me is the same way I should stay in my opinion.”

Within the realm of college, there is an assumption of sexual freedom. Our generation is steeped in hookup culture. But there are limits to this generalization, and women who do not fit the assumption are left with the short end of the stick. They often end up shamed for the decisions they make.

“Slut-shaming is just not letting that person have their personal freedom of having their sexual life by putting them down for what decisions they make,” Cranmer said.

Women who choose to embrace a promiscuous lifestyle face a double standard that affects them in their public and private lives. There is a pressure to be cleaner, better and less involved in hookup culture than the men around them. Vyavahare experienced this when discussing how many sexual partners she has had with various boyfriends.

“When I tell them, they get angry with me… but then their number is either just as high or higher,” Vyavahare said. “It’s strange because it’s almost like I need to be more pure, I need to like save myself for them, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Women labeled promiscuous are deemed undesirable, despite engaging in a similar lifestyle to the very partners who label them. There is an undeniable sexism in hookup culture, where women must either risk their reputation or not indulge in their sexual cravings at all. This then leaves women either unhappy with public opinion of their private life or unsure of what they like in bed. Cranmer notes the importance sexuality can have in self-discovery. “If you don’t sleep around then you’re never gonna figure out what you like, so who’s really doing the wrong thing?” Cranmer said.

The struggle to embrace or ignore sexual urges extends past the campus’s straight community. Cranmer thinks such double standards are perhaps felt most strongly in the smaller gay community.

“It’s a smaller community so everybody knows if you hook up with somebody…” Cranmer said. “So it’s interesting to see the difference, like even when it’s girl on girl there’s still girls calling other girls sluts for hooking up, but then even when it’s guy on guy there’s no being called a slut.”

Double standards affect everyone, despite sexual orientation or preferences. Promiscuity carries a negative connotation with every group, but without another word to replace it, how are we to define women who engage in a sex-filled lifestyle? How do we take away the different stigmas around someone who dresses sexy or chooses to sleep around? It all starts within ourselves. For lack of better terms: it starts with girl power.

“It’s really important for women to support each other…tell other women that it’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling. It’s okay to enjoy sex. It’s okay to dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself,” Vyavahare said.

The key to solving the slut-shaming problem starts with women and with things we have all heard before. We must stop putting each other down and start building each other up more. Prendergast, Cranmer and Vyavahare reiterated the importance of acceptance toward women who engage in hook-up culture. A compliment toward a woman dressed sexily can go a long way for both parties. Let them know that they look good and that they are not judged for their actions, and maybe sometime soon they will let you know. The cycle has to be be broken somewhere, and it starts with women like these three.

*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Yard. 

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