Slut-Shaming and Victim-Blaming Start Early

June 21, 2013

By now, you may have heard about the male Transportation Security Administration agent who told a girl travelling alone, “You’re only 15, cover yourself,” in, as she described it, a “hostile tone.” Fortunately for this young woman (and unfortunately for the TSA agent), her father happens to be BoingBoing.net founder Mark Frauenfelder, giving him a pretty big public platform to call out this abuse of power.

If you’re a parent, a woman, or, well, anyone who cares about basic human respect and decency, this story probably ticked you off. How dare this man, whose only responsibility is ensuring the safety of passengers flying, shame a woman, much less a 15-year-old girl, because he doesn’t like what she’s wearing? And I truly wish we could all just jump on the outrage bandwagon and shame this TSA officer into abandoning his bad behavior. But he’s only a symptom of a much bigger problem.

The truth is that society just loves to hate on women. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian facing critique after critique because she’s too fat, a reporter facing criticism because she’s too hateful, or Miss Utah being torn apart for being too dumb, women are constantly being torn down. A woman can be labeled a “slut” if her shirt is too low-cut, her skirt too short, or her clothing in general is too tight. The words are hurtful, but the serious consequences of slut-shaming go far beyond hurt feelings. When a woman is raped, the first reaction is far too often to blame her. We see it happen over and over again: Steubenville, Audrie Pott, and Rehtaeh Parsons are just a few recent examples.

This criticism of everything women do, but especially everything they wear, begins so young that it becomes imbued in everything. Consider school dress codes. No, I’m not saying school dress codes are inherently bad. But when their primary function is to prevent girls from “distracting boys,” perhaps we should all take a moment and think about the impact that logic has. What does it say to young girls and boys when we tell girls they must be fully covered to avoid unwanted sexual advances or to be acceptable to society? I couldn’t answer that question any better than A. Lynn from Nerdy Feminist: “Female bodies are looked at as inherently problematic, simply for being female bodies. They are forever seen as sexual objects, temptations, shame, and in need of protecting.”

As Jessica Valenti points out, there comes a point when every woman realizes she’s perceived as public property. For Frauenfelder’s daughter, that point came in an airport, and as long as we continue to endorse this perception that girls’ bodies are the problem, that point will inevitably come for many others.

This post was written by AAUW Media Relations Intern Kristi Grim.

By:   |   June 21, 2013

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