The other night, as I was walking home from rehearsal, I overheard a conversation that disturbed me more than anything I'd heard in a while (interviews with Sarah Palin notwithstanding). I was walking down 40th Street in front of a couple of guys, clearly Penn students, who were talking about a woman they knew. They were making up a list of what she smelled like: "cheap booze, that hoochie perfume and nasty pink nail polish." Then they continued talking about what a drunken, tacky-nail-polish-wearing "slut" she was.
That's not the first time I've heard a conversation like this at Penn, but I'd sure be happy if it were the last. In fact, Women's Center director Litty Paxton told me a story about how a guy came to an event at the Women's Center wearing a T-shirt saying, "If I was interested in hearing your opinion, I'd take my dick out of your mouth." What was most interesting to her, though, was the reaction when she retold the story.
"People said, 'I can't believe he came to the Women's Center in that,' but my response is that 'I can't believe that T-shirt is even marketed.' The fact that the T-shirt is produced, marketed, sold and worn points to the level of misogyny in society."
We need to stop being so careless in how we verbally treat women. So here are some suggestions:
Calling a woman a slut isn't acceptable. It's true that some people have a lot of sex, and some people probably have sex with more people than is good for them. But other people's sex lives are no business of yours to judge unless they're coupling it with other unsavory behaviors. And men: Getting a lot of play is not in itself an accomplishment - especially if you like to call women sluts.
Don't call a woman a prude. Just because you're not getting what you want out of her doesn't necessarily mean she's repressed. Some people believe that certain sexual acts aren't right for them, and that's fine. And for those who are truly holding themselves back too much - calling them names isn't going to make them any more comfortable.
Think before calling a woman a bitch. She may not be a very nice person - or she may just be powerful and outspoken and you're actually the one who needs to process your discomfort with seeing a woman in that role.
Don't blame or make fun of a sexual assault victim. I've known multiple women who've been date raped or otherwise assaulted and haven't sought the help they needed because they feared that the reaction of their peers would make their pain worse. Just because the assault survivor normally engages in (consensual) sexual activity, wore attractive clothes that night or was drinking doesn't mean she was "asking for it." Disrespecting victims makes sexual assault seem more acceptable - and that's not okay.
Women: Respect other women. It makes me die a little inside when I hear groups of women discussing how fat so-and-so looks in that dress, how she's clearly a slut because she hooked up with x last weekend and y this weekend and how this other woman shouldn't talk so much in class. Because, ladies, if you make it look okay to put us down, then everyone else thinks it's okay to put us down. If women can't turn to other women for support, then what's left?
It's one thing for women to use these words in a reclamatory context; it's another for men - and women - to throw them around carelessly.
Some of these things might seem fairly trivial. And each little word is just that, little. But taken together they create a culture where Penn women - smart women, passionate women, hardworking women - don't feel like they have full control over their sexual choices, second-guess themselves when presenting an unpopular opinion, and don't feel comfortable accessing the resources they need if, God forbid, they suffer sexual assault.
I know I'll hear more conversations like the one I heard last week and some worse than that. Sometimes I speak up and sometimes I hold my tongue; I'm not immune to the pressure to shut up and accept it.
So I'm not asking you to go out and be that person who's always policing their friends. I'm just asking you to speak up sometimes and hold your tongue other times when you're the one who's doing the slut-shaming. It's time to end the disrespect.
Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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