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Slut Shaming Hurts Guys, Too – a guest post by author Jennifer Mathieu (A Part of the #SVYALit Project)


As part of the #SVYALit Project we’ve talked a lot about slut-shaming and how it hurts girls. And it does. But the truth is, it hurts boys, too. When I met up recently with the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE Jennifer Mathieu, she started talking to me about it and what she had to say was important, so I asked her to write about it. For more great discussion about our culture and what we are teaching our boys, please check out The Good Men Project.
As part of my 11th grade Language and Literature course, I spend a lot of time breaking down advertisements with my juniors, and one of the topics that often comes up in discussions is sexism.  The ads that always get the most laughs are the ones from the 50s and 60s – the ones so ridiculous that my students can’t even believe they’re real.  Like the ad for the Kenwood Chef mixer, with a young wife clutching her husband in glee after he’s gifted her with a (guess what?) Kenwood Chef mixer!  The copy that goes along with the ad reads, “The Chef does everything but cook – that’s what wives are for!”

That one always gets a smile and an eye roll or two.  Today, women can be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, my students argue.  Surely we no longer reduce women to just their role in the home. 
But when we look at more modern ads, the conversation changes.  The infamous Dolce & Gabbana ad that shows a woman on her back surrounded by leering men, for instance.  Or the BMW ad that implies that a woman who’s had sex before may be used goods, but she’s so hot it doesn’t matter.  Or the Burger King ad with a woman about to down a large sandwich because it promises to BLOW her away.
Women may no longer be portrayed as just a happy homemaker, but they’re certainly still being reduced to something.

When my students and I examine these ads, I get a lot of responses from the girls.  They’re gross, they’re weird, they’re sexist.  They make women feel bad about themselves, they contribute to disordered eating and body image issues.  My students are smart – they’ve heard this stuff before.
“But what does this ad say to men?  About men?” I always ask.  “How does this ad make the guys in here feel about being guys?”
Usually the boys remain silent, unsure of how to respond.  When it comes to how these ads impact their female classmates, my male students know the “right” answer – these ads objectify girls – and they’re often just as grossed out as the young women in the class.  But I’m not sure if they’ve ever considered what these images, these stories, these cultural expectations do to them.
But when we as a culture create this narrative that girls are out of control sex objects that must be tamed, captured and conquered, what does that tell boys but that theymust be the tamer and the conqueror?  When we as a culture create images where girls are judged for their sexual behavior, what does that do to a boy’s ability to perceive a girl as a whole person he may want to have a relationship with?  When we as a culture create stories where girls are portrayed as objects always at the ready to pleasure any boy who comes along, what does that do to a boy who is questioning his sexuality or is unsure about how ready he is for a sexual relationship?
In writing my debut young adult novel The Truth About Alice, in which a young woman is ostracized for her alleged sexual behavior, I didn’t set out to create a slut-shaming book.  Honestly, I didn’t even know the term existed when I started crafting a plot sketch four years ago.  But I’m happy to have it be part of the conversation about how we view sexuality through restrictive gender roles, and how that hurts girls and guys.
I think when we slut-shame girls, we also put pressure on boys.  Pressure to have sex, maybe before they’re ready, and pressure to have sex with multiple women.  We make him feel like “less of a man” because he doesn’t want to sleep with a bunch of women indiscriminately.  We also send a not-so-subtle message that girls aren’t whole people and that their sexual pleasure or individuality isn’t of importance – a woman out there slutting it up deserves to be treated as less than, right?  So what does that do to a boy who has the capacity and the desire for a mutually-fulfilling relationship with a girl he really likes?  (And don’t most boys want that type of relationship?  The answer, of course, is yes.)
Also, when we tell young women that boys are constantly on the prowl, what happens when a guy rejects an offer of sex or says he isn’t ready – that could make a young woman feel like there’s something wrong with her – like she’s not desirable enough.  Then the boy feels he has to tell the girl she isdesirable, and around and around we go.  Not exactly the best foundation for a healthy, equitable relationship.
When we paint girls as total prudes or reckless whores, we use the same brush to paint boys as one-note creatures out for nothing but to get laid.  It’s time we laugh at that idea as much as we laugh at the idea that a woman would be thrilled to receive a Kenmore Chef mixer for her birthday.
Jennifer Mathieu is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, coming from Roaring Brook Press in June of 2014. During the day, she teaches English in Texas. Visit Jennifer’s blog and Tumblr or follow her on Twitter @jenmathieu
About THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE:
Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down. (Publisher’s Description) ISBN: 9781596439092 
Talking with Teens About Slut Shaming
Slut Shaming part 1 and part 2
Discussing The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher
Editor’s note: Both USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorraine Scheidt and THIS SIDE OF SALVATION by Jeri Smith-Ready provide examples of boys who ask a girl to wait, expressing that they are not yet ready to have sex.

Comments

  1. I never did think of slut-shaming in this sense. While perusing through books, I indeed considered it truly fucked up how boys are forced into one thing and another, like if a boy can't throw, he's a girl and such stuff. But this… never happened. Brilliant article. Pooh. Another thing I've noticed is that if a guy doesn't want to put out with a super-hot girl, his friends tease him about being gay. It's also true for female protagonists.

    And I have read This Side of Salvation. It was awesome. Teeeheeeheeee. The boy was an awesome protagonist.

  2. this is nice…!!!

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