Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A Couple of #SVYALit Links of Note on the Topic of Slut Shaming

In case you missed it, I wrote a piece for School Library Journal on what librarians can do to help create a culture that fights against slut shaming. Some of the ideas include creating a code of conduct for your library and making sure to include sex positive YA lit titles in your collections that help to de-stigmatize female sexuality. You can read it here: http://www.slj.com/2014/07/teens-ya/how-librarians-can-help-fight-the-culture-of-slut-shaming/

Also, please follow this link to read Meg Morley’s excellent piece on why we need sex positive YA and her discussion of the S word: http://cuddlebuggery.com/blog/2014/07/23/the-s-word/

And as a reminder, here are some of our recommendations for sex positive YA: Karen’s ListChrista’s List Carrie’s List

Teens are talking about and investigating the idea of sex whether the adults around them like it or not, giving them accurate information and healthy examples can help them make informed choices that are right for them and develop healthy sexual identities and boundaries. And we can help teens recognize that although others may make different decisions then they would make for themselves, those individuals still deserve to walk through their world with basic human dignity, safety and respect.

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.

True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer – A Slut Shelf Giveaway

It’s true, I was one. A slut shamer that is. I judged you based on what you were wearing, calling you a slut in my head. You see, I fell victim to the lie that a girl, a woman, is only worth her sexuality. And it’s an insidious lie. So very deceitful because you and I – we are more than just how we look and whether or not we preserve our pure virgin snow white flower gift for a man on our wedding night.

“The problem with slut is when it comes to young, young girls,” she said. “Once that name gets attached to you. Like to a girl of 12? Boom. It ruins your life. You’re spending years getting over it.” But she said more. Slut also means that you’re nothing. That any guy can have you. That you have no self-worth.” – from Slut, How Do We Explain the Word to Our Girls

There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. I’m not sure how we let ourselves believe that what we do in such a small amount of that time completely overshadows all the other parts of our lives. And I’m not sure why we let ourselves believe that our sexuality is somehow all about men, about pleasing them and fulfilling their needs, as if it was wrong to have needs and desires of our own. We let ourselves believe the lie and we are teaching these lies to each younger generation. Slowly, I’m starting to understand how dangerous the lie is and why we have to change what we teach the girls that come after us.

“Every snarky suggestion for a woman to “open books, not your legs” or viral outrage and scorn over a leaked sex tape systematically reinforces a Rape Culture in which women can only belong to one of two exclusive binaries: the morally sound and intelligent virgin or the morally bankrupt, uneducated slut”. – Lauren Miller


Let me tell you when the real moment of change came for me. Several years ago I read an online essay by a “former slut” (her words, not mine). She was a girl who was very sexually active in high school and she was ridiculed and exiled for it. She left school broken, lonely and ashamed. The thing is, she also revealed that she was very sexually active because she had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse and she was trying to find a sexual experience that would make her feel safe. She needed to erase that damage that had been done to her and write over it with a new sexual experience. And that’s when it hit me: we never truly know what is happening on the inside of another person. This topic comes up again when you discuss Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, which I highly recommend.

Then I also had what us religious types like to call a “Come to Jesus Moment.” In the Bible, there is a story about a woman at a well. The men around her call her a slut, basically. They say her punishment is that she must be stoned. And Jesus, well he just looks at them and says, essentially, if you are free of sin then you are more than welcome to stone her to death, who wants to go first? When we slut shame people, our words and our actions are those stones, and they hurt. They can forever shape what a young person thinks or feels about themselves, their sense of worth. And by picking up those shame stones we are suggesting that we have nothing of our own to worry about.

The worst result of slut shaming is the impact it has on our culture and how we treat victims of rape and sexual violence. You know how a news report comes out and says a woman was raped and you think in your head, yes but look what she was wearing. That is the most insidious lie that comes out of slut shaming. No matter how a girl dresses or how many times she has chosen to have sex, a girl (or woman and yes even a man) never deserves to be raped. Dressing a certain way isn’t an invitation for rape. Being sexually active isn’t an invitation for rape. In fact, there is no rape invitation. Rape is a crime and deserves to be investigated and treated as such each and every time.

The truth is, our culture sends very confusing messages to our young girls. We sexualize them day in and day out. We tell both men and women that girls are objects to be ogled and groped, sexual play things put on this Earth to satisfy the sexual desires of a man. And we tell men that they can’t help themselves because boys will be boys after all. And then, when a girl decides to embrace her sexuality, we turn our backs on her; we vilify her. Female sexuality has become a game that girls can’t seem to win. A confusing and dangerous game. Healthy female sexuality is good for everyone; it’s what we call a win-win situation for society.

“So that’s the thing about judging and labeling girls “sluts”. You put their sexuality on trial in a way that justifies sexual violence against them.” – Christa Desir


So I slut shame no more. Female sexuality is a healthy and normal thing. How a person dresses and when and who a woman chooses to have sex with is both none of my business and a infinitely small part of their life. It does not determine their value or worth. It is a personal choice and I can’t force my own values and choices onto others. And I know that there is no universe in which I deserve to pick up a rock and stone another. And no matter what, no one ever deserves to be raped.

Why I am I sharing all of this? Last week author Alexandra Duncan discovered that her book, Salvage, had been placed on a shelf in Goodreads labelled “Slut Shelf”. So she put out a challenge to do a slut shelf giveaway. Yesterday, #SVYALit Project author Christa Desir wrote her own post about The Slut Shelf and Sexual Violence, which is important and you should read it. She is also doing a Slut Shelf giveaway. And today we are doing our own giveaway that includes an ARC of the book The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher (and you should read Lourdes’ fabulous essay about this book here) and a signed copy of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (thank you Trish!!) Simply leave a comment between now and Friday at midnight to be entered. U.S. residents only please.

Talking with Teens About Slut Shaming
Slut Shaming part 1 and part 2
Discussing The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Slut Shaming, part 2 – A Discussion of Something Like Normal by its author, Trish Doller (Part of the SVYALit Project)


Not long after Something Like Normal came out—and I was still reading reviews—I happened across one in which the reviewer complained about the slut shaming and how I’d portrayed every girl in the book except Harper as a slut. I was taken aback because, well…

Let me back up. 
When I first started thinking about the book that would become Something Like Normal, the story didn’t belong to Travis. He was meant to be the potential love interest to the main character—a girl whose reputation had been damaged by him when they were young. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics of “reputation” and how two girls who engage in the same behavior can be perceived differently. Travis’s role was to come home from Afghanistan a broken man whose Golden Boy shine had tarnished, leaving him as much an outcast as the main character. 
Except, as it sometimes happens, Travis had a very different story to tell. Although the focus was shifted away from the girl, I was still really interested in exploring the concept of “slut”. My intent was never to raise Harper up as a paragon by portraying the other female characters as sluts. I was interested in how Lacey, who owns her sexuality and is a fiercely loyal friend to Harper, is considered a slut. How Paige, an emotionally messed-up girl who uses sex as a substitute for attention, is considered “hot”. And how perception could also damage a girl who hadn’t done anything to earn her reputation at all.
To be fair, I can see how the reviewer might think I was slut shaming Lacey, Amber, and Paige. Especially since the males in the story go unchecked—also a deliberate choice. I wanted Travis to respect Lacey’s loyalty to Harper and I wanted him to realize that Paige wasn’t toxic and awesome. She was just toxic. And I wanted him to learn how to be worthy of Harper—rather than setting her up as someone worthy of him. 
We touched on slut shaming in our first Google hangout discussion on sexual violence, but I didn’t talk about it in-depth because I wanted to stay on topic. But here’s the thing…slut shaming is a really big part of rape culture. When you call a woman a slut, you deny her agency. You turn her into an object, rather than a person who is the sole proprietor of her body, and it becomes so much easier to blame her when she is assaulted.
Harper isn’t a slut. Lacey isn’t a slut. Paige isn’t a slut. They’re girls. Wonderful. Awful. Imperfect.
Just like the rest of us.

Trish Doller is the author of several cutting edge YA novels, including Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine. She is a co-moderator of the #SVYALit Project.

Slut Shaming, part 1 – a discussion by author Christa Desir (Part of the SVYALit Project)

Slut-shaming is defined as:
  1. the process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct
  2. making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from the traditional or orthodox gender expectations
Picture from the movie The Breakfast Club

So a few weeks ago, a friend reached out to me and told me about a situation that happened in his high school: a girl was making out with a guy in the hallway, followed him into the guy’s bathroom, and then was raped.

The girl had told the guy she was kissing she didn’t want to have sex, he corroborated this story when a teacher asked him. To repeat: He admitted that she told him she didn’t want to have sex and he had sex with her anyway.
My friend was talking to his students about this afterwards and a lot of them responded with, “That’s not really rape. She followed him into the bathroom. What did she expect was going to happen?”
I can think of no better example to demonstrate the inexorable link between rape culture and slut-shaming. “What did she expect was going to happen?” This is blaming a victim for her transgression in the accepted code of sexual conduct and thereby rationalizing any consequence of her choice.
“What did she expect?” is a very problematic argument with regards to sexual violence. I wrote an entire blog on it here. The bottom line is that she expected to be listened to, she expected her no to be adhered to, she expected not to be raped.
What’s informative about this discussion is that it demonstrates the “us” against “them” mentality that many people cling to in order to separate themselves or their daughters/sisters/wives/etc from the possibility of being a rape victim. If we can point to clothing choices, alcohol consumption, “slutty” behavior, etc. we think we can somehow protect ourselves from rape. This is, of course, ridiculous. I have worked in hospital ERs with children as young as 4 and with women as old as 87. The only protection against rape is stopping perpetrators from raping.
And here’s the fall-out of slut-shaming: it is another barrier to getting help. It is another barrier to victims disclosing rape. It keeps this horrible crime well and truly hidden so that perpetrators can continue to do it. It’s also a barrier to discussions about sexuality, enthusiastic consent, and figuring out what each individual truly wants.
The first time I chose to have sex, I was seventeen. And even in this case, “chose” is a bit of a nebulous word. I relented to the three-month long coercion campaign my boyfriend at the time had pressed on me. I decided to “get it over with.” All my friends had already done it. These are not exactly statements of excitement over having sex. And part of the reason for that is that I never had a sit-down conversation with myself about what I wanted. It was not even a consideration. Nor had I had a reasonable conversation with anyone who might help me figure this out.
Because when I was seventeen, talking about sex never included a conversation about what I wanted for myself. It included lots of conversations about what I’d done, but no one along the way ever asked me, “do you want to have sex?” Nor did any conversation ever include what being sexual felt like to me. My girlfriends and I could get into an extremely graphic discussion about every possible sexual thing we’d done or been asked to do, but not once did the question, “did it feel good to you?” ever come up between us.
I suspect the reason for that is we were all afraid admitting that we were active participants in sexual practices pegged us as sluts. In my group of friends, the unspoken code was that you could do anything sexually, as long as it was for the guy. I somehow dodged the bullet of being labeled a “slut” because everything I did was for my partner’s benefit. And that code would have left me culpable for following a boy into the bathroom and having sex with him, even if I didn’t want to. If I followed a boy into the bathroom, I was expected to have sex with him. What I wanted never came into play.

I have recently finished Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice. This book is an important and critical look at slut-shaming, both the reasoning behind it and the consequences of it. It’s excellent because it offers an insight into the girl who is shamed and those who are shaming her. It also demonstrates the mentality of girls hooking up with guys with little thought to what the girls want. And how the insidious code of sexual expectation in girls leaves them with very little real agency. Something I fear is all too true in real life.

We are very lucky that we live in a time where books can demonstrate the very complicated maze that is teenage sexuality. Books allow us to have nuanced discussions about sexual agency and gender expectations. They allow us the ability to dissect choices and not judge characters so much on their actions as look to the motives behind them. How did we get here and how can we change things?
I have been given quite a bit of “feedback” with regards to Ani’s choices in Fault Line. Her hyper-promiscuity after her rape has led many people to be repelled by her. This was a conscious choice. I have met a lot of Anis in my life. The girls who are dismissed as sluts, attacked for their choices, judged for their actions. And I can’t help but wonder if anyone has ever sat down and asked any of them what they really want. Because if we’re really going to start a good conversation here, we need to step back from the question of what teen girls do and start looking at why they do it.

Christa Desir is the author of Faultline and co-moderator of the #SVYALit Project