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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.