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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.

Sexual Violence in YA Literature Hangout Wrap Up

About two hours ago I hosted my first ever Google Hangout on Air to (mostly) non-disastrous effects.  I’ll have to write you a post about what I learned about doing that some other time.  But what I really want to talk about is the conversation that I had with authors Christa Desir, Trish Doller and Carrie Mesrobian about their books, sexual violence in culture and in ya literature, and more.

You can see the entire conversation here in the embedded clip below.  There are a few technical hiccups, but it was a really good conversation.  I suggest listening to the audio and not watching the video itself as it freezes in a couple of places.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-3qXsB_9I?rel=0]

About our Authors:
Carrie Mesrobian is the Morris Award finalist of Sex & Violence.  Sex & Violence is the emotional story of Evan, once a player who sets out on a journey of healing and self-evaluation after a traumatic – and almost deadly – experience.

 Christa Desir is an activist, editor and the author of FaultlineFaultline is the story of a girl (Ani) who was gang raped at a party and how her boyfriend, Ben, deals with his guilt and feelings in the aftermath.

Trish Doller is the author of many YA books, including Where the Stars Still Shine. Where the Stars Still Shine is the story of Callie. After being kidnapped by her mother as a child, Callie is returned to a family that she never really knew about and struggles with the various feelings she has about her childhood, including some sexual abuse that she experienced. It also deals with mental illness.

Some of the Highlights:

All three books have a very different perspective on the topic.  

Christa was a rape victim advocate.  She set out to tell the story from the point of view of Ben because she wanted to show how sexual violence affects others involved in the victims life and not just in the immediate aftermath but in the long time aftermath.

In Trish’s research, she learned that some people respond to sexual violence by trying to take control of their sexuality and find a more fulfilling sexual experience by pursuing many different sexual relationships.  (This is also the reaction in Faultline).  It is important to recognize that there are multiple ways that survivors respond to being a victim of a sexual crime.  All reactions are valid and we should approach them and respond with compassion.

As in Faultline, Sex & Violence also looks at the trauma of outside parties not directly involved in the rape.

Carrie talks in detail about how our current culture teaches boys to think about both woman and sex and how it is important that we talk more openly about sex because when we fail to it can allow dysfunction to grow.  We need to let boys know that it is normal to have sexual feelings so that they can talk openly and develop healthy sexual feelings and talk more openly about consent.

Christa wanted to engage boys in the conversation about sexuality and consent.  It was important that Ben was not a hero.  She wanted the discussion about the after effects to be part of the discussion.  Boys need to be involved more in the conversations about consent and sexual violence.  They need to know that men can be involved in ya literature about sexual violence and not have to be the perpetrator.

Trish began talking about the comments she has received and our tendency towards slut shaming and victim blaming.  Great quote: “Sexual abuse victims already feel shame, they don’t need more shame by being judged for the way they choose to recover.”  Christa added to this idea that we need to remove the judgment in survivors, even when we are reviewing books with sexual violence, and approach victims – always – with compassion.

Trish had presents a great discussion about the idea of “throw away girls” and how it adds to girls self perception and rape culture.  The dialogue needs to continually affirm the value of all people.

You really need to listen Carrie discussing Male and Female sexuality and slut shaming around 20:50.  And Christa added some good insight about the double standard towards guys who don’t want to be sexual conquerors.  We need to have broader categories, be more accepting, of people for being whoever they are at the time.  Carrie added that there is research called Challenging Casanova that indicates that most me,n whether straight or gay, want to be in one relationship.

All the authors agreed that it is important to have more open discussions about sex and sexual violence to help create more healthy approaches to sex.  Carrie has a great discussion about privacy around 30 minutes.  Here, she says, it where dysfunction hides.

Christa points out that rape victims can be any age, race, or gender.  There is nothing that puts you at risk and nothing that makes you safe.  Someone in your life will be a victim of sexual violence and you might be the person in their life that they choose to share with.  Christa says, “The moral of the story is have a conversation.”

If you don’t watch the whole video, do listen to what Carrie, Christa and Trish have to say around the 1 minute mark about entitlement, street harassment, and the slippery slope into sexual violence. We end our discussion by having a discussion about using rape responsibly in YA lit and discussing how the entitlement that our culture suggests we have can lead to sexual violence, street harassment and rape culture.  It also influences the way we feel about our selves and how we move about in our world. So profound this ending of the conversation.

Karen’s Closing Thoughts:

One of the questions I asked was about the response of parents, educators, social workers, etc. to their books.  The truth is, many parents and educators want to pretend that teenagers don’t think about sex, but biology is not in our favor here. For all teens, by the time they enter into high school (and for many it begins much earlier), those hormones kick in and they are in fact thinking about – and some of them are having – sex.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen and refusing to talk about it doesn’t keep them safe, but having honest discussions can.  And it can help them process their feelings and develop healthy sexual identities.  I get the fear, trust me, I am a mom.  But as Carrie mentioned, talking to your child about the circus typically doesn’t result in them running off to join the circus and talking to our teens about sex, sexual safety, and even sexual violence probably isn’t going to make them decide to become sexually active.  But giving them correct information can help them make better decisions.

The other reasons books like these authors are important is that it can help us all to develop empathy.  As Trish mentioned, there is not one way that a person responds to sexual violence.  Having multiple stories can help us in many ways:  It can help us see the signs before it happens, it can help us develop empathy and respond in compassionate ways to those we encounter in our lives that have been subjected to sexual violence, and it can help take those things that are done in the dark into the light so that it happens less because now we as a culture are knowledgeable and informed and we don’t let perpetrators hide in dark shadows.  And if someone commits an act of sexual violence against another person, it is always their fault.  As Christa mentioned, THERE IS NO BUT.

There is a scene in Where the Stars Still Shine that is just brilliant to me in highlighting survivor feelings and triggers.  Callie is in the process of getting intimate with the boy who is genuinely attentive and safe; he cares about her needs.  But the staging of the moment triggers her memory and she tells him what he needs to do to make the moment safe for her.  It is such an effective and poignant scene.

Sex & Violence is such a profound journey of both physical and emotional healing as Evan re-evaluates how he has perceived women and sex.  It reminds me so much of early Chris Crutcher, like Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, which is the highest compliment I have.

Faultline will gut you when you realize what happens to Ani.  I so admire Christa for making us think not only about how rape affects the victim, but about how it affects those who love the victim.  You can really see her experience as an advocate coming through in the way she shares this story and the depth of emotion that is portrayed.

I also mentioned the new title The Gospel of Winter for a look at the grooming aspect of sexual abuse.

I also discusses Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama and how it made me think about the issue of Street Harassment.

I want to give a special thanks to our authors for their time and thoughtful discussion.

Resources Mentioned:

The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker

Talking about using sexual violence responsibly in literature:
A Discussion of Using Rape as a Plot Device
Jaclyn Friedman post about using rape as a plot device
Maggie Steifvater discusses Literary Rape

Carrie Mesrobian has some good resources and a list of recommended titles on her blog today as well

Christa Desir also wrote about the chat yesterday on her blog in this important post

More on Sexual Violence and YA Lit at TLT:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)   
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 
Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
Take 5: Sexual Violence in the Life of Boys

Take 5: Important Books on a Difficult Topic – Sexual Violence in the Lives of Teens

When I lost my baby, I went into a deep, dark hole.  The only thing that helped me claw my way out of the darkness was to read books about other women having a miscarriage.  It helped me know that I wasn’t alone, that what I was feeling was perfectly normal, and that I could once again – one day – find my way into the light.  That is one of the magical powers of books, they hold our hand on a healing journey and they remind us that the world is big and there are others that do in fact understand what we are going through.  And if you haven’t been through it, they can help shed light on the feelings and emotions that those that have may be feeling.

Statistics indicate that by the time they are 18 years old, 1 out of 3 (or 4) girls and 1 out of 5 boys will have experienced some type of sexual violence in their lives. A troubling statistic to be sure. One that needs to change, to zero.  But it also means that there is a need for books written for teens to include these types of horrific acts.  Not for shock value, but to be the books that remind those teens that they can claw their way out of the darkness.  And to remind those of us that work with and care about teens what their lives may be like, and the emotions that come with that.  As the mom of two little girls, my hope is that we will read these types of books, be horrified, and join together to work to make sure that no more children have to experience this type of abuse and the painful emotional after effects, emotions that can plague survivors for the rest of their lives.

These are 5 books that I think we should all read, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.  Please note, if you click after the jump there will be spoilers for a couple of new titles.  Also, please be aware that the discussion of the titles and of course the titles themselves can be triggers.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is one of the classics on this topic.  It is a haunting tale of the emotional after effects of one girls rape at a party.  So traumatized is she by what happens, she literally shuts down and loses her voice.  It is also about her slow journey to find herself again, and to speak up when the moment calls for it.  Laurie Halse Anderson is an advocate for rape victims and works with RAINN. 1999, Highly Recommended

Fault Line by Christa Desir

Although rape affects its victims greatly, it also affects those that love them.  Fault Line is unique in that it looks at how rape can affect those that love its victims, in this case the boyfriend.  Told entirely from the boyfriend’s point of view, we see guilt and the desire to rescue those we love as they spiral into the dark aftermath of rape.  Fault Line is also important because it reminds us that not all who are assaulted become quiet and withdrawn, sometimes they react by becoming promiscuous and trying to take control of their sexuality by having a lot of sexual experiences.  This is emotionally a very hard read, and it is very frank in its depiction of many sexual situations and strong emotions. It is a unique and important perspective. 2013, Recommended

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Callie has spent her life on the road fleeing with her mother, who kidnapped her from her father.  Along the way, her mother has had various men in her life, one of whom did horrible things to her.  Where the Stars Still Shine is a beautiful, moving portrait of the deep emotional effects of childhood abuse.  It is one of the most well developed emotional portraits I have read.  Like in Fault Line, Callie becomes promiscuous as a way to try to take control of her sexuality and to try and find the perfect healing sexual experience; It gives her a power over herself that this man in her past took away.  But unlike Fault Line, this story is told from the victim’s point of view so we get a deep, nuanced look into Callie’s psyche.  There is a scene where she freaks out during a sexual encounter because it triggers her that just rings truer than most scenes I have ever read.  It is also a book that leads Callie into a journey of healing as she finds people who truly love her.  As a side note, it is also a good depiction of mental illness (her mother).  Also, there are some disturbing, very realistic scenes that depict what has happened to Callie; though they are not graphic in their depiction, they are so spot on in capturing the terror and emotions.  2013, Highly Recommended

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

There is a rape that occurs in this book, and it is disturbing.  Very disturbing.  But there are also two scenes of street harassment in this book.  On the surface, they don’t necessarily need to be in the book.  But I am glad that Fama included them because it is a powerful reminder of what life for many can be like, how they can have these totally random and unexpected moments where suddenly they find themselves in a perilous position being harassed and frightened by both people they know and complete strangers.  They are effective reminders of what life is like because they don’t need to be in the story, but they are.  Just as these moments shouldn’t be in the lives of our teens, but they are.  When we have written about street harassment here in the past we get a lot of comments from teens who tell us about how they are harassed while walking to and from school and sometimes even in their school hallways.  They way these scenes are included in Monstrous Beauty is a stark reminder of the reality of street harassment. 2012, Highly Recommended

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Sexual violence doesn’t just happen to girls.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a powerful story of the emotional effects of rape and sexual violence on a boy, Leonard.  Leonard sets out on his birthday to kill himself, but only after killing the boy who did something horrible to him.  There is a powerful scene where Leonard tells a teacher what happened and he looks at him and says, “You know that boys can be raped, too, don’t you?” (not an exact quote from the book, I don’t have it sitting in front of me).  In that moment he has put a name to that which Leonard could not. 2013, Highly Recommended

In these books, the teens don’t always seek out help (in fact, they almost never do).  And the adults don’t always do the right thing.  But the power is in how well they capture the emotions.  And these are, of course, not the only titles on the subject; many would argue sometimes not even the best.  However, my goal is to capture a wide range of experiences and emotions to represent a wider view on the topic.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

More on the Topic in Teen Issues:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment