Friday, July 16, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 3)

Part 3: Putting it all together

The anti-rape movement has done an admirable job of teaching us that most rape does not involve a stranger jumping out of the bushes. Strangers account for only 11-18% of rapes. From statistics and experience we know that lots of rape occurs between people who have been sexually interested in one another. Lots of rape happens among committed couples. Lots of rape occurs on dates. Lots of rape occurs during would-be "hook-ups." And as long as women are considered sluts, bitches or whores for being (or just "looking like" they're) sexually active, we are silencing women who have been raped by potential or actual sexual partners. (There are plenty of factors that silence survivors of other genders, to be discussed in future posts). After all, if you were raped while doing something only a "slut" would do you may not speak up or seek support.

Using words like slut and whore in common vernacular is an insidious manifestation of victim-blaming, the subtext being: if you hadn't acted like such a ____(fill-in-the-blank: skank, hoochie, etc.)_____ this wouldn't have happened to you. It doesn't matter that you're not insulting a specific survivor. Flippantly using derogatory terms for presumed sexually active women encourages shame and guilt to be associated with women's sexuality. In turn, this practice helps rates of acquaintance rape to flourish by allowing these crimes to be shrouded in silence.

Until we create a culture in which women can make choices about their sexual behavior without fear of social persecution, acquaintance rape of women will continue to occur at disarmingly high rates. The good news is: its easy to join the people dedicated to destroying this Rape Culture. To start, all you have to do is:

- Use respectful language for all people

- Engage in enthusiastic consent whenever you engage in sexual activity

It's fun, I swear! Thanks to y'all who are already on board.
Thank you in advance to those about to join us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 2)

Part 2: Bitches and Whores

Other words for sexually active or provocatively dressed women?
"Bitches" and "whores."
Mm. Just lovely.

In addition to being inflammatory for the reasons addressed in the previous post, I would like to look at the use of these terms in relation to sexual exploitation and the sex trade.

I grew up thinking prostitution was propagated by morally reprehensible women who chose to sell their bodies for sex. The reality is not nearly so simple. There are sex workers who do choose their career. There are sex workers who feel empowered by their work and who do it happily and safely. But it is my understanding that for most sex workers the word "choice" has little to do with their situation.

***Disclaimer: I am a beginning learner when it comes to sexual exploitation and the sex trade. The following information I learned through workshops with Young Women's Empowerment Project, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and My Life My Choice in May of this year as well as conversations with a co-worker who has collaborated with sex workers in Amsterdam, Las Vegas and Chicago. I welcome feedback and corrections. Thank you!***

Did you know...?

The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old. This means that even if you're looking at an adult sex worker, it is likely this person entered the life as a child.

Many or most sex workers have histories of sexual abuse. Stats are slippery, but we know pimps prey on trauma. After all, sexual abuse teaches young people the same lessons that a pimp wants you to to learn: to keep secrets, trust noone, to be used to isolation, that you have little worth and that others are entitled to you.

Within an average of 48-hours a run-away girl will be solicited for sex. And what other choice will she have than to acquiesce? How else can she support herself?

Sex workers are exploited by police. One common theme found among sex workers of various backgrounds -- multiple genders, races, street-based workers, "high class call girls," etc., is a variation of the following story: a police officer picks them up, he tells them he'll let them off if he's given a "freebie" in the back of the squad car. The worker cooperates. The police officer arrests the sex worker anyway.

Sex workers are raped an average of 47 times a year. To put this in perspective: there are 52 weeks in a year -- that's nearly once a week. Many people spend a lifetime recovering from the trauma of just one assault.

The average life-expectancy of a sex worker is 7 years after they enter the life. This means that if you enter at the age of 12, your life expectancy drops to 19. Wow.

Shows and movies like Pretty Woman or Confessions of a Call Girl glamorize prostitution. They allow us to believe fairytale-like stories rather than view the harsh realities that surround the sex trade. And if you're reading this blog, you're hopefully too old to believe in fairytales.

So please think about the word "whore," what it represents and the way it gets used. Casually using the word "whore" minimizes and erases the violent realities faced by most sex workers. In addition, it preys on the assumption that being a sex-worker is morally reprehensible -- ignoring that most children (not women) have little or no choice as to whether to enter the sex trade.

So please take your blinders off. And don't feel guilty about having had them on. Rather, shift guilt to gratitude. Feel grateful if you never had to choose between living in an abusive household and running away. Feel grateful if you've never had to consider selling your body in order to eat. Feel grateful if you can depend on police when you're in trouble. Feel grateful if your life expectancy is longer than your teenage years. You undoubtedly have a lot to be thankful for.

...and if you'd like to turn your guilt to gratitude to support, please check out the Young Women's Empowerment Project. YWEP offers safe, respectful, free-of-judgment spaces for girls and young women impacted by the sex trade and street economies. I cannot overstate how inspiring and brilliant the young people at YWEP are. And while they're completely capable of running the organization on their own they are always in need of financial support.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 1)

Part 1: Sluts

I curse like a proverbial sailor. I'm not particularly proud of this fact (nor am I ashamed of it) but I have no issue with profanity, per se. I DO have an issue with hateful language, however.

"What are words used to describe women and girls who are sexually active?" I ask my high school classes. Their responses usually include:
- Slut
- Skank
- Hoe
- Bust-down
- Chicken-head
And a variety of other insulting names. Insulting is the key word here. According to students' vernacular, being a sexually active women is a very bad thing. (And please note, these words aren't reserved only for women who are sexually active, but for women who dress "provactivly"-- irrespective of their sexual behavior).

This would not trouble me if it were a simple matter of language. But it isn't. If you look at sexual violence on a spectrum, it's pretty easy to see how the language we use is connected to sexual harrassment, abuse, assault and exploitation. Bear with me here:

--> If we (society) call women "sluts" because they dress or act a certain way, it's easy to start thinking of them as "sluts" or being less worthy of respect.
--> If we think of certain women as sluts it becomes easy to treat them with disrespect, make unwanted comments or advances and even believe that such behavior is warrented or wanted.
--> If treating some women with disrespect goes unchallenged we excuse and justify sexual harrassment and abuse -- under certain circumstances.
--> If we excuse harassment and abuse under any circumstances we are participating in victim-blaming and upholding the myths that justify sexual violence, including rape and sexual exploitation.

All people regardless of gender, sexual experience or dress are worthy of respect. A person's sexual proclivities or wardrobe have nothing to do with their humanity. This is crystal clear to me. But does it sound crazy to you? (Sometimes I think I'm too entrenched in the movement to see things from a "normal person's" perspective, and I honest-to-goodness want your feedback).

I used to greet my girlfriends with an affectionate, "what's up slut?!" We liked to drink, party, and "hook-up." I think calling each other by that name was a reclamation of sorts.

But I've turned around on this issue. Until sexual harassment, abuse, assault and exploitation are understood by and handled respectfully in popular culture, I argue that these kinds of gender-based insults do much more harm than good.

So here is my charge to you: think about the language you use. Don't beat yourself up about it, just think about it. Assess whether changing the way you speak can do any good. (If you're not sure please read my upcoming post -- parts 2 & 3 of this entry). If you currently use offensive or hateful language, please consider making some changes in your vocabulary. And if you want to take it a step further, talk to your friends about why you're doing it. A bunch of small changes can make a big difference.

To close, please check out this new commercial from Scotland. I'd love to see ads with this message in the US!