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Slut-Shaming Undermines Women

The Boston Globe, February 20, 2015

WITH SEXUAL assault reports coming in practically daily from universities around the country, efforts to reduce these incidents and help women who have experienced them are at an unprecedented high level. While the attention being paid to cases such as the recent conviction of two Vanderbilt University football players is necessary and long overdue, one crucial contributing factor of campus sexual assault is being overlooked: the widespread belief that some women are “sluts.”

“Slut” is a slippery term; it can be applied to almost any girl or woman. And it is. I have yet to meet a woman under 25 who has not been called a “slut” or synonyms like “ho” or “whore” at some point. To most people, these terms refer to a shameful, disgusting woman who is out of control sexually. Yet the women thus labeled are rarely more sexually active than her peers. When an adolescent girl is called such names, very often she is not sexually active at all.

Once labeled, however, a girl or woman becomes a target for slut-bashing (a term I coined in the 1990s to describe repeated acts of harassment conducted by peers) or slut-shaming (which may be more casual, occur only once, and conducted by strangers).

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