Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Death to the Double Standard: Part I

Words have power; that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Over the past couple of years, I've been made painfully aware of the ubiquitous nature of words like "slut", "whore" (or for those pressed for time, "ho"), the sad offspring of those two words,"slore" (insert side-eye here), and all manner of  expressions used in service of slut-shaming. I hear or read those words daily, used by both men and, sadly, women, to describe women who've been "run through" or passed around more than the collection plate during revival week in a mega church. I bristle when I hear those terms, and at the thought that young women are so quickly and carelessly assigned those labels, which sometimes prove impossible to shake.

Why should I care, especially in light of the fact that oftentimes, it is, indeed, other women who hurl the invective? Because I know the damage such words can inflict on a woman's psyche, self image and even the trajectory of her life; because it advances the ridiculous notion of placing a premium on female "purity", an archaic, paternal notion that sometimes has life or death consequences; because there are no comparable pejoratives, nor negative social consequences, for straight men who are deemed promiscuous. Rather, sexually prolific men, more often than not, are celebrated, not castigated or subject to scorn.

I recognize that many a well-adjusted adult woman with a healthy sense of self can artfully deflect, and in some cases, even laugh at others' attempts to demoralize or control her with the threat or use of words meant to cast aspersions on her character, and in particular, to strip her of agency regarding her own sexuality and its expression. But the problem, as I see it, is that many young women, and increasingly, mere girls who have not yet developed the necessary emotional armor, are not only ill-equipped to process and protect themselves against those particularly noxious barbs, they often accept the epithets as accurate descriptors and allow them to inform their feelings about themselves. No matter that it's false; viewing oneself as an irredeemably damaged female can lead to self-loathing and a pattern of poor choices that can have repercussions that last for generations.

Why, especially in 21st century Western culture, do we even still insist on employing such a senseless and potentially harmful double standard? What is with our obsession with controlling women's sexual choices, and further, attempting to convince them that their only two options are to remain chaste until marriage or risk being declared less than and unworthy of love and respect if they dare to exceed the arbitrary number of lovers that separates the "good" girls from the "bad"?  And what is that acceptable number? 1? 50? 100? If any of those numbers give you pause, think of them again, but as applying to a man instead of a woman. Through that prism, too many would view the sexually inexperienced man nearly as scornfully as the sexually experienced woman, and in both cases, that is an outdated and abysmally useless way of thinking.

Am I suggesting that a woman take on countless sexual partners, outmoded societal standards be damned? If that is what she chooses to do, operating from a place of self-love and acceptance (and, of course, safeguarding her health), then yes. The bottom line, to me, should be striving to live a life that honors all parts of who we are, and that is not defined by something as arbitrary, narrow and restrictive as our number of sexual partners. For some women, that will mean remaining a virgin until their wedding nights. For others, that will mean not remembering the number of men with whom they've shared their beds. And as far as I'm concerned, all other things being equal, one of those women is not more valuable than the other.

It's time that all of us stopped with the attempts at slut-shaming; that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.