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Why we need to forgive Paris Hilton

As a teacher, one of my biggest fears is that people will dig up some dirt on me that will end up getting me fired. I have to maintain strict lines of propriety to make sure that I don't get myself in trouble. This is one of the unfortunate parts of being a teacher - you are a public figure, so you do not have the same license to misbehave - or, well, not even misbehave so much as cut loose, as people in other professions.

In a way, it's a bit like being a celebrity (but without nearly as much money). I have to be really careful about how I present myself in ALL public spaces, even online, because I never know who is watching or whom I'm going to run into. I have to make sure that I'm dressed appropriately, that I'm not too grungy, that I'm not swearing, drunk, or anything worse.

With the advent of social networking, Youtube, and the vast advances made in cell phone technology, it is easier than ever to spread bad news really fast. So when you have, say, a well-meaning girlfriend who chooses to take a provocative photo for her boyfriend, and she pisses him off somehow or one of his friends gets ahold of his phone with the photo on it, she's in big trouble. Within minutes, she is branded a slut, and no one will look her in the face as she walks by, unless it's to call her names.

And for many girls, this is not something that can be overlooked. It's easy to tell people just to turn the other cheek, but it's far harder to do that when everyone who sees you is trying to spit in your face.

The whole idea of slut-shaming places the blame on the girl - it's HER fault for taking those photos or making that video for her boyfriend. (And yet, if she DOESN'T, she's a prude or she's frigid, right?) How DARE she trust that her boyfriend could be a mature adult about whatever they're fighting about? How DARE she expect him to behave like a decent human being? And much worse, how DARE she view sex as something other than a vehicle for procreation - as, GASP, something that can be fun and enjoyable, for HER?

Why don't we get mad at the boyfriend? Why doesn't anyone slap HIM on the wrist and tell him that he was being an a-hole? Why doesn't anyone get on HIS case for being an awful human being? And why don't we get mad at all of the people who play their part in furthering the slut-shaming? The people who pass along the photos, the people who call her names in the hallway?

Instead, it's HER fault. She was asking for it by participating, right? If she didn't want people to think she was a slut, she shouldn't have taken those photos.

Well, that's bull. I will dare your disapproval and allege that SHE is the victim here, and that you should leave her the hell alone.

I have a major problem with the word "slut" in the first place. What is that word usually used in reference to? Women (well, girls, really - I hear that word more from younger people than from adults) who have a lot of sex. Whether it's because they really, truly enjoy the act of sex and want to gratify their own pleasures, or because they have a warped sense of self-worth where they think that's the only way to gain approval - I've heard the word "slut" used to apply to both. And usually it's used to refer not to women who have a lot of sex with one person, but women who have a lot of sex with a lot of people.

The word "slut" exists as an insult because a lot of people adhere to an antiquated code of sexual morality. Guys are considered studs if they sleep around, but girls are sluts. Girls should be fairly pure - if she has a lot of sexual partners, it's frowned upon.

Now, this idea isn't as strict as it used to be - shows like Sex and the City have gone a long way towards making it okay for women to have sexual agency. But it still exists in different forms, such as slut-shaming and victim-blaming. It's okay in theory (or in entertainment) for women to take control of their bodies and make decisions about their sex lives, but in practice, apparently it's slutty. In practice, society still ascribes to the virgin-whore complex more than they would often like to admit. And that, in combination with a pre-existing tendency towards schadenfreude, can unsurprisingly lead to lives being ruined or even ended through suicide, as recent news headlines have demonstrated.

You know, I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who are purely good and want to do good things, but in general, I have to believe that human beings have an infinite capacity for evil. And that that evil doesn't necessarily have to take the form of serial killers and car-bombing terrorists, that that evil is MUCH more prevalent in the form of bullying.

As a high school teacher, I worry more about bullying than I do about whether my students can write essays. I believe it's far more important to be a decent human being than it is to be an intellectual, and that if my kids walk out of here having learned only ONE thing, that it is how to treat other people with respect. So it's quite dismaying to me to read about accounts of bullying. Like most teachers, I have to wonder where it comes from - where do kids learn how to treat each other this way?

And then I look at pop culture. I look at the media, at gossip columnists, at TMZ, at supermarket tabloids. And I realize that it's the ADULTS, who should know better, that are modeling this behavior. Was there a single person in the entire world who felt sorry for Paris Hilton when her sex video was leaked? Okay, okay, she doesn't help her own case much by being an airhead socialite... but did anyone think to be disgusted with her boyfriend rather than her? Did anyone think to make HIM feel ashamed? No way. SHE's the slut. It's her fault for taking control of her own sexuality, right? Regardless of how I feel about Paris Hilton's intellect and the unfortunate amount of media coverage she gets simply for being rich... I tend to think that she really trusted her boyfriend, and he really violated that trust. And yet, she ended up being the bad guy in this situation.

So I think we need to forgive her, at least for this particular situation. I think we as a society need to come to a place where we can issue a giant apology to all the girls of the world who have been victimized by their douchey bastard boyfriends. And we need to make those douchey bastard boyfriends feel SORRY for what they've done.

But will that ever happen? Even Samantha Jones was viewed as a slut in some episodes that I can remember. (Not that she let it bother her much.) This is what leads me to believe that we are in NO way near eradicating sexism and misogyny, that feminists have a loooong way to go. Yeah, women can have professional careers and attend college now, but that's not going to be of much use to the girl who commits suicide because everyone at her school calls her a slut behind her back AND to her face. Just saying.


  1. I get your point. We had this conversation in class when we were discussing the chapter that referred to a type of porn where women view the different roles of man-on-man sex as empowerment. The sad thing was the kids all used terms like "slut" and "ho" derisively then laughed when I said, "And what would a guy be called?" "Heh, a player man."

    Perhaps, the only argument I have with your post is where you mention caring less about making students intellectuals than making them good people - if we make them intellectuals, then they will be able to see through the bullshit of society. If all we do is show them what nice is, then they learn yet another "fact" - "we shouldn't be mean" - but if we teach them to be intellectuals they will critically think about WHY they shouldn't.

  2. That's a fair critique. :) I'm just thinking that I'd rather have a kid who can't write essays but is a good humanitarian, than a kid who can write a 50-page thesis but still thinks things like, "Well, she shouldn't have worn that dress." Ideally, people should be both good AND smart :)


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