The Scarlet Letter

scarlet letter, slut shaming

No doubt you’ve heard of #Slanegirl. If not, quick recap: a 17 year-old girl is photographed at an outdoor concert in Ireland engaged in oral sex with a young man who has his arms raised in victory while people look on. This photograph quickly becomes viral, as does her name. She is literally slut-shamed throughout the world. Hundreds of strangers are publicly stoning her, making assumptions about the character of her being.

I won’t write about the double standards of how we treat women vs. men. That’s been addressed much more eloquently in other venues. I won’t write about the virtues of public sexual acts, you each have your own views about that. Or behaviors of youth today, lest I sound old. I won’t write about how this is another call to arms for the feminist movement.

Because this is not a feminism issue. It’s a human-being issue. This is not an issue that affects women. It is an issue that affects all of us. Of course I don’t want my daughter to feel shame for being a sexual being, for wanting and enjoying respectful sex. But I also don’t want my son to grow up in a world that tells him he’s a stud for getting sex–it’s not something to give or take, but to be shared. I don’t want him to believe, even for a minute, that it’s OK to witness and ignore,or participate, in shaming ANYONE, for ANYTHING.

What is the point in making anyone feel badly about him or herself? To make the accuser feel better or more superior or more worthy. It’s about the perception of power or worth. Why else would you throw contempt at another human being who could be your friend, sibling, mother, teacher? What good comes out of sending hate out into this world?

If you don’t agree with someone’s actions, does that give you the right to make them feel shame? Unequivocally, no. Should you kindly point out the error of his ways, or gently redirect him? In some circumstances, yes. In others, it’s none of your damned business–nothing to see here, move on.

All these people who cowardly, through the detachment of the internet, shouted mysoginistic insults to a child, all these people–tell me they are virtuous and perfect. Tell me they have not ever made unwise decisions, or behaved poorly intentionally. And I am willing to bet they appreciated the kindness they encountered through life when kindness came.

I won’t overshare, but it’s safe to say I’ve had sex with more than one person in my life and I most certainly enjoy it. It’s also safe to say that is true for the majority of people in this world. Shaming others for your same behaviors–are you projecting your own self-shame? Perhaps you haven’t come to grips with owning your sexuality?

To own our sexuality, we need to be able to talk about sex where it’s not dirty or shameful. I want my children to understand sex is not a commodity to be traded or used between partners. It is not simply a transaction. I want them to understand sex is a beautiful and wonderful and respectful thing. I want them to understand the responsibility that comes with sex. I want them to know a lot about sex and relationships, and to enjoy both.

But just as importantly, I want them to understand shame has no place in our lives. I want them to know they have no right to judge another person. The bottom line is, it’s just not nice. Shaming someone: It’s abuse. It’s bullying. It’s verbal violence. I’ve read some comments where the writers admonishes the girl’s behavior if in fact she was not drugged. And then the writer goes on to say how if she was indeed sober, her parents ought to be ashamed, as should she. No. I don’t accept that premise. Will they be embarrassed? Methinks probably. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with her. Remember, shame=there’s something wrong with you.  Shaming perpetuates the culture that allows disconnecting from each other that leads to vilifying an Other

There’s a lot going on with this young woman’s current circumstances–child exploitation, double standards, mysogyny, sex, bullying, and so much more…All of these issues though start with kindness. If you’re kind to others and to yourself, there are no double standards or judging that leads to bullying or slut-shaming or exploitation. Sounds sort of simple, but we know it’s not so easy.

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2 Responses to The Scarlet Letter

  1. Nora Jessome says:

    FYI, Rehtaeh Parson’s mother will be interviewed by Dr Phil – according to local news the interview was taped on Monday, not sure when it will be shown. Feeling a bit nervous about Dr Phil addressing this issue. Rehtaeh’s story is very complex with no simple answers. A story about a vulnerable young woman who faced challenges even prior to her violation. Dr Phil sent out a tweet that was condemned instantly, so it was withdrawn. I doubt Dr Phil weighing in will be must help for anyone. I wish your blogs and others like them could be used to provoke real discussions among those who are trying to make some sense of this world we live in now. Keep up the good thoughts and words, they inspire.


  2. Interesting–I heard about the Tweet…I do also feel ambivalent about Dr. Phil being the messenger in this. On one hand, there is great exposure. Hopefully it is productive and appropriate exposure. I do hope my essays provide food for thought, provoke discussion and self-examination, and ultimately change. I do feel a bit of an island in this world though with such a small readership. I continue to hold on to the belief that it just takes one person…to be able to reach out to one is enough…I do also continue to think about what I could do to impact more of a change…I have not come up with anything brilliant yet…clearly…


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