I was in a packed subway cart the other day, trying to mind my own business as three tween girls sat on the seats just in front of me. Against my better judgment, I eves-dropped:
“Carla’s slept with over nine men in the last year. She’s only fifteen,” declared a preppy-looking tween brunette, triumphantly.
The two girls sitting on either side of her gasped. Their mouths were wide open.
“She told me it was three,” said the blonde one to the right.
“Nope,” said the preppy-looking tween in the middle.
“She told me it was one,” said the other brunette, to the left.
“Nope,” she repeated once more, smugly. “Nine. And she just turned fifteen.”
She had a look of satisfaction on her face, happy to gain the upper-hand over another girl in their little friendship circle. She felt proud to have the other girls hanging on her every word as she ripped apart a friend of hers who was not even present to talk back, spilling a secret that was told to her in confidence — or maybe never told at all, and entirely fabricated by the preppy brunette, in an attempt to social climb by stomping over a former friend, once higher up on the ladder.
I moved to another part of the TTC and thought about what I had just witnessed. The infamous triple-threat: the words “slut,” “bitch,” and “whore,” were not used. Still, a young girl had just been slut-shamed. These girls must have only been ninth-graders, and already it was starting.
I wondered if this had ever happened to me in my youth, and if I was even aware if it had. Not necessarily with slut-shaming, but with any secret I may have told a high school or middle-school girlfriend of mine in confidence. Had they betrayed me behind my back? Worse, have I ever done it to someone else?
The answer to both questions is “yes.” When I think back to fifth grade, I remember being part of a group of five girls. One day we would all be friends, the next day, Sandra would be in the dog house. We’d hate her for a day or two, then we’d all be friends again. The day after that, it would be Lola. More often than not, it would be me.
But it was never Brittany — the unspoken, but unequivocal Queen Bee. I remember that nearing the end of the year, I tried to dethrone her — I had actually dared to plot an uprising — but it was unsuccessful, and I was permanently exiled from our little circle.
I went to the teacher about it, because I hadn’t fully understood what had happened. Why was I so hated all of a sudden?
“It’s normal,” said the teacher, brushing me off. “I remember being ten. One day we’d all hate this one girl named Taylor. The next day, we’re all best friends. It’s part of being a kid. Your emotions are intense at that age, but it isn’t actually a big deal.”
I learned later on that it was a big deal: it was bullying. And I had been a part of it. By associating with Brittany, I had actually taken part in the bullying of other girls, and I got my karma for it.
Yet I feel like I was the lucky one in the group. Though I can’t say if I completely made up for my behaviour, I apologized to a couple of other girls I’d been catty to in the past. I made new friends. I moved on. I never needed to talk to Brittany again, unlike the other girls, who still spoke to her every day for the rest of the school year.
Ironically, today (over a decade later), each of us are still Facebook friends except Brittany. I totally tried to Facebook creep her, but couldn’t find her. I sometimes wonder what happened to her, but when it comes down to it I don’t really care.
I don’t mean to offend anyone with this statement, and you’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but I truly think that at the end of the day, women are the most oppressed group in the world. We are oppressed in a unique way, often more subtly than other disadvantaged groups, because those who hate us are still forced to interact with us on a daily basis — we are a highly visible minority, not really a minority at all.
Someone with an extreme hatred for blacks/gays/hispanics/people with disabilities may have never knowingly interacted with someone in that group in their lives. But misogynists still have mothers who are women. They may have sisters, aunts, and often even girlfriends or wives. They likely work with women. They pass women on the street every day. They see us on TV (although we’re usually not very well-portrayed) and they hear our songs on the radio.
So in North American culture, misogyny is rampant, but subtle, and this makes it very dangerous. A lot of the time, we don’t even know that we are being discriminated against. We are allowed to be visible in public space, yet we are still up for scrutiny, often at the hands of other women. We are not well-portrayed even in our own movies. Films aimed at women such as chick flicks and rom coms teach us that to get a man,we must be pretty, chaste, whimsical, and most importantly of all, stupid. Our identity is based on our appeal to men (i.e. how attractive we are, how thin, whether or not we’re “good girls”…) rather than on any aspect of our true character. We are discouraged to display our individuality, and this makes us feel very unimportant. We take this out on each other.
Patriarchy has flourished so astoundingly in our culture in many ways because we women ourselves have bought into it. Even in high school and middle school, we slut-shame each other, spreading rumours about each other’s sexual activity and making fun of each other for wearing “revealing” clothes. The most common insults among teenage female cyber bulliers are “ugly” and “slut.” The preoccupation of our society on female sexual behaviour is perverse. It is absolutely nobody’s business, and it speaks nothing of who we are as a human being. To insult a girl or woman based on something so shallow is an insult to her humanity. It is devaluing to imply that a woman, even a girl, can amount to no more than a pretty face or a good lay.
Yet these activities are encouraged by the administration. I still remember being called into the principal’s office in grade twelve for wearing that short skirt, and being asked about my sexual history. I was eighteen years old, and I found it ludicrous that even as a young adult I was not allowed to make decisions for myself about how I should present myself. I was told I could be suspended for “distracting” other kids. At that point, it didn’t matter that I was an honours student with almost straight 90s, and that I had gotten accepted to university on scholarship. I was a “bad girl” because I was a “distraction,” and it didn’t matter that calling me into the office during class hours was actually more of a distraction for me. I remember being happy it was late June, and that I would be graduating and entering the adult world soon enough, where I could put this behind me.
But it wasn’t behind me. I’ve witnessed slut-shaming all my life. It’s everywhere I go, even on the TTC. What’s truly shocking is woman-on-woman bashing. It needs to stop.
When we are young, our teachers and school administrations may condone it, along with our movies, our songs, and even our books. When we enter the work force, our bosses and colleagues may encourage it. Woman-bashing and slut-shaming is completely institutionalized.
I’m tired of this ubiquitous insanity, and I’m done with waiting around. I would like to define myself before I let the patriarchy tell me how I should be. I implore all women to take a stand against slut-shaming, even if only an internal one, because the most powerful ammo that the patriarchy holds against us is internalized hatred. So next time you catch yourself judging another woman, call yourself out. I encourage you to question yourself.