I write and lecture a lot about slut-shaming; this damned if you do, damned if you don’t predicament in which people, often women, are ridiculed and demeaned (and sometimes murdered) if they don’t exhibit sexual attractiveness and availability (“prude”, “frigid bitch”, “why bother, she doesn’t even put out”) but also ridiculed and demeaned if they do (“slut”, “whore”, “that skank will fuck anybody”), etc.
It’s bad enough when this pervasive oppression and social control is lodged against adults and teenage girls, but children are off limits, right? Adults sexualizing kindergarteners and then adults ridiculing and shaming the 5 year olds for the adult sexuality said adults erroneously endowed on them - that breaks the social contract, RIGHT? Everyone agrees this is a line not to be crossed, RIGHT!?!?!
Nope. A conversation I had on facebook today, transcribed below (blocked out editing my own):
Someone I’m friends with on Facebook shared a Vine video made by @i_dooble_e and shared by WorldStar Vines without additional commentary that showed a 5 or 6 year old girl acrobatically sliding down a pole at a playground and landing on the ground on her butt with her legs in a straddle position with the words “that moment you realize your daughter’s a baby thot”, then a clip of a man, staged to be her father, crying.
[Thot defined by Urban Dictionary: “That Hoe Over There” 1. A hoe who everyone knows about. 2. A girl with no values when in comes to sexual activity. 3. A girl who runs through groups of friends and gets passed around like a loosely rolled blunt. Used in a sentence:
Friend: Dude Lauren is so hot
Me: She’s slept with like 5 of my friends dude, she’s a thottie thot.
Friend: I heard she lets you cum inside her bare too. She’s a superthot!]
So someone made a vine about a 5 year old “baby thot”, and someone on my facebook shared it, presumably such that his friends and family could see it, LIKE IT’S NOT A FUCKING EPIC DISGRACE. “Hey ma, here’s a video of a little girl being sexually degraded. Isn’t it hilarious?!”
So I called him out and the following conversation ensued:
Me: Did you just call a 5 year old girl a hoe? What the hell is wrong with you?
Him: I didn’t. I just shared it.
Me: Oh well in that case you are not at all a creepy ass man who sexualized a little girl and participated in her slut-shaming… again I ask, what the hell is wrong with you?
Him: Damn! What’s wrong with you??
Things I’m stewing on after this encounter:
1. I am really struggling using the term “slut-shaming” when referring to 5 year olds. If she was 20 that’s exactly what we’d call it, but I just can’t with a 5 year old. I’m switching to “sexually degrade”.
2. His “I didn’t. I just shared it” comment it SO SO eye-opening about the kind of disconnect that happens when people actively contribute to the sexual exploitation of others online. I’ve heard this kind of language be used about downloading child pornography (“I didn’t rape any kids, I just watched it”), the sharing of stolen celebrity nude photos (“I didn’t hack their phone, I just looked at the photos”), and various high profile rape cases involving teenagers in which the rape was filmed and shared all over school (“I’m not a rapist, I just watched a video someone texted to me and then texted it to a few friends”).
I can’t understand how people still think that a. the Internet isn’t real life, and b. consuming and sharing sexual exploitation or sexual degradation someone else committed “doesn’t count” as exploitation or degradation. It’s real life, and it counts!
3. I’m wondering why am I so surprised and shocked by this. Men have been sexualizing young girls, particularly young girls of color, as in this video, for a long ass time. Nothing new. I think my shock comes from how often times this type of taboo, socially unacceptable behavior (because even though it happens everyday, sexualizing 5 year old girls is still considered really bad), happen privately, because they know it’s big time frowned upon. But this was so flagrantly and shamelessly posted publicly, for all to see and judge, with his full name and photo attached. Why? Is it that he doesn’t see Facebook as “real life”? Is it that he doesn’t think his friends, adult children, neighbors, and acquaintances will call him out? It’s been hours and I’m still the only one who objected, so if that’s the case, he’d be right. Does he think it’s funny and honestly not see the problem? I don’t know what prospect concerns me more; that’s we’ve gotten to a place where 5 years old girls sliding on a pole at the playground are likened to “thot” strippers for the entertainment of adults, and people are so busy finding it funny that it doesn’t register as exploitative, OR, it registers as exploitative, but people are so brazen they feel safe posting such content because they probably will never be held accountable in any real way. Why are we letting such people feel safe? Why are grown men able to post a video of a “baby thot” and no one says anything except me*?
(*also no comments objecting on the facebook page of the original poster, or the youtube video… Of all the places this has been shared, I am literally the only person, that I saw, who said, um, this is horrible.)
4. I wrote about in my book a time when I was 6 years old and playing at the playground across the street from my house. I slid down the slide on my belly and when I landed at the bottom, I had one leg on each side, essentially straddling the slide. A teenage boy sitting on the swings nearby smoking a cigarette yelled over to me, “you look like you’re fucking that thing.” I felt hot in the face and uncomfortable knots in my stomach. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt at the time (because I was 6!) but I would now describe it as utter humiliation, and the first time I was ever sexually demeaned and degraded.
It was bad enough with no additional witnesses or participants in my humiliation. I can’t imagine how dehumanized I would have felt if someone had filmed me innocently straddling the slide that day, made an internet meme about me growing up to be a slut because I was so loose with opening my legs around the slide, imply that my dad would be so disappointed in me that he would cry, and find out grown men watched the video and shared it with their family for entertainment, and that none of the adults thought this was a big deal or a problem at all.
tl;dr: When you share, forward, download, or “like”, digital media of someone being sexually degraded, exploited, dehumanized, or abused, YOU ARE PARTICIPATING! I know it’s not possible to speak out to every single asshole you encounter online, but try to keep in mind how powerful your silence is. Don’t slut-shame, but if you absolutely must be a horrible human being and use sexuality as a method of belittling people, slut-shame adults because CHILDREN ARE OFF LIMITS. Seriously! I can’t believe I had to write this.