Up Front by Emma Hart


That's Inappropriate!

My mother and my cousin were teachers, and teaching was the profession I was most often asked if I would take up as a child. (Ridiculous. I was clearly going to be a veterinary archaeologist.) The last time the three of us got together, we ended up discussing some of the things my teachers had said to me, and whether or not they were Appropriate. My third form music teacher telling me my boyfriend wasn't good enough for me: Inappropriate. Everything my biology teacher ever did or said: appropriate, dammit. I swear.

So let me draw on their decades of teaching experience, and mine of both being and having a bitchy teenage girl. There are no circumstances in which it is even close to Appropriate for a teacher to tell a student that she looks like a slut. None. Not even if she's wearing an "I am a massive slut” badge.

It has been suggested that there are valuable lessons a young girl can learn from being slut-shamed, and that the person doing the slut-shaming only had her best interests at heart. Unless the lesson to be learned is "It's perfectly okay to judge the character of other women by the way they dress, and then abuse them because of it," the reply to that can only be, "Bollocks." Seriously, I'll stand by that judgement myself; you don't even have to ask my mother or daughter or any other of my attached females.

It is nice that this particular form of bullying (and slut-shaming is bullying just as much as punching is) has a name these days. The Dom-Post editorial says, quite patronisingly;

Ms King's language was injudicious, but it is worth noting she did not call Amethyst a slut. She told her she looked like one. There is a difference.

If she is guilty of anything, it is probably of caring. Her words sound like those of a teacher stretched to the end of her tether trying to get through to a pupil who does not want to listen.

No, no they don't. They sound like a Concern Troll. This is one of the forms slut-shaming has always taken, though more usually from peers: "Oh, I'm just so worried that if you keep dressing/behaving/talking/walking/breathing like that, other people will think you're a slut." Run through the Girl-Bullying Translator, what that means is this; "Slut." From the impact on the person being bullied, there is, in fact, no difference at all.

Ms King is also wrong. Being branded a slut has very little to do with what you wear. Or how you behave. And has about as much relation to how many people you've slept with as it does to the cleanliness of your doorstep. (A while back, I reminded an old friend of the exact number of people I'd had relations(hips) with at varsity, and he said, "It seemed like a lot more." I think this is a Slut Indicator.)

I'm honestly not sure what the factors are that ensure some girls and women are constantly slut-shamed and some never are. I had it worst in my seventh form year, when I mostly wore loose jeans and baggy sweatshirts, tried not to look up, and didn't have an acknowledged sexual partner.

Equally puzzled, my friend Sinead and I sat down once and really tried to work it out. For the record, and visualisation purposes, Sinead is shorter, thinner, hotter, Canadianer and more red-haired than I, but we have similar interests and personalities. We've also both repeatedly been on the receiving end of slut-shaming from women.

So far as we can work out, if a woman doesn't want to be slut-shamed, the length of her skirt is totally irrelevant – except as something that can be easily singled out by your bully, teacher or Listener journalist. Same with cleavage. What you shouldn't do is have male friends, and be the sort of person who feels more comfortable around men than women. Being comfortable around boys, socialising with them, making them laugh, having the same interests – that's what will make you a slut.

To be fair, Sinead and I aren't much of a representative sample. You shouldn't draw conclusions from us. And our own observations might be biased. I suggest people take us out, buy us lots of drinks and observe from a distance. And saying that kind of thing, that's a Slut Indicator too.

However, let's say a school was terribly genuinely worried about their female pupils mis-wearing the uniform, and suffering from being branded sluts. Instead of the sort of uniform that can only be tested by getting teenage girls to kneel in front of you, how about changing the uniform requirement for girls to trousers? Then a girl wouldn't magically become a slut by, say, growing taller during adolescence.

Slut is a word that, like nigger and queer, is being reclaimed by some of its victims, at least for ironic purposes. But just because we do, doesn't mean you can.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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