Dress for Others, Not Yourself

“Slut-shaming” is perceived as a relatively recent term that describes the act of either directly or indirectly disapproving of someone who has done something “slutty”. One can fulfill any number of requirements to be labeled a slut. You can engage in too many or even just one encounter with boys, you can wear a certain type of clothing, you can act a certain way, as well as many other minute actions that may get you thrown under the vast and oppressive umbrella of the term “slut”. Although the term “slut-shaming” is a new one, the act of doing so is as old as time. This notion of tearing down women based on their sexuality has been rooted in society for centuries and continues to penetrate the media and real life to this day. 

Slut-shaming, of course, is the counter part of prude-shaming. Prude-shaming is just the opposite of slut-shaming and involves looking down on women who do not engage in enough sexually-based behavior. The fact that both of these terms exist reveal that either way, women really can’t win. Essentially, whatever a woman does in regards to her sexual behavior will be labeled in some way or another, and this can be seen in an endless amount of books, tv shows, movies etc. There are media texts that address this head on with a progressive undertone, such as Easy A, and then there are media texts that incorporate slut-shaming and prude-shaming in a way that makes the audience passively consume it without even realizing it. Among the media texts that indulge in this timeless behavior is the movie John Tucker Must Die. I have seen this movie a countless number of times and I can attest that after each viewing it becomes more and more obvious that the majority of the movie is fueled by slut-shaming and prude-shaming. In the movie, there are four main female characters who all have some sort of vengeance with a boy named John Tucker. Each one of these girls fills a stereotype. Kate, who is used as bait to date John Tucker, is the character that is shamed for being a prude. When Kate reveals that she has never actually dated a boy and that she has only ever seen the men her mom has dated, the three other girls are not only horrified but make her feel terrible about herself. On the exact opposite end of the scale there is Beth, whose main purpose in the film is to portray the role of the slut. When Beth reveals that she and John Tucker had sex after they broke up, the other three girls are similarly horrified and make Beth feel bad about herself. During this interaction Beth even declares that she really is a slut. The similar reactions these girls receive, one for being too slutty and the other not slutty enough, show that there will never be a universally “right” way for a woman to express her sexuality because there will always be someone tearing her down.

The scene in which Meg March attends the Moffat’s party is a significant one in Little Women because of its stark portrayal of class; both socially and economically. Meg feels somewhat embarrassed by her dress in comparison to the other Moffat girls because it is clear that Meg’s outfit is indicative of her inability to afford a gown as nice as the others. The Moffat girls almost take pity of Meg and insist that she wears one of their dresses and they transform her into someone who looks like a member of high class. It is obvious that Meg still feels a bit uncomfortable with this transformation because she realizes the distinctions between social and economic class has been made very obvious. When Meg sees Laurie at the party she notices he is “…staring at her with undisguised surprise, and disapproval also…” (92). Laurie then proceeds to tell Meg he does not like her appearance and says she looks much older, suggesting her outfit is too revealing. When this scene is looked at closer, it is uncovered that Laurie is slut-shaming Meg. Meg is merely trying to participate in having fun with the other people at the party, like all the other girls are, yet her confidence is diminished when Laurie makes her feel embarrassed and ashamed. From this point on, Meg is convinced she can’t be like these other girls and that her behavior is over the top, all because a boy told her so.

The other side of the slut-shaming present in Little Women mainly involves Jo. Jo is often accused of not being feminine enough, which can be seen as the modern-day form of prude-shaming. The Keywords for Children’s Literature essay “Tomboy” a tomboy is defined as  “a girl who behaves like a spirited or boisterous boy; a wild romping girl” (220). To many readers, this definition fits Jo very well. Jo is often seen playing with Laurie and has mentioned in the book that she wishes she could be fighting with her father rather than doing typical lady-like things at home. Jo’s subtle resistance to the gender conformity in Little Women is mainly looked down upon by her sister Meg who often tells Jo that she needs to “…remember that you are a young lady” (223). Where Meg is accused of embracing her sexuality too much, Jo is seen as a character who is criticized for not embracing her female sexuality enough.

3 thoughts on “Dress for Others, Not Yourself”

  1. I really like the examples you used of slut-shaming. It’s crazy to think of how prevalent it really is and how many different forms it can take. For example, a girl that went to my high school recently posted about our school’s dress code, and how it is against the rules for girls to show a certain amount of skin, but doesn’t have any rules regarding the way boys dress.

  2. I really appreciate this post and the notion that women are either one extreme or the other with no middle ground. I think this is something that a lot of women deal with in the sense that the way one person views her is different from the way another person views her, and neither of those views align with the way she sees herself. This can be very stressful and can lead to a lot of the issues that we see in society today, such as low self-esteem, body image, etc.

  3. This post is highly salient to girls today in 2016.”Slut shaming” is a real and hurtful phenomena that is apparent even on our campus. The main focus behind this is gender stereotypes and how they dictate what a girl can and cannot wear. If a girl dresses too modestly or athletic she is reprimanded for dressing like a boy, but if she goes in the opposite direction she is reprimanded for dressing like a “slut.” I think a lot of girls struggle with this because there is so much focus on girls’ appearance in today’s society. It is really upsetting that we, as girls, have to grow up in a society where we are constantly judged by how we choose to represent ourselves.

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