Slut Shaming by Authority Figures

This week in the news, a teacher has been disciplined for calling a student a slut and making other lovely pronouncements about her. Reactions are mixed, from the ‘how dare she say that to a student’ to ‘stupid slut deserved it’. I think there’sw a middle ground between being horrified at the teacher and completely condemning the girl.

According to news reports, the student was being disruptive. The teacher tried at least one attempt at curbing the behaviour, which was having the girl stand on her chair. The teacher then said something like “stop acting like a S-L-U-T” (specificity in recalling conversations is difficult, hence the ‘something like’).

The pair then had a verbal exchange, in which the student repeated the teacher’s questions back to her, which belittled the teacher. Finally, the teacher referred to a pregnancy that the girl had earlier terminated, and said something like “if you think having an abortion makes you an adult then it doesn’t”. The girl the left the classroom in tears.

This student seems to have been one that caused a bit of trouble in the classroom. Standing on a chair is fairly far up the discipline scale. I would posit that the teacher had tried other tactics, in that lesson particularly, and possibly during other classes,with little success. The teacher may have been worn down by the pressures of work, and finally snapped. It’s understandable.

The girl was young – fourteen or perhaps fifteen. However bad her attitude was, she is a minor, and still learning to regulate her behaviour. Her behaviour may have been reprehensible, but it is never ok to attack a teen under your authority with something so personal and cruel. What the teacher did is completely indefensible, even if it is understandable.

Having a go at a kid for having glasses, or having a limp, or being overweight, is inevitable from their peer group, but if it came from a teacher there would be almost universal condemnation. But I see comment threads saying ‘little slut deserved it’ and such lovely things. What makes it different? The culture of slut-shaming.

Because women’s sexuality has been dominated by various men – fathers, doctors, political figures, and so on – for so long, people are conditioned to push back against female sexual freedom. The attitudes are slowly changing, but in the meantime people look at a girl with a sexual history and decide that the appropriate insult to use is one that attacks her sexuality. It needs to change. The slut/stud dichotomy is just ugly.

“But why was a girl of fourteen or fifteen sexually active? She shouldn’t be having sex so young!” If you think this you’ve forgotten what high school is like. Several hundred (or more) teenagers trapped five days a week in a bubbling pot of hormones. Sex happens, and it’s just the way it is. That’s why they start sex ed at fourteen – they’re having sex anyway, so they might as well be safe. I don’t think it needs to change, really. The only thing I want for it is for girls (and boys) to feel like they can say no. That way, it’s their choice, and they don’t get pushed into something they don’t want to do.

Slut-shaming from an authority figure to a vulnerable kid is ugly. Reprehensible. Indefensible. Shameful. And it should never have happened for two reasons. The teacher should have had better ways to cope with this than to attack a kid. And slut-shaming itself should be  dying out, rather than being reinforced like this.

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