Today I was thinking about a conversation at the end of the the last school year. It surrounded the words “slut shaming.” Then I came across a video from a 20/20 interview that was done this summer. You can check it out by clicking here.
Slut shaming is defined as the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations. Some examples of behaviors which women are “slut-shamed” for include: dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, or even being raped or sexually assaulted.
I first heard this term late last school year from a female student in one of the high schools we speak in every semester. She approached me as I was cleaning up my materials with a stern look on her face. She began by kindly introducing herself and then went into direct conversation about her thoughts on what we presented. The short version of what was shared was that she was surprised.
When teens hear that someone is going to come discuss abstinence they automatically think that the individual coming to speak is both a prude and cosmic killer of joy. I don’t blame teens or even young adults for this. Most are taking their cues from popular media and what they probably have heard at some point in their past about programs similar to Project Six19. However, most are surprised by our tone and approach, which is caring, honest and direct. When this young girl approached, I placed her in the same category I’ve seen time and time again: A frustrated student who is unhappy with the way things are talked about when it comes to sex and relationships, and wanting a place to point their frustration and concern. She said that our presentation did a good job of sharing an important message while not shaming anyone in the classroom for other’s past decisions. She briefly talked of her past; a boyfriend she had slept with, regretted that it happened, and wanting to move on. She even mentioned that she considered calling in sick to our presentation because was afraid that we might “slut shame” her in front of her friends. She was thankful just the opposite happened that day. So am I.
There are a few things that I take from both the video and this conversation as they relate to this discussion.
First, I applaud Katelyn (in the video) for her willingness to step up and be a voice for those that were marginalized. Or, at the very least felt marginalized which is very much the same. We need teens and young adults who are willing to make us aware of how words hurt. The old adage that sticks and stones will break your bones but words never will is not correct. Words are THE sticks and stones and although they don’t break bones they can break hearts.
Second, the media will always spin stories like this to make a message of abstinence look silly and wrong. Although I have no idea what was exactly shared during Pam Stenzel’s presentation I can speak to her heart. She wants youth to make a decision that is healthy and safe. Her own story speaks to this reality. Yes, I do think that she can be a bit brash but that is her approach and it has seemed to work well over the years. The number of people that invite her to speak backs this up. I also doubt she incorporated any talk on faith in the school setting. However, this does not negate our responsibility to be aware of how we speak on subjects of sex and relationships. Honoring those that we are speaking to while holding onto the convictions we share is a balancing act that takes great care.
Third, the language we use is important. Yes, we need to be honest and concise with the language we use but that doesn’t give us permission to shame. This is something that Project Six19 holds as one of its key values. Language can either build up and change minds or cause us great pain and become dogmatic. Specifically, I think it is important to realize the power of shame with this generation. It communicates that one person is a mistake. That is wholly different then guilt, which communicates that you made a mistake. Remember we have all been created in the image of God and He does not make invaluable or shameful things.
Let’s talk with honesty, building up those around us, holding onto our convictions while also being aware of how the words we use impact others.