Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Name of the Shame

I've long since learned that I will regret clicking on any link to BuzzFeed. I've also, for the most part, accepted that I gain little but frustration from what people ("friends") post on Facebook. Only recently, however, have I fully internalized the infuriating intersection of the two.

Case in point: a scare-quote-friend links to this article (which I have not read and will not read) and bemoans the "slut-shaming" inherent in the criticism of, I can only assume, these fine, upstanding gentlemen here:


In fact, I believe the exact word she used was "transcendent."

Pictured: Transcendence
Let's visit Webster's briefly, shall we? Transcendent means 1. going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding, or 2. superior or supreme. I'm unwilling to consider even for the sake of argument that these gentlemen represent some superior subset of our species, so let's focus on the first definition. It is, in fact, the main point of the article in question that this type of self-exposure has become the norm at such gatherings - that is, it is ordinary. How, then, can this contextually common behavior (which is also generally accepted if not applauded) be characterized as "going beyond ordinary limits?" Short answer: it can't. Music festival denizens are simply following trends, just like everyone else, if not more so; they just happen to be trends (smoking Mary Jane, getting naked with Mary Jane, having public sex with Mary Jane...) that would get you arrested anywhere else. Unless you're in Oregon; there it would probably be fine.

But the bizarre and mindless worship of all things "alternative," no matter how pervasive, commercialized, and mundane, is not what I want to focus on here. Much more fun for me is the deliciously dysfunctional concept of "slut-shaming."

Webster's, of course, can't help us here since "slut-shame" isn't really a word, but I did look up "slut" and was surprised to learn that the first definition is "a dirty, slovenly woman." I can't recall ever hearing the word used in this way, although perhaps this means I've long been misunderstanding certain parts of 19th century literature to be much more exciting than they actually were meant to be. The second definition is more familiar ("an immoral or dissolute* woman; prostitute"), but still not that similar to our common usage, in which we draw a sharp distinction between someone who has lots of sex for no benefit other than the sex itself (a "slut") and someone who has sex for some material gain (a "whore").

Score one for the feminists in that it is apparently true that a man cannot be a slut; however he could be "slutty," as long as he's acting like a slut, which would mean at least in part acting like a woman. So maybe like a gay bottom or a tranny hooker could be slutty (or, to use the first definition, a dirty man wearing a dress), but a bro with his own personal strain of every known STI could not (unless he cried about it while eating ice cream, I suppose). Anyway, it's possible, but at the same time, it's fair to say that the word cannot be applied to men in a direct way, and consequently it's also fair to say that the term is sexist *unless* a male equivalent exists. Which, to my knowledge, there isn't, so chalk another one up there for the feminists.

Unfortunately that's about the end of the feminists' wins, though, because instead of fighting against the misuse of the term or attempting to introduce a male version, they seek to eradicate the concept entirely, as if it's somehow invalid to have a word for an immoral (or merely physically dirty) woman. "But S., shouldn't we just have a word that means 'immoral,' without reference to sex or gender, that could apply equally to men as well as women?" That's something to consider if you're creating Esperanto, but in English we like to create simple words that pack in a lot of conceptual information. Take for instance "blonde" versus "blond." If I dare you have sex with a blond, you might appreciate the added information regarding the sex of the peroxide-user in question before accepting that particular challenge. Could we drop "blond/e" from our vocabulary and simply say "a blond man" or "a blond woman" every time? Certainly. But we could also get rid of the word "mare" and instead have to say "female horse," or eliminate all of the many other examples of two-for-the-price-of-one words in our language. The result would be a less informative, less elegant language a la 1984. I, for one, would not want to blog in such a language***.

So there we have the "slut" part of slut-shaming nailed down. How about the rest? In the broadest, most literal sense, "slut-shaming" means attempting to hurt or invalidate a woman by deriding her sexuality or sexual choices. It was created to defend women against those who would put the most Victorian restrictions on female sexual behavior; the most common use I've seen is with respect to the inevitable "she was 'asking for it' by being drunk/wearing that/not wearing that/leaving her parents' house while having a vagina" commentary following every Steubenville-like incident. In this situation, the concept indicates that the victim's slut-status is irrelevant to the question of rape, i.e., the rapist is equally evil and deserves the same punishment under the law if he rapes a nun versus a sexually undiscriminating woman. And P.S., how dare you suggest that a woman's rights are forfeit based on how much sex she has.

There's another use for "slut-shame", though, that refers instead to the misapplication of the term "slut," i.e., discouraging perfectly healthy sexual behaviors in women by erroneously declaring these actions slutty. This is my preferred application of the term, in part because I find it useful in illuminating questions of morality and in part because I don't like to spend that much time talking about rape. So I'm very much cool with this concept, unlike, say, animal rights or trees or basically anything else that feminists say.

But now we come back to the issue at hand, which, broadly speaking, is criticizing public nudity or lewdness, which, seriously, how can that possibly be slut-shaming? For one thing, the poster-children for the article are all men, and we've already established that men can't be sluts. But, more importantly, not all shaming is slut-shaming; sometimes it's just regular old plain-vanilla shaming. If you think for one second that public nudity outside of a gay bar is a ploy to get laid, you seriously need to open your eyes to the type of person who goes nude in public. Hint: it's not the people who look better without clothing. We're not shaming them for being sexual: we're shaming them for being gross.

Now can I defend the position that non-underwear models going around naked in my line of vision is legitimately gross and consequently rude? I believe I can. There's no real difference between flapping your flab in my face and stinking up the bus because you're too "liberated" to shower regularly. It's inconsiderate to subject total strangers to the less pleasant aspects of your existence, whether it's your bodily functions or your body itself. The day that homeless chick in front of Perilla starts shitting roses is the day I'll stop viewing her as sub-human for pooping in the gutter every day. The day I meet a nudist who looks like Tom Welling is the day I'll reconsider my position on this topic. But so far the ugly, smelly reality has been that only ugly (or drunk) people take their clothes off at concerts and only smelly (or drunk) people defecate on the street.

In San Francisco, we have "Smelly Guy" and "Naked Man." Everyone who lives here knows about whom I'm talking. Neither one causes me physical harm, but that's why we distinguish between "illegal" and "rude". And just as we enforce the law by calling the cops, we enforce standards of decency through shaming. Enforcing a just law makes you a hero; shaming people who are being narcissistic dickheads similarly elevates a person to hero-status.

Properly applied, I'm a huge fan of shaming, and I bet you are, too. I guarantee you that every "transcendent" soul currently seething over my refusal to see the beauty of these mediocre examples of the human form was more than happy about the shame thrown at Chick-Fil-A over their gay bigotry. Similarly I've no doubt every Christian/Republican who cried "respect religious freedom!" during the Great Chicken Sandwich War subsequently participated in "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day". None but the most morally bankrupt are actually against shaming as such; they're merely against shaming things they agree with. As they should be, naturally; it's absolutely correct to respond strongly to those who oppose your values. But you should be defending those values, not attacking your attacker's right to attack.

Shaming shame is a lazy shortcut. It ends rather than wins arguments, and it short-circuits thought by rendering debate impermissible. It is intellectually irresponsible in the extreme. No growth is possible under such conditions, individually or socially. Unfortunately American culture has come a long way toward embracing this anti-criticism perspective. This is why our Congress is so fucking boring while British Parliament is this raucous playground of snark and contention by comparison (all of it just as stupid at root, of course, but massively more entertaining). I imagine it's also a large part of why the "Millennials," whose primary skill set consists of not offending anyone, are so thoroughly uninspiring as a generation.

I've inadvertently touched on a large number of topics here, many of which I've had no time to explore, so let me conclude with a few links to thoughts from others that I find relevant and interesting. Then I need to go put on some pants- people in the office are staring.

Yours in nakedness,

S. Misanthrope

*Admit it: you don't really know what this word means. I'll help: "indifferent to moral restraints; given to immoral or improper conduct; licentious; dissipated**."
**"Indulging in or characterized by excessive devotion to pleasure; intemperate; dissolute*."
***Which may, for some of you, be more than enough reason to advocate the switch to Doublespeak.

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