Okay, I got a beautiful review for The Jezebel Effect by an English woman who uses the name Iset on Goodreads. I don’t know if she is secretly a friend of mine IRL and I was unaware that she went by the name Iset on Goodreads, but if she isn’t someone I already know then she is WELCOME to become my BFF right now. I am sharing because it made me tear up with happiness and pride. In fact, I may even feel a hint of smug.
Here it is:
“This book has just shot up onto my “Top 10 Essential Non-Fiction Reads”. Erudite, incisive, professional, and important, this is definitely a book that I would recommend to everyone. So what’s it about? Well, actually I found Kyra Kramer’s writing so good that for much of this review I intend to let it speak for itself.
“What is a slut, really? How do you know who is slutty and who isn’t? In this enlightened age, why does the word slut continue to stalk women like an overdone spectre in an overwrought gothic novel?”
Kyra Kramer asks some difficult questions in The Jezebel Effect, or rather, she asks some very simple straightforward questions and supplies the reader with all the evidence you could hope for to answer those questions; but they are questions that nevertheless society has struggled with for centuries. What exactly is a slut? Why is this term applied almost exclusively to women? Why is this slur so incredibly damning even today? Is there an actual number of partners that makes a woman a slut? And if the number has nothing to do with it, what then is the actual definition? What is it that really gets this insult thrown at a woman?
“In a nutshell, a slut is a girl or woman who broke a gender based cultural taboo; she did something women aren’t supposed to do. She was a bad woman. Once a woman is labelled a tramp her worth, her very value as a human being, is called into question by the smear. Nothing vilifies a woman faster than being called a slut, and the use of the word as a means of discrediting or controlling a woman is called slut shaming. Slut shaming is the go-to method of punishing woman for her perceived sociocultural transgression, sexual or otherwise. In spite of our supposedly post-feminist society, slut shaming is as prevalent today as it was for the Victorians. The margins of the page might have changed but the words are still written in stone and women who don’t stay between the lines will learn that they will be made to pay for it.”
These questions are examined through the lens of five historical queens, all of whom had the term thrown at them, both by contemporaries and later historians: Jezebel, Kleopatra VII, Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Howard, and Catherine the Great. Why pair an interesting sociocultural examination with the field of history?
“One of the ways that cultural norms about gender, the understanding of the ‘way people should be’, is transmitted and solidified in the public mind is by official history (Hennessy, 2012). History depicted as a place where women either did embroidery like good girls or slutted it up like bad girls is not only inaccurate, it harms modern women’s sense of themselves and what they can accomplish. History matters because it is a lens through which people view the world. How can girls or women think of these strong queens as role models or heroines if to emulate them is to risk being slut shamed?”
A digression, if I may. I’m a trained and qualified historian, but my friends here will know that I take a keen interest in sociocultural structures and, indeed, human behaviour as a whole. That’s because for me being a historian isn’t just being able to rattle off a long strings of dates. For me, being a historian is about my ongoing exploration into what it means to be human; examining the sum total of human experience thus far in order perceive to the heights we’ve achieved, the lows we’re capable of, and ultimately to understand how and why we are the way we are now – and what kind of human being I want to be in the future. Kyra Kramer’s book does exactly that, focusing on just one aspect of human socioculture; slut-shaming, and what in particular five famous example from history can tell us about this uniquely human behaviour.
Some of these figures I already knew a fair bit about – Kleopatra and Anne Boleyn – but others are not my era of expertise – Jezebel, Catherine the Great. Without exception however, Kramer presents a fascinating insight into the lives of each of them, deconstructing the slut-shaming myths around them and presenting a clear picture of what happened and why they were slut-shamed.
Interwoven amongst the examination of the lives of these five historical personages, Kramer links their specific cases back to what is going on in the here and now, and the weird sociocultural behaviours we’ve picked up over the centuries that are still dictating our “norms” today.
“Culturally, men are taught to “seek security, status, and other rewards through control, [and] to fear other [people’s] ability to control and harm them (Johnson, 2005). A loss of control equals vulnerability and vulnerability tends to make people feel afraid. Fear is an incredibly strong motivator for behaviour, and is often expressed in forms of anger or aggression. The patriarchal and systemic forces that are the true source of male anxiety are not necessarily obvious. What is obvious are the nonconforming women who may be undermining a man’s sense of masculinity. For insecure men, insubordinate women who do not follow the cultural norms of gender have taken away even more of the power they already felt was insufficient. Therefore, women who cannot be controlled, “risk the wrath of men, who may feel undermined, abandoned and even betrayed” by their perceived disobedience and disregard of male authority (Johnson, 2005)… Slut shaming is, at heart, driven by the fear of emasculation. By calling dissident women sluts, culture is able to punish them for being a threat to manhood and a menace to the larger patriarchal structure. Slut shaming drives these dangerous women to the social margins, where they can do the least damage to the status quo. Women who are culturally noncompliant are repulsive enough; a woman who actively ‘overpowers’ men (especially with her sexuality) is bloodcurdlingly horrific.”
I’d quote even more but I don’t want to flood this review with quotes. Enough said. An exceptionally perceptive and intelligent book raising awareness and understanding of the deeply misogynistic attitudes still around today, and why they’re still clinging on.
10 out of 10