Brace Yourself For the Slut Shaming Onslaught

In my book The Jezebel Effect I discuss how female politicians are slut shamed in a way male leaders are not:

Any woman can be slut shamed, but what happens when a woman gets real power and/or prestige in her community? Does the slut shaming increase?

Yes and no.

If they are maintaining the sociocultural status quo, then they are usually the recipients of callous sexism rather than slut shaming. Margaret Thatcher, who was profoundly conservative and enacted multiple policies that anchored patriarchal authority into the bedrock of Britain, got called sexist and misogynistic monikers even by her own party. She made The Iron Lady her unofficial motto, but it was just the best of a lot of bad choices. She certainly didn’t want Attila the Hen as her nickname. Her left leaning opponents indulged in tirades against the “bitch”. When she died, people gleefully played the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz as though this were a really witty thing to do. She was also called a cunt, but since male politicians are just as likely to have that delightful word follow their name I’ll admit it is a gender neutral insult in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, it is a not a gender neutral word.

Conservative female leaders may be the target of sexism more often than slut shaming, but it still occurs. A Greek journalist called German chancellor Angela Merkel a “dirty Berlin slut” (Phelan, 2012). While I vehemently disagree with the German policy of austerity and can understand why a Greek would be livid, calling Merkel a slut is beyond politics; his comments planted a flag deep in the heartland of misogyny. There has never been as much as a whiff of sexual impropriety about Angela Merkel during her tenure as chancellor. She was slut shamed solely because someone disagreed with her use of her political power, which is independent of any one man’s support.

The sexism faced by Thatcher and Merkel is mild compared to what happens when a progressive woman obtains power that seems to threaten gendered ideologies. That is when the bovine feces really impacts with the windmill blades. Just look at what Hillary Clinton has endured. There has not only been the garden variety sexism, wherein Clinton’s body is mocked as fat and she is called the ball-busting bitchy lesbian spawn of Satan; there has also been slut shaming nearly beyond belief.

If you Google her name, you’ll see the word slut has been used in tandem with the words “Hillary Clinton” an inordinate amount of times for a woman who was never caught-out in any sort of sexual transgression. NRA spokesman and washed-up one-hit wonder Ted Nugent said of Hillary Clinton, “This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro” (Gertz, 2012). Considering that Ted Nugent admitted that he defecated in his pants for days in order to avoid the draft for the anti-communism Viet Nam War (Read, 2013), his accusations of Hillary Clinton’s communist sympathies ring hollow. Nugent’s fellow draft dodger, Rush Limbaugh, declared that Hillary Clinton was the “Sex-retary of State” (Strasser, 2012). It’s not just middle-aged male drug abusers clinging desperately to their place in the sun that have slut shamed Hillary Clinton, either. The female Air America radio host Randi Rhodes was suspended for calling Hillary Clinton “a big fucking whore” (Huffington Post, 2008). Moreover, if one should choose wade into the far right blogosphere, one will quickly discover that “whore” and “slut” are some of the milder sexualized terms being used to denigrate Clinton. Not her political ideology, mind you, which is fair game. No. Those sexual slurs are slut shaming Hillary Clinton as a person, not a politician.

The vitriol spewed on Clinton, accusations that include the words “slut” or “whore” in them, surpass the political and go straight into slut shaming attempts to get her to go back to her proper place. The people who claim they want her to shut her legs are actually the ones who want her to shut her mouth.

With Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee for POTUS, I can only assume that the slut shaming attacks on her will grow … although I am uncertain how that can contain more venom than they already do. As an anthropologist, I am curious to see what they come up with. As a feminist, I am revolted by the idea. As an American, I’m exhausted by the rhetoric and wish the election was tomorrow just to get the tsunami of attack ads over with.

 

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