A few days ago, Bird asked me, “Mom, what does the word ‘slut’ mean?”

I didn’t have to ask where she’d heard the word. We’d both just seen the Degrassi episode where Emma calls Manny a slut. (Oh, Emma!) So, it was no surprise that she’d want to know. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how to answer this question, but I took a deep breath and dove in.

“It’s a word that people use to try to control women. It’s a word that is meant to make a woman feel bad about herself. It’s a word that is supposed to make a woman feel like she’s not a valuable human being. Specifically, it’s a word that means the person using it thinks you’ve had sex with too many people. But here’s the thing–having sex with people doesn’t make any woman less valuable or make them bad. There is no way for any amount of sex to make a woman worth less than some other woman who hasn’t had the same amount of sex.”

“A woman can have sex with however many people she wants,” Bird said. “If that is what she really wants to do.”

“Right. If a woman wants to have sex with many people, that won’t change whether or not she is a good, valuable, strong, smart, funny, lovable person. There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons to have sex, though, and when you are old enough to have sex, I want you to be smart about the reasons you have sex. I want you to have sex with people you trust, care about, and who treat you with respect. I want the sex you have to be safe and to make sure that you know how to prevent pregnancy and diseases. But if you have sex with only one person or with no people or with fifteen people, you will still be smart, funny, valuable, and lovable.”

“I know.”

“Again, though, the reasons you have sex with someone are important, and those reasons might change as you get older. That is something we will talk about a lot more as you grow up–what are good reasons for sex (because you care about the person, because you trust them, because you enjoy sex) and what are bad reasons (to prove something to someone else, to try to prove that you are sexy, to try to prove that you are lovable–because you are always lovable, and having sex won’t prove that if you’re doubting it). But we’ll talk about that a lot more as you grow up.”

“Okay.”

“For now, just know that people use the word slut to try to control women and that they don’t even use the word just to control them about how many people they’ve had sex with. In all my life, I’ve had sex with just one person–your dad–and I’ve had men and some women call me a slut. I laughed at them because they can’t make me feel bad about myself that way.

But obviously, the word had nothing to do with how many people I’ve had sex with. What it was about was trying to make me feel bad about myself, to try to hurt me, to try to make me feel ashamed of myself. And when we feel bad about ourselves, we are more willing to let someone else tell us what to do and how to behave. If we feel bad about ourselves, we might be willing to have sex with someone for bad reasons, or we might be willing to do something else they want us to do to “prove” to them we are not the bad thing, or we might allow them to treat us badly because we feel like we deserve it.

But if we understand that we always deserve to be be treated well, if we understand that we always deserve to be loved, then we won’t be hurt when someone calls us a slut. We’ll know that even if we’ve had sex with fifteen people, or more than that, it won’t matter and it doesn’t make us someone bad.”

“Got it.”

“And that word? Slut? It’s important that you never use it to try to control any of your friends. It would be unkind to try to hurt them that way.”

“I won’t! I would never use it!”

“I know because you have a kind heart. If you hear your friends use it on someone, or hear a boy use it, you can tell them that is a rude word and when you’re older, you can tell them that attempting to control women by using words like that makes them look foolish and that you wont fall for it.”

“Okay. Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome.”

And that was that. I’m sure a lot of it went over her head, but I don’t know–my kid’s a deep thinker. She’s pretty smart. So, that was our first conversation about slut shaming. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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5 thoughts on “Slut Shaming 101 — The Kiddie Version #parenting #feminism

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