Listen Up, Libertarians: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Slut-Shame

Lately, I’ve been reading up on Libertarianism. I thank my wonderful best friend and her boyfriend for helping me to explore these concepts. I’m drawn to the ideology’s respect for civil liberties, the individual, consent and voluntary action, not to mention how it applies these concepts to economic theory and the free market.slut

But I’ve observed something troubling: There’s some serious anti-feminist thought appearing in Libertarian circles.

Specifically, many fail to make the link between consent, individual liberty, and the injustice inherent in a culture and legal system that supports aggression toward and the demonization of “sluts.”

Take the following  libertarians’ thoughts on slut-shaming, for example:

A) In a YouTube video on slut shaming and bullying, libertarian blogger Julie Borowski says, “If you’re proud of who you are and the decisions you’ve made, no one’s words can bring you down…after all, they’re just words. Get some confidence and some self-pride. Empower yourself.

“In a free society, there is free speech and thought…you can’t expect everyone to be cool with your lifestyle of choice. But you can live your life and brush those haters off.”

Ugh.

B) Libertarian activist Amanda Billyrock on slut shaming:

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Okay Libertarians, I’ll admit it’s all well and good for a woman to be proud of her sex life and exhibitionism. Self-confidence in individual choice is not something I wish to admonish.

What I do wish to explore is the problematic line of thinking that women who feel oppressed by slut-shaming are somehow personally to blame/responsible for those feelings of oppression. Slut-shaming is systematic and props up a society that promotes social isolation by perpetuating attitudes that police women’s sexual expression. This leads to diminished political efficacy and cognitive functioning, psychological abuse, and the justification of harmful laws — all detrimental to the principles of liberty and non-aggression.

So, here are four reasons Libertarians shouldn’t slut-shame:

1. Slut-Shaming Creates False Dichotomies

Many people who have been bullied are tired of hearing words don’t have impact. Inherent in slut-shaming are the cultural attitudes manifested in the virgin/whore dichotomy. In our culture, a woman is ridiculed no matter what sexual choice she makes: she is a “bitch,” “prude,” “friend-zoner,” or “frigid” if she does not make herself adequately sexually available to men (see stories of street harassment and the friend-zone meme). A woman is a “slut,” “whore,” loose,” a spreader of STDs or any other number of hurtful things if she opts for anything other than a strictly monogamous sex life. And if she chooses to be a sex worker, she is accused of being exploited and complicit in her own oppression.

In this dichotomy, a woman cannot win no matter how she chooses to express herself sexually: she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

No one ever tells women they can be a little of both. No one tells women sexuality is fluid, that sexual appetite can change over time. Instead we’re told sex and exhibitionism makes us inherently dirty and worthy of scorn, social ostracization, and yes, rape. We’re told sex is some precious resource we have a limited amount of, something to be contained and withheld until marriage (i.e. until the state sanctions your pair bonding).

Black women are told their sexuality is inherently deviant and thus not respectable. Across the board, women are told we should not explore sex as our natural bodies are wont to do but instead should contain, police, and restrict our sexuality.  We are rarely told it is acceptable to explore this important, beautiful realm of the human experience — as often and with as many partners as we so choose.

2. Slut-Shaming Undercuts Autonomy, Liberty, and Cognitive Functioning

Slut-shaming finds its roots in economics and resource allocation — it’s understandable that we would admonish a woman who doesn’t adhere to a social code that allocates resources based on a one-to-one sexual contract. But it’s also a curious phenomenon when we consider female primates that seek multiple sex partners and women in tribes that shun monogamy actually have greater reproductive success.

Slut-shaming often makes women and girls feel they need to be secretive and ashamed of female bodily functions like having a period, taking birth control, and the look of their vagina/labia in general, which undercuts their liberty to speak up about feminine/sexual issues and express themselves fully.

I  personally spent an ample amount of time, energy and mental resources in young adolescence determining what “kind of girl” I was and how I wanted to be perceived sexually. My town’s population was mostly religious and conservative, and in that community many would subject “sluts” to severe scrutiny and try to evoke guilt to police their behavior through gossip and name-calling. This is not uncommon in small-town America. The indoctrination made me feel I had to choose explicitly between two options: slut or prude.

After all, this back and forth from society makes things very confusing for women. Slut-shaming tries to elicit feelings of insuperiority in its targets. Inherent in slut-shaming are expectations that are often raced and classed: it often harmfully expects white women to be pure and virginal while positioning black women as “fast-tailed,” hypersexual jezebelsIt is the same line of thinking that leads to blaming single, low-income women for their dependence on the state-run welfare system (“She needs to learn to keep her legs shut and stop having babies!”)

Many Libertarians say the non-aggression principle (the Golden Rule of Libertarianism, so to speak, and a principle I fully support) doesn’t apply to slut-shaming. Defending slut-shaming by saying women simply shouldn’t have an emotional reaction to it ignores how it operates systematically to make women feel guilty for their economic status, turn women against one another, and impose strict social roles upon them. And that, my friends, is an act of aggression.

3. Slut-Shaming Contributes to State-Sponsored Rape Culture

Slut-shaming allows people the power to put women in “their place,” positioning them as inferior based on their sexual choices. It pegs them as undeserving of  basic rights like respect, choice, and bodily autonomy. Slut-shaming is often used as a justification for rape and other acts of bodily aggression: state-sponsored sex ed programs often feature curriculum that teaches sluts simply can’t be raped(Tell me again how the state undercuts liberty to suit white male domination of policy, economic power and  resources?)

A commenter on Amanda Billyrock’s Facebook post claimed calling a woman a slut or demonizing her for her sexual appetite doesn’t violate that woman’s life, liberty or property and thus, we should all be free to ostracize and in general, be the judgmental, manipulative and abusive jerks we wish to be. Thankfully, one Facebook commenter had a great reply:

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Nailed it. And to reiterate, we certainly don’t want to go around advocating for the criminalization of those who slut-shame: state violence isn’t the answer here (newsflash: it never is.) I think we can all agree to that. Instead, feminists are simply asking for a needed change in cultural attitudes. We’re calling for a an end to the bigotry that does indeed have an indirect, if not subtle, effect on women’s livelihood, on their pursuit of life, liberty and property (read: control of their bodies). 

Defending slut-shaming because it supposedly doesn’t violate the NAP is detrimental to the creation of a liberated society that admonishes state-sanctioned pair-bonding and the aggression inherent in policing other’s decisions, lifestyles and choices.

Defending slut-shaming is conducive to a rape-supportive culture that views women’s civil liberties as secondary to strict social norms and body policing. Slut-shaming very clearly threatens women’s livelihood because it systematically “others” them. It pegs them as unclean, impure, and irresponsible. As mentioned before, it is the same line of thinking that leads to victim-blaming of sexual assault and rape victims (“You were asking for it,” “You know you want it,” “Don’t act like you’re a real human,” i.e. real things rapists say to their victims). 

Slut-shaming  is also used to justify draconian laws that force women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds (read: state-sanctioned rape) and restrict the number of birth control options and abortion clinics available to women who want the market to fulfill that need — a direct attack on free market ideologiesSlut-shaming fully limits a woman’s autonomy by asserting that she is unfit to make health and reproductive decisions and that is indeed an act of aggression.

4. Slut-Shaming *Is* Oppression

Slut-shaming fits snugly under the very definition of oppression“The unjust use of power to enforce an unequal relationship and deny others rights or value.”

Remember, “Major forces that make up oppression include: negative attitudes and heightened violence toward the group…decreased social investment (money, resources) in the group…interpersonal prejudice…oppressed group’s identity reduced to stereotypes…[and] oppressed groups adopting destructive beliefs about their own group (internalized oppression)…”

So Libertarians, I can get behind your economic theories and the principles of liberty. But I can’t get behind the stance that sluts should just “choose not to feel ashamed,” when a myriad of social, legal, and economic pressures reveal she has every reason to feel oppressed when branded a slut.

Systematic oppression is never the fault of the individual who reacts to it. Diminishing the emotional, economic, and psychological effects of slut-shaming is harmful and has no place in a society founded on individual liberty. Instead, it positions some as inherently “better than” others based on their choices, and others as inherently weak for not “controlling their emotions,” and that’s certainly aggressive and not conducive to a free society. Slut-shaming has no place in Libertarianism.

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