• Fri, Dec 6 - 11:32 am ET

Rashida Jones Is Right: Let’s Define Slut Shaming Better

NBC "Parks And Recreation" 100th Episode Celebration

Rashida Jones has written an article for the January issue of Glamour expanding on her Twitter outburst this fall. While she gets a lot wrong about the state of women expressing sexuality in the public arena, she makes some excellent points and advocates for greater discussion about women’s roles in the public eye. It’s a refreshing piece grappling with issues from a feminist point of view that I wouldn’t ordinarily have expected to see in a traditional lady mag.

A quick recap: Jones took to twitter this October to air the following grievances with what she perceived as an oversexed culture:

 

 

 

The backlash and accusations were pretty instantaneous–Jones was accused of being anti-feminist and a slut shamer immediately. Her piece clarifies those views and starts an important conversation.

Let’s start with what Jones gets right. She writes that “there is a difference, a key one, between ‘shaming’ and ‘holding someone accountable.’” This is a more eloquent version of the point I tried to make on Tuesday–that “shaming” isn’t always an accurate description of valid criticism. In Jones’ version of the world, celebrities are role models (this is a separate and interesting point that I’m inclined to agree with), and therefore their public actions are fair game for scrutiny.

When we defend celebrities and accuse their detractors of being slut shamers, the normal argument is “but they’re experimenting/expressing their sexuality!” I’ve actually made that exact point before, in reference to Miley Cyrus, but now I’m not so sure. Jones makes a salient point about the sexuality stars like Cyrus are frequently criticized for exhibiting:

But the poles, the pasties, the gyrating: This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex. (Also, let’s be real. Every woman’s sexuality is different. Can all of us really be into stripper moves? The truth is, for every woman who loves the pole, there’s another who likes her feet rubbed. But in pop culture there’s just one way to be. And so much of it feels staged for men, not for our own pleasure.)

This is 100% spot on. This behavior that we all bend over backwards to defend isn’t necessarily an expression of female sexuality at all (although certainly some women get off on gyrating with the express interest of titillating men). When Cyrus makes her vulva a guest star in her act, it doesn’t particularly read like she’s owning her sexuality. Instead, it reads like she’s owning a manufactured sex appeal made by a select group of men.

While I agree with a lot of what Jones is saying, her argument is not without significant flaws. First of all, Jones argues that ”[a] new era had arrived. If 1994 was the Year of O.J.’s White Bronco, 2013 was the Year of the Very Visible Vagina.” 1994 was also the year of the first celebrity sex tape (Tonya Harding), a prolonged and uncomfortable Sharon Stone sex scene in The Specialist, and a multitude of other naked events (see: about a million music videos). The point here is that every 10 years or so, everyone gets all rankled about how everyone is having too much sex in the wrong way and everyone is a slutty slut slut. When I was in middle school, it was talk about the Ophelia Complex which set things in motion for mass hysteria over the directionless, oversexed youth. And in 1994, it was all about the S&M acts from Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ video, which was banned from TV. It’s cyclical, and saying this is a new trend is off base.

The other place where Jones loses me is her use of the word “whore.” When the Twitter shitstorm first happened, Jones recieved a ton of flack for it, and her clarification does little to exonerate her.

So back to the word whore. My hashtag was “stopactinglikewhores.” Key word, acting. Like I said, I’m not criticizing anyone’s real sex life; as George Michael tells us, “Sex is natural, sex is fun.”

While I appreciate that she has no opinions about what people do in their personal lives, “whore” is the wrong word here. A whore is a profession, not an insult (just ask our resident sex worker, Cate). Jones is searching for a word we don’t have yet–not slut–that means “personification of male-manufactured sex appeal,” and instead uses the closest word she can think of, even though it’s far from accurate.

So Jones’ argument is far from perfect, but it’s a hugely positive step forward to see a traditional ladymag featuring an actual discussion of feminist issues instead of something like “10 Ways To Get To Find Your Disgusting Hoohah Less Horrifying.” She didn’t get it 100% right, but her conversation is important and hopefully it will continue without people crying “slut shamer!” and ending the conversation without it even starting.

Photo: Getty Images

Share This Post:
  • anna

    I think it’s a good reaction to a bad incident.

  • Benita

    The only salient point she made was the tiny accusation she hurled at the music executives who are actually the ones who commodify different versions of female sexuality for different audiences. She didn’t hit that hard enough, perhaps because her daddy is who he is. I remember when Madonna took the world by storm and the same shit was slung at her and today she’s proclaimed as a feminist icon. Heads up: there were record executives then, were they exploiting her as well? Is it bad to work the system?

    What about when female sexuality is shown as the “Eternal Virgin” ala Taylor Swift? You don’t think that’s in part to sell records? Is the way her sexuality presented ok because it’s not overt? I’ve seen her in some extremely short shorts, but that’s ok? Why? A world that says that female celebrities can only be the virgin or the slut is not a healthy one but shaming either type isn’t the way to go either. Place the blame where it belongs, with the men in power, don’t shame the women who may be expressing their sexuality or working the system. Sorry, it’s still slut shaming and it still sucks.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Taylor Swift is absolutely an example of commodified sexuality! The whole “super chaste virgin who’s secretly not so innocent” is exactly the same thing as the type of overt commodified sexuality that Miley Cyrus gets called out for. Taylor Swift’s brand of selling sex is hardly exempt from this. And the blame does fall squarely to the men in power who create these commodities, not the women who are essentially molded into what these men want them to be. However, we can think critically about the role women play in allowing themselves to be put in these boxes.

    • Benita

      And I would argue that we can think critically without resorting to slut shaming to do it.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Thinking critically ≠ slut shaming.

  • Lindsey Conklin

    I think she makes some good points as well, but definitely not a fan of her use of the word “whore,” totally with tina fey as miss norbury, we’ve got to stop calling each other that–and like you said, a profession, not an insult.

  • Grace

    How about you stop using the term “slut shaming” because by using it you are perpetuating the idea that there is such a thing as a “slut”

    • bear48624862

      There is such a thing called a slut.

    • Devil’s Advocate

      And what would YOUR deffiniton be? … I guarantee it’s different from many others’, so what would qualify as definitively being slut like?

    • bear48624862

      Get off your high horse.

  • Felicia621

    I think she was spot on with the usage of ‘whore,’ as she explains that the only asset Miley is bringing to the table is sex.

  • Truth

    Actually I think “whore” is the perfect word. Clearly these women are com modifying their sexuality and making money off of it. That is exactly what a whore does. With the exception of having sex with their fans, many stars today are whoring themselves for millions. Let’s call them highly paid call girls. After all, they don’t have to actually engage in sexual acts, right?