there are no real sluts

slutlast week’s atlantic article about slut shaming was eye opening.  the article written by olga khazan explores a study by two researchers who interviewed 54 women between their freshman year to their first year out of college. their findings about financial security and inequality are captured in their book paying for the party. however, the results of their research project didn’t stop there. what the women learned about how the college students labeled, shamed and marginalized each other based on real (but most often perceived) sexual promiscuity is fascinating.

“all but five or six of the women practiced “slut-shaming,” or denigrating the other women for their loose sexual mores. but they conflated their accusations of “sluttiness” with other, unrelated personality traits, like meanness or unattractiveness. it seems there was no better way to smear a dorm-mate than to suggest she was sexually impure.”

in a patriarchal society the fact that women are held to unattainable standards of sexual purity isn’t new — hell, the fact that we hold ourselves and each other to these standards is the most damaging.  however, there are two things interesting about this study: 1.) while the term was commonly used among these women, there was no strict definition of a slut, and 2.) the concept was used to enforce class hierarchies, with the wealthier girls being allowed to have “loosier” sexual mores (think kim khardashian and paris hilton versus love and hip hop star mimi faust). so what’s the purpose of having a word in the english language that has no strict definition, but forces women to live under amorphous constraints? the article breaks the answer to this question down perfectly:

“… “slut” is simply a misogynistic catch-all, a verbal utility knife that young people use to control women and create hierarchies. there may be no real sluts, in other words, but there are real and devastating consequences to slut-shaming.”

this isn’t about v. stiviano

donald and vnba commissioner adam silver came down hard on clippers owner donald sterling for his racist comments about not wanting black people at his games.  on the audio recording of sterling speaking to his girlfriend v. stiviano, sterling admonishes her for posting a picture with magic johnson on instagram and embracing her blackness when the world sees her as “a latina or a white girl.”  as the owner of an almost all black team in a sport played overwhelmingly by people of color, it was necessary for sterling to get more than a slap on the wrist and the nba acted accordingly by fining him $2.5 million and banning him for life.  whether or not he will be forced to sell the clippers is yet to be determined.

i wish i could say that the story ended here; however, patriarchy and misogyny don’t take a day off, even when faced with rank white supremacy.  i’ve been inundated by tweets and jokes from both news pundits and sports commentators about how donald sterling’s life has been ruined by a conniving sidechick.  in fact, in a time article condemning donald sterling’s actions, basketball legend kareem abdul jabbar had this to say:

and now the poor guy’s girlfriend (undoubtedly ex-girlfriend now) is on tape cajoling him into revealing his racism. man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. she was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the sambo.” she blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.

this analysis is not only a red herring because the issue at hand should be donald sterling’s racism NOT v. stivano’s actions, but elucidates a larger point about the harmful tropes women of color face.  unfortunately,  jabbar is not the first man to blame a woman for a man’s actions;  black women have faced this narrative for centuries.  words like “cajole” (to persuade someone with flattery) and “sexy nanny” evoke the stereotype of black women as licentious beings who use their uncontrollable sexual prowess to bait and hook their lovers.  for v. stiviano, a black and mexican woman who is decades younger than donald sterling, this narrative makes her the assailant and him a “poor guy” victimized by her intoxicating ways.  i’m not buying it. in fact, a man with as much privilege and power as donald sterling should not be seen as the victim in any situation, absent torture, where he reveals his personal beliefs.

kareem abdul jabbar isn’t the only person who has described v. stiviano as a shady temptress; sterling’s wife filed a lawsuit against her claiming stiviano “engages in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose.” (here goes that word cajole again.)  the lawsuit further states stiviano’s “feminine wiles … overpowered the iron will of [sterling] who is well known as one of the most shrewd businessmen in the world.”  the fact that a black man and white woman in her lawsuit are depending on the same stereotype of a woman of color to deflect a white man’s responsibility for his actions is powerful and proves the impact of patriarchy, misogyny and white supremacy on women of color.  stuck at these intersections, v. stiviano, a woman who arguably helped to protect an entire sports franchise from a bigoted owner, is not applauded, but mocked and blamed. 

donald sterling’s racist beliefs have nothing to do with v. stiviano, and while mainstream society may have taken a bold step against tolerating individual racism, gender-based discrimination against women of color is still business as usual.


a little link love 2.20.14

1. i’m flabergasted that a florida jury allowed yet another man to murder a black teenager without a murder conviction.  i’m sickened by the constant reminder that the lives of black children are less important than those of their white counterparts.  watch as jessica williams of the daily show does a tongue and cheek run-down of white america’s omnipresent “fear goggles” that can make “four black teenagers taking a calculus test look like a scene from the wire.”

2.  yayadon’t you just love yaya alafia (nee dacosta)? i remember her season of america’s next top model and the way she schooled tyra banks on the origins of kente cloth.  the ivy league grad  is now an actress, wife and mother who was recently interviewed by michel martin on npr’s tell me more.  listen to her thoughts on her role in lee daniels’ the butler, colorism and why she calls herself an african in america.

3. have you heard the teaser to beyonce’s drunk in love remix featuring kanye?!?! it made me jump up and run around my apartment full speed — the only appropriate response when one of your favorite songs from beyonce’s new album gets better.

4.  it’s not every day that you hear an artist reference brandy, bun b, bounce music and kirk franklin as their inspirations.  in a recent interview with npr’s new r&b and hip hop show, microphone check, i fell in love with solange all over again as she rattled off a list of 90’s hip hop and r&b that only a person raised in the south can appreciate.