The Double Standards of Slut-Shaming

So, imagine you’re a teenage boy. You’re at a concert. A really drunk girl has been flirting with you for a few minutes. All of a sudden, she offers to perform oral sex on you. Right there. In the middle of the concert. You happily accept. While she is pleasuring you, you put your hands up in the air, cheering for your lucky, lucky self. You are the epitome of “cool.” 

Now – imagine you’re a 17-year-old girl. You are at your favorite singer’s concert. You have had way too much to drink and you’re incredible intoxicated. You see a really cute guy standing nearby. You approach him and begin flirting with him. You really want him to like you, so in your drunken stupor, you offer oral sex to him. He enthusiastically says, “YES!” and so, you kneel down, unbutton his pants, and begin. You are a total slut. 

My question is – why is there such a discrepancy in the way society views both people in this scenario? Both teenagers are engaged in explicit sexual activity in public, but somehow, most people would view the girl in a more negative light than they would the boy. This picture I have painted is basically exactly what happened at an Eminem concert at Slane Castle in Ireland last month. The photographs went viral and were all over social media. Needless to say, the story got a lot of people talking. Some people were rightfully upset about the fact that these pictures were similar to (if not exactly) child pornography. More importantly to this discussion, however, is the multitude of comments made about the young girl. One tweet said, “Lesson to be learnt from #slanegirl dont give head in public ..twice ..with 80,000 people watching” [sic]. While I agree – that is great advice – my problem is the lack of similar commentary concerning the boy’s behavior. How about, “Lesson I learned from #slaneboy: Don’t take advantage of an obviously drunk girl”?

The problem is that this type of hypocrisy isn’t rare. Remember Miley’s twerking incident a few weeks ago? The entire world is upset about Miley setting a bad example to young girls (which, don’t get me wrong – I agree, she did), but what about Robin Thicke sending a terrible example to males of all generations? He’s married and yet, he finds it somehow appropriate to allow a young woman to grind on him (which he admitted that he had prior knowledge of) and sing a song that has rape-y lyrics about “blurred lines.” While Robin Thicke did, admittedly, get criticized for his performance, I think most would agree that his reputation is not permanently destroyed the way Miley Cyrus’ is.

All of this relates to a concept in feminist philosophy called, “slut-shaming.” Basically, this term refers to making women feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional gender expectations. Slut-shaming is the phenomenon that exists when women are “sluts” when they dress provocatively, request birth control, or have premarital sex – but men are not judged in the same manner for behaving in a way that indicates they desire sex, or when they buy condoms or have premarital sex.

I’d like to know what the readers think – why is there this discrepancy in the way we view sexuality in women and men? And what can we do to fix this problem?

Scare ‘Em Straight

scared straight

In 1978, Arnold Shapiro directed a documentary called “Scared Straight!” which followed at-risk teens who had been in trouble for everything from fighting, theft, and  drug use to promiscuity, gambling and gang affiliation, as they spend a day in jail with actual inmates. The teens are confronted, yelled at, and verbally harassed by the adult inmates, as they experience the harsh realities of life in prison. The goal of this “project” was to frighten the young delinquents into “scaring them straight,” so as to prevent the teens from reoffending, and thus, hopefully, avoiding a life spent in prison. The end of the film features a “roll call” of the children, revealing that the day with the convicts had, in fact, “scared them straight.”

However, a few of the delinquents were said to have reoffended, although that fact seems to be altogether forgotten and instead the idea of “scaring children straight,” is glorified as a successful endeavor. Even though the recidivism rate might have been lower under these circumstances, it is important to remember that this “project” was created by a filmmaker and not a psychiatrist specifically trained in juvenile delinquency, rehabilitation of felons, or even the longterm effects of using scare tactics experimentally.

A study done in 2002 and updated in 2003 by Anthony Petrosino et al. revealed that programs like the one the documentary seemed to be promoting “are not effective as a stand-alone crime prevention strategy.” Further, the researchers went on to explain that:

“…these programs likely increase the odds that children exposed to them will commit offenses in future. Despite the variability in the type of intervention used, ranging from harsh, confrontational interactions to tours of the facility converge on the same result: an increase in criminality in the experimental group when compared to a no- treatment control. Doing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the program.”

In 2011, A&E introduced the new series, “Beyond Scared Straight,” which, according to A&E’s website, follows “derailed, defiant and disrespectful teens as they enter immersive jail programs aimed at deterring them from a life of crime.” Each episode focuses on a different inmate-run program in the United States and follows several at-risk teenagers before they attend the program, throughout their day immersed in the prison, immediately afterwards, and then a few weeks later. In addition, each episode ends with updates of the teen participants since the taping of the program, citing both successes and some failures in their post-prison behavior. Season 4 “Highlights” include:

-In Georgia, returning audience favorite Deputy Jonathan Lyle takes on a “buckwild” partying runaway, a drug-dealing Jekyll-Hyde and a young teen who threatened his pregnant mother with a knife.

-Returning inmate “Hustle Man”, a ferocious incarcerated killer, is dragged away from the teens after he tries to attack.

-12-year-old petty thief Alissa sobs uncontrollably at the sights and sounds of jail life, but, more shocking, her fourteen-year-old brother, himself having committed armed burglary and grand theft, refuses to comfort her amid the chaos.

-An explosive giant, Joseph, assaults his little brother and his adoptive parents until he comes face-to-face with menacing convicts and deputies.

-Maura, a privileged suburban shopaholic who steals just for the thrill, experiences the gritty consequences of her crimes.

-Cody sports tattoos indicating affiliation even though he doesn’t claim a set–a dangerous circumstance on both sides of the bars, especially since he fears gang retribution for getting into a fight with a gang member at school.

-A beautiful cheerleader, Kristin seems set on following her mother’s criminal past by running the streets, stealing and using drugs.

-Aaron, a feisty habitual liar, initially confounds deputies by easily overcoming physical challenge during an exhausting all-night jail stay (returning fan favorite Richland County, SC) until deputies set their sights on getting inside his mind.

To be honest, I cannot say one way or another whether these programs truly do help the participants or if they (like the research above indicates) serve to increase the likelihood of the young offenders to reoffend. I can say, however, that I am uncomfortable with the idea of using children as lab rats and throwing them in this “scientific” experiment and hoping it helps them. I do not like the concept of using at-risk youth to serve our entertainment needs. It’s as if the producers of the show are outwardly saying, “This is going to help the kids!” but then privately whispering, “And if it doesn’t? Oh well, it made for great TV!” I think the psychological effect of having a child (and I do mean a “child,” given the participants are all under the age of 18) thrust into a situation like prison life is relevant to the discussion and that even if a child does not reoffend after participating in one of these programs, the program is not necessarily a success. The previously mentioned study says it best:

“Policymakers should take steps to build the kind of research infrastructure within their jurisdiction that could rigorously evaluate criminological interventions to ensure they are not harmful to the very citizens they aim to help.”

Photo courtesy of: A&E

Autism Awareness Day

photo courtesy of:

The sixth annual World Autism Awareness Day is today, April 2, 2013. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events. I wanted to take the time to explain to those who may not be familiar with autism as to what it is exactly so as to spread awareness. All of the following information is directly from Autism Speak’s website, which is an organization promoting awareness for the disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The new DSM-5 diagnostic manual will be published in may and the different disorders (including autism, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, and Asperger syndrome) will be merged into one overarching diagnosis of ASD.

ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues. Often, persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.

Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age. Autism Speaks continues to fund research on effective methods for earlier diagnosis, as early intervention with proven behavioral therapies can improve outcomes. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

Not long ago, the answer to this question of what causes autism would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers. First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene mutations associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.

In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.

A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid during the months before and after conception.

For more information about autism, see the Autism Speaks website. Also, please consider donating, as the foundation is taking incredible steps toward learning more and more about the disorder. For an interesting article on ten things research has taught us now about autism in simply the last yearplease see this article.