Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation

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Overview

Girls may be called "sluts" for any number of reasons, including being outsiders, early developers, victims of rape, targets of others' revenge. Often the labels has nothing to do with sex -- the girls simply do not fit in.  An important account of the lives of these young women, Slut! weaves together powerful oral histories of girls and women who finally overcame their sexual labels with a cogent analysis of the underlying problem of sexual stereotyping.

Author Leora ...

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Overview

Girls may be called "sluts" for any number of reasons, including being outsiders, early developers, victims of rape, targets of others' revenge. Often the labels has nothing to do with sex -- the girls simply do not fit in.  An important account of the lives of these young women, Slut! weaves together powerful oral histories of girls and women who finally overcame their sexual labels with a cogent analysis of the underlying problem of sexual stereotyping.

Author Leora Tanenbaum herself was labeled a slut in high school.  The confessional article she wrote for Seventeen about the experience caused a sensation and led her to write this book.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Tramp. Slut. Loose woman. The words reverberate down American high school corridors: Indeed, forty percent of women have heard such gossip about themselves. Buy why are women who are sexually active dismissed as promiscuous, while their male equivalents are viewed as potent studs&#63: Freelance journalist Tanenbaum answers the question by revealing her own brief, embarrassing career as a supposed high school harlot and then interlacing her experiences with those of others similarly stigmatized. Her conclusions are troubling: She suggests that even in today's "sexually liberated" environment, young women are victimized by their own double standards. (P.S. While on tour after the hardcover edition of Slut!, happily-married Tanenbaum found herself hounded by a radio interviewer's persistent questions about when exactly she had lost her virginity.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060957407
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 327,769
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Leora Tanenbaum is the author of Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation and a rising young talent of journalism today. She has written for Newsday, Seventeen, Ms., and The Nation, among others, and appears regularly on a variety of national television programs. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Insult of Insults



Women living in the United States are fortunate indeed. Unlike women living in Muslim countries, who are beaten and murdered for the appearance of sexual impropriety, we enjoy enormous sexual freedom.1 Yet even we are routinely evaluated and punished for our sexuality. In 1991, Karen Carter, a twenty-eight-year-old single mother, lost custody of her two-year-old daughter in a chain of events that began when she called a social service hot line to ask if it's normal to feel sexual arousal while breast feeding. Carter was charged with sexual abuse in the first degree, even though her daughter showed no signs of abuse; when she revealed in court that she had had a lifetime total of eight (adult male) lovers, her own lawyer referred to her "sexual promiscuity."2 In 1993, when New Mexico reporter Tamar Stieber filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the newspaper where she worked because she was earning substantially less than men in similar positions, defense attorneys deposed her former lover to ask him how often they'd had sex.3 In the 1997 sexual-harassment lawsuits against Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing, a company lawyer asked for the gynecological records of twenty-nine women employees charging harassment, and wanted the right to distribute them to company executives.4 And in 1997 a North Carolina woman sued her husband's secretary for breaking up their nineteen-year marriage and was awarded $1 million in damages by a jury. During the seven-day trial the secretary was described as a "matronly" woman who deliberately began wearing heavy makeup and short skirts in orderto entice the husband into an affair.5

It's amazing but true: Even today a common way to damage a woman's credibility is to call her a slut. Look at former CIA station chief Janine Brookner, who was falsely accused of being a drunken "slut" after she reprimanded several corrupt colleagues in the early 1990s.6 Consider Anita Hill, whose accusation that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her was dismissed by the Senate because, in the memorable words of journalist David Brock, she was "a bit nutty and a bit slutty."7 Clearly, slut-bashing is not confined to the teenage years.

Nor is it a new phenomenon. If anything, it is the continuation of an old tradition. For girls who came of age in the 1950s, the fear of being called a slut ruled their lives. In that decade, "good" girls strained to give the appearance that they were dodging sex until marriage. "Bad" girls--who failed to be discreet, whose dates bragged, who couldn't get their dates to stop--were dismissed as trashy "sluts." Even after she had graduated from high school, a young woman knew that submitting to sexual passion meant facing the risk of unwed pregnancy, which would bar her entré to the social respectability of the college-educated middle class. And so, in addition to donning cashmere sweater sets and poodle skirts, the 1950s "good" girl also had to hone the tricky talent of doling out enough sexual preliminaries to keep her dates interested while simultaneously exerting enough sexual control to stop before the point of no return: intercourse. The twin fears of pregnancy and loss of middle-class respectability kept her desires in check. The protagonist of Alix Kates Shulman's novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen summed up the prevailing attitude: "Between me and Joey already one thing had led to another--kissing had led to French kissing, French kissing to necking, necking to petting, petting to bare-titting, bare-titting to dry humping--but somehow, thank God, I had always managed to stop at that penultimate step."8

No wonder that obtaining a reputation was even more frightening than becoming pregnant. An unwanted pregnancy could be taken care of--somehow, somewhere. A reputation, however, was an Indelible stamp. "Steve's finger in my cunt felt good," reminisced Erica Jong's alter ego, Isadora Wing, about her 1950s high school boyfriend in Fear of Flying. "At the same time, I knew that soft, mushy feeling to be the enemy. If I yielded to that feeling, it would be goodbye to all the other things I wanted. 'You have to choose,' I told myself sternly at fourteen. Get thee to a nunnery. So, like all good nuns, I masturbated . . . at fourteen all I could see were the disadvantages of being a woman . . . All I could see was the swindle of being a woman." The maneuvering was so delicate that pretty girls, the ones most sought after by the boys, sometimes secretly wished they were ugly just to avoid the dilemma altogether.

In the realm of sexual choices we are light-years beyond the 1950s. Today a teenage girl can explore her sexuality without getting married, and most do. By age eighteen over half of all girls and nearly three quarters of all boys have had intercourse at least once." Yet at the same time, a fifties-era attitude lingers: Teens today are fairly conservative about sex. A 1998 New York Times/ CBS News poll of a thousand teens found that 53 percent of girls believe that sex before marriage is "always wrong," while 41 percent of boys agree.11 Teens may be having sex, but they also look down on others, especially girls, who are sexually active. Despite the sexual revolution, despite three decades of feminism, despite the Pill, and despite legalized abortion, teenage girls today continue to be defined by their sexuality. The sexual double standard--and the division between "good" girls and "bad" or "slutty" ones--is alive and well. Some of the rules have changed, but the playing field is startlingly similar to that of the 1950s.

Skeptical? Just take a look at teenage pop culture. On the TV show Dawson's Creek, which chronicles the lives of four hip, painfully self-aware teens, an episode is devoted to Dawson's discovery that his girlfriend Jeri is not only not a virgin, she's had sex with a number of guys.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

The word "slut" is uniquely suited to describing girls and women of all ages who are trampy, cheap, trashy, sleazy, sexually promiscuous, and sexually aggressive -- and outcast by their peers for seeming so. In this fascinating work of feminist critique, Leora Tanenbaum uncovers the phenomenon she calls "slut-bashing." By interviewing girls and women who have been labeled "sluts," she puts to the page their experiences to reveal that it is not always -- and, in fact, rarely is -- a woman's "deviant" sexual appetite that causes sexual labeling. Rather, it is the sexual mores, attitudes, and insecurities of the labelers (often friends and peers) that are the root cause of this damaging and utterly unjust form of sexism.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe a "slut." Has she had many sexual partners? How many is too many? Does she dress in provocatively? What criteria do a woman or teen need to meet to be labeled a "slut?" Is it ever acceptable or accurate to label a woman in this way? What are our general responses to women we meet who might be considered "sluts?"

  2. What are the limits of "normal" adolescent sexual expression? Is this tied in to a teen's sense of autonomy and individuality? How are autonomy and individuality affected by name-calling, labeling, and "slut-bashing" -- on both the receiving and giving ends?

  3. Who is responsible for the culture of "slut-bashing" that runs rampant in American schools? What are the roles of students, administrators, teachers, and parents and are they complicit? To what extent do the media have an effect on each of these groups? Have the messages perpetuated by the media takenprecedence over those expressed by loved ones, peers, and friends?

  4. Which is the classic and damaging double-standard: that men are permitted sexual freedom while women are held to strict behavioral codes that make them the voices of abstinence in the heat of the moment, or is it that women and "good girls" do not experience or act upon sexual feelings for someone they do not love or to whom they are not committed to in a long-term relationship?

  5. Educational institutions have been subject to lawsuits in recent years, accused of being irresponsible and unresponsive to reports of verbal sexual harassment, including "slut-bashing" and name-calling. How seriously should schools take simple name-calling? Should students who call others derogatory names suffer disciplinary action? Who should mete that out -- parents and guardians or school administrators? Or, is categorizing and labeling a normal part of growing up?

  6. Should schools and various other community groups incorporate awareness of sexual harassment, sexual aggression, and assault into their curricula? Does opening discussion of these topics ultimately equip teens to recognize and possibly avoid damaging behavior or does it open a Pandora's box for perpetuating negative behavior?

  7. Is our culture too open about sex? To what degree do various forms of mainstream media -- movies, television, magazines, music -- contribute to long-standing sexual stereotypes? Can you name specific or current trends and examples of this? Is there any truth in these stereotypes? Why do they persist?

  8. Do women and girls seem to be more harshly critical of other females than do men and boys? Is most "slut-bashing" rooted in female aggression or generated by the opposite sex? If so, why? What to women have to gain by publicly demeaning other women? Can a woman successfully improve her own image and set of beliefs (as in the chaste "good girl") by labeling others as slutty or loose or promiscuous?

  9. Is it true that girls and women are praised more for their appearance than for their accomplishments? How does body image play a role in burgeoning awareness of sexuality for both young men and women? How is the act of labeling related to teens who are simultaneously trying to assert their individuality as well as conform to their peer group?

  10. What can "sluts" do to overcome this labeling? What can their peers do to help downplay the stigma? Can it ever be completely erased within a community or forgotten altogether?

About the Author

Leora Tanenbaum is a New York-based freelance writer who focuses on the unique problems facing girls and women. Her articles have appeared in Seventeen, Ms., The Nation, Salon, and many others.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2010

    Slut

    I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to see how some people (by people I mean women sicne men don't have a harsh name like "slut") are treated. Being in high school I hear words like "slut, whore, skank and sleez" thrown around all the time. I know sometimes a girl might have earned that rep by sleeping around but, in my experience most people say it when they are fighting. The book really opens your eyes to how ladies feel about there high school reputation when they become middle aged and how having sex one time influenced the way there fiance or boyfirend looked at them. This book is really going to make me think twice before I say something about some girl whether she earned that "slut" name or not.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2010

    Think Twice!

    I would recomend this book to anyone willing to learn about the word "Slut". When my teacher first told me about this book it stood out in my mind. I wanted to read it but so did so many other people. I had to actually purchase the book. The word slut can have so many different meanings and this book covered every single meaning. A lot of girls call other girls "slut" when they are fighting and sometimes as a term of endearment. Either way it's still a hurtful word. This book has changed my prospective on the way girls are treated. I will not use the word "slut" unless it's really needed in the situtation. If a girl sleeps around i think she deserves the name. It's not right to sleep around. Sex is not a game.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    not too easy

    When i first got this book, I thought that it was going to be a sap story about one girl. I am going to be completely honest, before this book i was a sexist 18 year old male growing up thinking that women are less equal than men, and everytime i heard someone of being called a slut or a whore that i looked at them as that, never considering anything else. This book isn't just a story, its realistically telling you the way women of all ages are looked upon and how they get the term "Slut" and what it really does too a person. After actually reading this book, i look at things alot differently. I have not used a term like slut since. I can honestly say that this book will change your perspective if you are just like me.

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  • Posted October 29, 2009

    calling all sluts

    Overall, I thought Slut! by Leora Tanenbaum was just okay. I know they say not to judge a book by it's cover, but i'll amdit that I did. By its bright cover I expected it to be a colorful book full of intruiging stories and words strong with female empowerment. However it seemed more like it was a book designed to epmower sluts. The book justified that it was okay for women to sleep with as many men as they liked. There was also a lot of excess information. In between stories i was informed on such information as the history or orgasms. However, this wasn't a horrible book. Even though it was a little longer than i would have liked, nestled in the pages was some fantastic information The book adressed the sexual double standard which is the undeniable fact that women and men get treated differenly in sexual relationships. It was very relatabale and brought up topics i have commonly contemplated. This book reassured the fact why I don't trust guys in the sexual area and why sex is such a confusing issue for America's youth

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2009

    MC-4-EC

    As i read the book "Slut!" not only was i impressed by how the author captured the exact essence of high school, but she also did a great job of picking out stories that could relate to everyone. She related womens right with womend morals and i find that to be spectacular because we deffinently, even now-a-days don't see completely equal rights. In this book she herself was a victim of this "slut" bashing and talks about how not even kissing a boy can make you a slut just because you are so prude. As wrong as it sounds most of this book is based on rumor. Not that her book was based off that, it's just that is what the kids do. Even as you get older girls nicknames from high school stay with them. It's not easy to shake something that effected you for many years of your life. i find this book to be very empowering and encourages women to speak up and take a stand for themselfs. This was a great book and i highly recomend it, if not for self encouragement, just as a book to help culture yourself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2008

    A New Persective

    I am a girl in high school, and I think this book is one that really opened my eyes. I've called girls sluts plenty of times, sometimes as a joke, sometimes not. If not, it was always done behind the girl's back. I found myself feeling like a bit of a prude reading this book. I certainly don't endorse or condone teenagers having sex, or having casual sex with multiple partners with whom there is no shared emotional connection. That's not something I do, and it's not something my friends do. However, Leora Tanenbaum acknowledges the reader like me, and reminds us that the important message of this book is not that casual sex is okay, it's that sexual equality is important, and the standard should be the same for both girls and boys. Tanenbaum provides an abundance of examples of situations in which boys are allowed, expected even, to explore sexually, while girls are punished for doing the same thing. Sometimes girls are even punished for male sexuality. Girls are even punished for being raped. I think the biggest thing I've learned is to not judge people for what they do sexually. Or if I must, I should at least judge both sexes the same. The best thing about this book, hands down, were the personal stories. Tanenbaum provided incidents and numbers and ideas, but what really brought these to life, what really made me see how damaging 'slut-bashing' is were the essays written by former 'sluts' themselves. They shared their experiences candidly, and wrote about how their experiences affected them in the short term and in the long run, for better or worse. This book was surprisingly easy to read. There's not an overhwhelming amount of facts and figures, and though there are parts that are painful to read 'especially the chapter about rape', it was not hard to get caught up in the personal experiences recounted in the essays. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone. Period.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2008

    Shocking but Insightful

    I read this book in the privacy of my own home but i also read this book around town, in the car, and at sporting events, just having the book in my hand and seeing people read the title i got alot of questions. What are you reading? Why would you read a book with such title as Slut? I would tell them this is one of the best books that i have ever read. What made me want to read the book was the title. I found it very interesting. After reading the first couple of pages i was hooked. Tanenbaum was not afraid of saying things about the word Slut that most people would probably never say. I think that most intreging part about the book was the real stories of girls and women that have been taged with the word slut. While reading the text i would skim through the pages to see when the next true life story would be. I think that was the best part about the book the true life stroies. Some of the stroies a could relate to, and i think that alot of teens in high school could relate to the stories being told in the book. These stroies were very personal and a little scary. The stories where about just beign called a slut for no reason to, girls using drugs and sex to cope with the tag that was being put upon them. This might not be a book for everone but i would suggest that all teen girls read this book in hopes that they will take something positvie from it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2007

    Amazing

    This is an amazing book i suggest it to everyone. male or female, it has an accurate view of how women are poorly portrayed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2004

    Disappointing

    Definitely written from a feminist bias. Difficult to agree with the writers theories.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2004

    Excellent Book! A definite 'must read'!

    Many young women and older women all across the globe can relate to the contents of this book in one way shape or form. It causes a person to unknowingly delve into their own childhood and teenage years, recollecting images or situations they long suppressed or overlooked. This is an excellent book for mothers to read with their daughters, or even vice versa.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2003

    Extraordinary Book

    The moment my mom saw the book, she asked me if I was a slut. She proved to me what society achieves with the word: if you don't acti like a lady, you can earn the name. It's an excellent book, makes you actually think about the connatations our society associates with words and phrases, particularly in high schools. It gives real life cases of how lives were harmed by it, and a more realistice picture into society than any other women's studies book I've read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2002

    A Women's Studies must-read

    Slut! is a fantastic book! The facts presented are awful as well as enlightening, and the personal stories interspersed throughout add perspective and reality to the statistics. The author seems, for the most part, to be unbiased and informative, adding her personal story but not basing the book on it. I highly recommend you pick this one up! If nothing else, it'll make you think twice about what you call girls you don't like.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    Outstanding Read!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It gives insight into why girls label girls 'sluts' and what these girls can do about it. I recomend it to every girl, whether she was called a 'slut' or she was calling girls 'sluts'. A must-read for people in the education field.

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