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One teen girl shares her call to end 'slut-shaming'

Read an excerpt from the book "Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl" by Ruby Karp.
/ Source: TODAY

This is an excerpt from "Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl" by 16-year-old Ruby Karp.

I first heard the word slut when I learned about Kim Kardashian’s sex tape. I was in sixth grade, and I overheard two women at Starbucks gossiping about how Kim was “a rich slut who only got famous because she had sex on camera with a famous guy.” They then started angrily talking about money and glamour and plastic surgery. I didn’t get what they were so angry about. So this woman became famous because she had sex on camera? And then got rich afterward? That sounds wonderful! Sex was a “warm hug” according to my mom, so I started thinking, I want to pursue this career!

I told my babysitter, Caroline, all of this. But she didn’t react how I thought she would. Her face got extremely red. Side note: the only other time Caroline’s face had ever gotten that red was when I heard “Jizz in My Pants” by the Lonely Island and I thought the way they sang that line in the song made it the best thing since silly bands. I loved that one line so much that I would go around singing it in public until Caroline realized what was happening and why so many adults on the street either looked at me in disgust or with worried yet scared eyes. (Or maybe it was because of my polka-dotted jeans and Homer Simpson shirt.) In any case, I told Caroline I was convinced that the key to success in this cruel world was to do what Kim Kardashian did. Caroline was not only concerned, but clearly disturbed. (And probably wondering, Do I keep my job or do I tell her what sex is so she stops accidentally saying sexual things? Where does she even hear these things? How did I end up with this job? God, I hate college debt.)

When Caroline diplomatically told me that the sex tape idea was not the smartest path to obtaining money without really explaining why, I politely said okay and went to my room. I used the Internet to my fifth-grade advantage and researched this mysterious Kim woman everyone was talking about. Turns out, sex isn’t really a warm hug after all. I was suddenly confused about a lot of things, but mainly as to what was such a big deal. Why was Kim being called a name because she did something she wanted to do with her body? What did slut really mean?

And that was my first introduction to the world of slut shaming, which helps solve literally no problems in the world. Slut shaming is as terrible and as simple as it sounds: shaming someone for her sexual actions by calling her a slut. The word slut is used almost exclusively to describe women, so it has become a gendered insult as well. Whatever reason someone claims to have for calling a woman a slut is—excuse my French—bullshit. Read the words I write here and cherish them: you are entitled to do whatever you want with your body at any time. The only time you shouldn’t do something is if you do not want to do it.

The dictionary definition of the word slut was never really given to me. It was one of those words I assumed I understood, having heard it used many times in public, like with those two women in the coffee shop. And my mom explained to me that the word slut was worse than any curse word and that I should never use it. But, as I grew up, I heard it thrown into casual conversation more and more by my peers. The first time I wore a bikini at sleepaway camp when I was twelve, the bully of the bunk went around telling everyone what a slut I looked like. The girls around me would glare at me as if I had committed some terrible act of violence, when all I had done was wear a cute bikini my mom had bought me.

The boys were horrible, but I felt even more betrayed by the girls. At first I had thought the reason the word was being thrown around so often was because of boys talking rudely about girls. I was convinced it was the frat boy stereotype of men doing what they pleased and girls having to deal with it. But I realized it wasn’t just guys shaming girls. There’s been lots of girl-on-girl hating too.

We (girls) call each other words like slut and whore mindlessly, not realizing the effect these labels have on others. The more the word slut is thrown around casually, the more people think it’s okay to say it. In ninth grade, when I posted that photo of myself in a bathing suit on Instagram, people used the opportunity to use the word. But it wasn’t just strangers or jerks who called me a slut—it was also my “best girl friends,” who were shaming me for posting a photo of myself in a bikini on the Internet. And on top of all the madness, the second I got home I was flooded with texts from friends telling me to take the photo down. My account was and had always been private, but I had assumed my friends didn’t know this and the texts must have been out of concern for my safety. But when I checked my phone, it was as if all my friends and their feminist outlooks on the world had gone out the window. Text after text was another version of the same message. “Friend” after friend shamed me for posting such a “scandalous” photo. I later found out they had been talking about me behind my back, too, disapproving of my photo. But the comment that stuck with me the most was said to me by a so-called friend, “Do you really want to be one of those girls?”

Um, excuse me?

And what does that even mean, “be one of those girls”? I was fourteen, but I wasn’t an idiot. All I was doing was taking a photo of myself in a bikini and sharing it on my social media page. What was wrong with that? What was so terrible about posting a photo of my body?

Well, this is what I’ve figured out since that fateful post:

Slut shaming can start as simple jealousy. Girls may feel angry that they aren’t the ones getting attention or that they might not look as cute in a bikini or whatever. I believe this anger stems from the insecurities we all suffer—the insecurities that make us say words like slut as some sort of defense mechanism.

Now, here is what we can do to end slut shaming. We need to learn to be accepting of our friends’ happiness. Daily, I see my friends being mean to each other simply out of jealousy because one person is happy while the other isn’t. We need to learn how to be excited for each other and how not to call our friends mean things because they have something we don’t. We need to support one another, rather than tear each other down. If you have ever been called a slut or a whore or any word that offends you, you know how much it hurts. While words can’t physically hurt you, they can cut you much deeper than any knife. When you hear someone call someone a slut, say something. You have the power to help people understand why slut shaming is wrong. You have a voice that is more powerful than you could ever imagine. Use it.

Reprinted with permission from EARTH HATES ME: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl © 2016 by Ruby Karp, Running Press Teens

"EARTH HATES ME: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl", $14, Amazon

Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl
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