Double standard on sexuality still exists

April 19, 2017

Q.I loved your column on “13 Reasons Why”. Could you also address the slut-shaming in the series? If Justin hadn’t lied about Hannah, the whole snowball of her misery wouldn’t have started. I’m tired of guys lying about what girls do. Why do they get away with that?

16-year-old

Mary Jo Response: If the number of positive responses I’ve received since last week’s column is an indication, the topic hit a nerve! This Netflix series has people talking, and many young people seem traumatized by its graphic images. I’ve started calling “13 Reasons Why” an afterschool special on steroids.

Spoiler alert for those watching the series, or interested in watching it – you’re correct. The catalyst for Hannah’s trauma is the lies Justin tells about their encounter (which involved only kissing). When he alludes to her doing more sexually, he labels her. Her peers judge her, and the chain of events leading to her loss of self-worth begins.

You’re describing a common situation, sadly. A double standard often exists; its intensity depends upon culture. A culture refers to the standards or values of a group of people. Even though we are all living in the United States, we are affected by smaller circles of culture before we consider our nationality. Our family, our friends, our school/work, our community, our church/synagogue/temple, our county, our state; these cultures affect us, for better or for worse. Hannah’s culture, the peer group in her high school, judged her harshly for her sexuality. The double standard in her culture meant Justin was rewarded for his part in their behavior, and she was treated with disdain.

Double standards persist when culture allows stereotypes to fester; in my opinion, education and positive adult and teen modeling can ease what you call ‘slut-shaming’. In some high schools, as in Hannah’s school, a person who looks like or acts like a female is often shamed for sexuality. Rachel Simmons, in her book “Odd Girl Out”, discusses relational aggression, or bullying among girls. Being labeled can be hurtful. Even a person who identifies as a male, but acts in stereotypically female ways, can be shamed. Have you ever heard someone say “He throws like a girl” or cruder statements? Associating male behavior with females can be degrading in some cultures.

I believe in the power of educated young people. Change is slow, but possible. Until then, remember your worth. No one should “get away with” lying. Stand strong with your peers and refuse to shame others. One person can make a difference. Thanks for writing.

Peer Educator response: We think there’s a double standard on sexuality, but not so much the ‘when girls do it it’s bad and when boys do it it’s OK’. Women aren’t thought to be open about their sexuality and men aren’t supposed to be closed off. When peers accept these stereotypes given to people, and are cruel to others because of it, it hurts. It also makes people who they are. Be strong. “13 Reasons Why” puts a focus on sex that may be current, but is slightly false among our peers. How we react is a choice we make.

Contact Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski with questions at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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