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Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputationby Leora Tanenbaum
Synopses & Reviews
An Interview with Leora Tanenbaum
What prompted you to write this book?
I'm in a position to know: I myself was known as a slut when I was a freshman in high school. The reputation developed after I fooled around with a guy whom a popular friend of mine had her eye on. Big mistake. She was so angry with me that she spread the word around school that I was a slut. For a long time guys and girls both called me names to my face and whispered about me behind my back. Everyone gossiped about me. I discuss my personal experience in ""Slut!" — and writing about it was cathartic.
Was it hard to find girls and women willing to share their stories about being labeled "sluts?"
It was a difficult process because most girls in the thick of a bad rep feel ashamed, and therefore tend to be unwilling or unable to talk about what is happening to them. Most adult women who had been labeled "sluts" in adolescence also tend to feel embarrassed and guilty, as if they had brought the label onto themselves, so they too usually prefer to keep silent. (If they have a boyfriend or husband, they may not want him to know about their past.) After four years of looking for and interviewing girls and women, I ended up with 50, ages 14 through66, who had been targeted as "sluts" in junior high or high school and were willing to talk with me about their experiences. I spoke with black, Asian, white, and Latina girls and women from 12 different states around the country. They grew up with different economic circumstances and different values in cities, suburbs, and rural towns. In the Introduction I explain how I met them.
Why did you choose such an ugly, sexist word for the title of the book?
"Slut" is, of course, a disturbing insult; but it is part of the vocabulary of adolescents (and adults) and a key word in the vocabulary of the sexual double-standard. The severity of the word may offend some people, but refraining from using it in serious discussion serves only to reinforce its power. After all, "nigger" is a profoundly disturbing word, but can we have an honest conversation about racism without using it? I don't think so. Likewise, we must use the word "slut" and openly discuss its ramifications in order to eliminate the sexual double-standard.
Did anything in your research surprise you?
How do most people react to this book?
I've received a wide range of responses, from enormously supportive to very disdainful. Those who are supportive are generally girls and women who have had a bad reputationor who have witnessed "slut-bashing in action"; males and females with a feminist consciousness; parents concerned about their daughters; and educators, social workers, and health workers. Those who are disdainful are men and women who believe that girls who are called "sluts" are either innocent (i.e., they don't deserve the label because they aren't sexually active) or guilty (i.e., they deserve to be maligned because they are sexually promiscuous), and that I do a disservice by lumping the two categories together.
How did writing this book affect you?
"Slut! was both hard and easy to write. Hard because it's so personal, at times embarrassing, and because I revisited a painful chapter in my life. Easy because once I'd interviewed the girls and women whose stories form the core of the book, the words tumbled out of me. I felt so passionate about raising awareness of slut-bashing that I didn't suffer from "writer's block" or even procrastination. I turned on my computer every morning feeling motivated to write, and write, and write.
Having said that, the interviewing process was certainly educational. Individually, each girl and woman taught me about coping in the face of social cruelty. Collectively, they showed me that no matter how different two females are, they share something in common. They both have experienced the sexual double-standard in one form or another. After writing this book, I feel a connection with all females, regardless of differences in our backgrounds or values.
Girls behave badly. If they're not obscenity-shouting, drink-swigging ladettes, they're narcissistic, living dolls floating around in a cloud of self-obsession, far too busy twerking to care. And this is news.
In this witty and wonderful book, Carol Dyhouse shows that where there's a social scandal or a wave of moral outrage, you can bet a girl is to blame. Whether it be stories of 'brazen flappers' staying out and up all night in the 1920s, inappropriate places for Mars bars in the 1960s or Courtney Love's mere existence in the 1990s, bad girls have been a mass-media staple for more than a century. And yet, despite the continued obsession with their perceived faults and blatant disobedience, girls are infinitely better off today than they were a century ago.
This is the story of the challenges and opportunities faced by young women growing up in the swirl of the twentieth century, and the pop-hysteria that continues to accompany their progress.
Since the suffrage movement, young women’s actions have been analyzed and decried exhaustively by mass media. Each new bad behavior—bobbing one’s hair, protesting politics, drinking, swearing, or twerking, among other things—is held up as yet another example of moral decline in women. Without fail, any departure from the socially dictated persona of the angelic, passive woman gets slapped with the label of “bad girl.”
Social historian Carol Dyhouse studies this phenomenon in Girl Trouble, an expansive account of its realities throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Dyhouse looks closely at interviews, news pieces, and articles to show the clear perpetuation of this trend and the very real effects that it has had—and continues to have—on the girlhood experience. She brilliantly demonstrates the value of feminism and other liberating cultural shifts and their necessity in expanding girls’ aspirations and opportunities in spite of the controversy that has accompanied these freedoms.
Girl Trouble is the dynamic story of the challenges and opportunities faced by young women growing up in the swirl of the twentieth century and the vocal critics who continue to scrutinize their progress.
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.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 253-267) and index.
About 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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History and Social Science » Feminist Studies » Sex and Power