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I’ve Been Slut Shamed Since I Was 15: Was My Body Never My Own?

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I read it somewhere when I was in 12th standard, ‘Slut-Shaming attacks a women’s right to say yes; friendzone attacks a women’s right to say no and ‘bitch’ attacks hers right to call you out on it”.

I had my first experience with slut-shaming when I was in 9th standard. Growing up in an all-girls- convent school, I wish I knew better. The talks revolved from how bloated a girl looks to how ‘slutty’ she is based on superficial aspects without even knowing someone personally. This is not to say that slut-shaming is okay if you know a person. It is never okay.

Someone’s sexual history is their own. Their body is their own and whatever they decide to do with it their own. Since when did we go around having autonomy on others’ right to say ‘yes’?

Why does a word like ‘slut’ even exist, and even if it does, why is it looked down upon instead of being glorified because sexual liberation is also a major aspect of feminism? 

On Slut Shaming
Why does a word like ‘slut’ even exist?/Representational image

I Was 15 Years Of Age And The Word ‘Slut’ Turned My Whole Life Upside Down

Back in 9th standard, I don’t think anyone of us knew what feminism actually meant. I mean we heard the f-word more than we heard about feminism – which really outlines an issue that needs to be conversed about. To be fair, I don’t think anyone knew the meaning of the word ‘slut’ either but in our society, it meant that if you’re hanging out with a few boys – you are desperate and definitely are one.

As a 15-year-old girl, this one word turned my whole life upside down to the point that it dictated how I behaved and made some terrible decisions due to it. My best friend at the time told me that the popular girls do not want me to be a part of their group since ‘I have too many guy friends’ and people think of me as a slut and how it might impact their reputation.

For two years I lived a mentally exhausted life because this is not something I could talk to at home – my parents were always pretty liberal and have been warned about it. The young me felt like if I told them about it they would have to re-think how they brought me up and failed. After noticing a change in my behaviour – not wanting to go to school with my attendance hardly being 20% in 9th and 10th combined to a dip in my grades which used to be 75-80% to coming down as low as 45% were the warning signs my mom took notice of.

Initially, they, thought that it was just my fear of maths but after realising I did not even wish to attend my English and History class too, she got really worried and that’s when I went to therapy. It is during therapy that I was able to get past the trauma. I did work my way through it and came out stronger. However, something inside me did change. 

In 11th standard, I changed my school and this to date is the best thing that happened to me. Coming to a co-ed, I was always conscious about not making any guy friends or even talking to them because there was always this fear inside of me that what if I get tagged slut again? 2 years of co-ed schooling and I hardly made any guy friends.

However, I did find a bunch of amazing women that I love and who helped me, the new girl, settling in, which they might not even know. My 11th standard also happened to be the year where I went into a relationship with an amazing human however soon things fell apart because a mutual told him about my ‘slutty’ behaviour and post that I could never get myself to look at him the same way.

This is not to say that I was ‘right’ one in the relationship. I made a few mistakes too, pretty big ones at that, but not for one moment I ever thought of disrespecting this person – the same he did to me so blatantly as if the whole relationship meant nothing to him. 

Slut-Shaming, Society’s Hypocrisy And Internalised Misogyny

Our society allows men to be promiscuous because men should always want sex and women should always suppress their sexuality/Representational image.

Slut-shaming is not something women from urban population deal, this stands true for women in every safe space. May it be influencers on Instagram, models, domestic help and women at corporate workspaces.

A popular notion is that women who are often able to cross the glass ceiling in corporate are able to do so because they are women and not because they are highly professional and capable. It is also present in the form of cyberbullying. There is no exclusive stigmatisation with regards to slut-shaming. However, all these experiences have something in common and that is women’s bodies from the kind of clothes they wear to the kind of makeup they wear have been sexualised and the derogatory treatment has let to obnoxious policing.

I wanted to know why people slut-shamed women who owned their sexuality? Interestingly, I found an article which stated that the moment a woman sidelines the norms of society she becomes vulnerable to the slut stigma in my case which happened to be having too many guy friends.

The problems, however, boils down to the double standards of our society which allows men to be promiscuous because men should always want sex and women should always suppress their sexuality. Slut-shaming doesn’t have a single-method but shows up in day to day criminal activities like street harassment or eve-teasing and catcalling- it reinforces the idea that a women’s body is only meant to be objectified and thus further sexualising little girls.

The question that arises at this point is, why do women slut-shame each other? A study conducted by psychologists in Midwestern University highlighted that more often than not, women slut-shame other women because of internalised misogyny. For women from ‘higher-class and economically advantaged’ section of the society, it had little to do with sexual encounters but rather a term they used frequently for someone who was different from them or they did not like. 

The impact of slut-shaming on young, impressionable girls leads to depression, anxiety and body-image issues- girls in Indian society hardly have access to mental health resources which makes it even worse. 

On Fat-shaming, Capitalism And Bollywood’s Propagation Of ‘Fat-Phobia’

The ease with which people define parts of women’s bodies for us to later feel ashamed for and the audacity to neglect our mental space needs to be pondered upon/Representational image.

When I first started writing this article, I was tracing the roots to my experience and the impact this particular form of bullying had on me – along with anxiety and depression it did give me some body-image issues too. While collecting my thoughts for this article I realised it was during this time that I started finding solace in ‘comfort’ food. The consequences at the time were something I did not know of but I started gaining weight too, and very quickly at that.

Even though I was growing in size, I was comfortable with who I was and luckily had some friends who never shamed me for it. It took me a long time (almost 9 years) to come to terms with living my body without letting anybody make me feel like it wasn’t a safe space and I am not supposed to look this way. 

Once I became comfortable discussing this topic with my girlfriends, I found out we all were in the same boat, even those girls whose bodies I was jealous of. A friend was constantly made to feel insecure due to her being skinny and another mentioned being termed ‘slutty’ for developing a bit early than she used to. ‘

People have conveniently taken charge of women’s bodies for years by defining it in term of highly idealised and commercialised, almost impossible to achieve a body (VS Models) that they been have socialising with. 

My idea of a perfect body was always shaped through the media I consumed – the outdated notions of the beauty industry which told me to have a long-lasting relationship or a perfectly successful career I need to look a certain way or my life is doomed. The power of the images promoted by media is hard to resist without crying about the body you have and the pursuit is not only emotionally damaging but physically as well.

It would be much easier to practice body positivity if society didn’t dictate the ideals to be tied to our sense of well being. A lot of of this generic ‘Fat-phobia’ can be attributed to Bollywood too. Who doesn’t remember Sweetu being constantly ridiculed for her weight in Kal Ho Na Ho? Or the way Nawaazuddin Siddiqui jumps after seeing his ‘overweight’ wife in GhoomKetu? Bollywood has often used overweight characters for comical relief, however, with movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisa and Fanney Khan, we’re doing away with stereotypes and hitting back at society’s notion of beauty.

I remember being made conscious of my weight to the point that I internalised ‘well-meaning’ comments and made a joke about it before anyone else could. I used the defence mechanism to prevent others from claiming my body for their ‘comic relief.’

The fact that I’d be able to score the hottest guy only if I were to work a bit more on how I look is the kind of unsolicited advice I started getting from people who barely talked to me. In a narrative about fat-shaming, it is also important to highlight the casual shaming of skinny women who are constantly asked to gain ‘a bit curves here and there’ to look like a goddess – an image they’re constantly asked to match up to. 

The ease with which people define parts of women’s bodies for us to later feel ashamed for and the audacity to neglect our mental space needs to be pondered upon. In no way am I saying that men aren’t ridiculed or held up to ‘almost impossible to match’ standard, but what is more common is women never having the option to own their own body or even be comfortable in it. The dynamics of shaming in a highly capitalistic society has made women insecure just to make a million bucks out of there insecurities.

Featured image for representation only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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