Slut Shaming in YA Literature

“i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is all you have to be proud of
when you have broken mountains with your wit
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient, or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re beautiful
but because i need you to know
you are more than that”
― Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey


In a time where unity sounds more like a fable than a fact, fighting oppression is vital for survival. Two of the most prominent oppressors of our generation are racism and sexism, both of which are constantly being disputed yet still remain an uphill battle. It’s easy to question why nothing has changed when you’ve put such effort into making a difference, but the fact of the matter still stands to reason that each little movement makes up a part of one giant revolt. The minimal things you do to help support equality will carry on to inspire others around you. Which is why I find proper representation in Young Adult literature to be essential for teaching readers how to be accepting and understanding, and to reassure them of their worth in this war-torn world. And while I promise to write another post about the racial inequality in YA, I wan’t to focus firstly on the gender bias that exists.

There is a certain stereotype that in retrospect appears harmless but can cause grave amounts of damage which can be found in plenty of novels, especially ones in the contemporary genre. The so called “mean girl” antagonist that materializes in a book is often depicted as someone who wears a lot of makeup, revealing clothing, lacks intelligence, and is outwardly racist and/or homophobic. However many prototypes of this character exist, they all seem to have the same overlooked trope in common— their reasoning for being antagonistic. From my perspective, it would seem as though they have every right to be hostile towards the main characters, what with the blatant slut shaming these women are facing. Authors tend to use the downfall of one character to elevate the innocence and uniqueness of their main character— and these two are typically the a) high school mean girl vs. b) victimized leading protagonist.

This is incredibly sexist.

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Without understanding the way in which these authors are portraying their main character, they want to utilize the antagonist’s pain as a way to support the protagonist’s “goodness.” Regularly the bully finds herself in a definitive position where “her strawberry blond hair was combed into low pigtails, and like always, her skin was concealed under half a bottle of foundation. I (*the protagonist) was fairly certain I’d guessed the right amount, since there wasn’t a trace of her freckles in sight (….) There was three-quarters of an inch between the hem of her skirt and the start of her underwear…if she was even wearing any.” The prior is a direct quote from Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush young adult series. It was the first introduction of Marcie Millar, a character who is only further slut shamed and then disgraced even after her death.

I would like to first point out that the usage of makeup on any given person does not equate to their beauty or self-worth. The choice of wearing the products is for personal gratification ONLY. If it makes someone feel more confident to conceal a blemish with a remedy, so be it. If it makes someone feel empowering to wear hues of golden eyeshadow, dark lips, and wonderfully painted cheekbones, so be it. If someone feels beautiful without wearing makeup at all but respects that others feel the opposite, so be it. By demonizing a woman because she wears “too much” makeup, or because she dresses a certain way, we are objectifying her character simply because of a choice she made to feel better about herself—one that has nothing to do with anyone else. Using this stereotype in a YA setting, where readers are looking to enjoy the story but also learn from these characters, an author is misguiding their audience into believing that shaming another person because of the way they appear is alright.

It is interesting how the bully becomes the bullied the further you read these stories.

Slut-shaming is an atrocity that can be defeated by speaking out whenever you see or hear it occurring. Let the accuser know why they are in the wrong, and help them see that by degrading another person for the way in which they decide to decorate themselves, they are only hindering their own appearance.

slut-shame

“Many believe that the usage of these derogatory terms online through memes, social media accounts, and music videos all contribute to a rape culture, where women are blamed and men excused in cases of sexual assault or rape.”— Foothill Dragon Press

If you see this happening in any book, I highly encourage you to talk about it. Inform others of what you notice, and respectfully contact the author with your concerns. They most likely wont be able to fix something in a book that has already been published, but they certainly can learn from their mistakes so to not repeat them in the future. Help put an end to girls shaming girls, and we can start to unite women by uplifting one another instead of tearing us down because of how we look.

With that being said, I’ll leave you with this: A secondary character is only as secondary as you let them appear. If they’ve awaken an emotion in you that the protagonist couldn’t, then to you they are the primary. And all characters should be treated carefully, for even though you might not see their importance, someone else will, and any harmful representation can cause vast damage to a reader’s morale.

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4 thoughts on “Slut Shaming in YA Literature

  1. I seriously love everything about this post! You explained this phenomenon so well and the last paragraph really made me think about all the times I identified with a shy secondary character over the heroine.
    I must admit there was a time when I didn’t see slut shaming, mainly because it’s so commonly spread in media that we’ve been desensitized to it, but since I do now I try to call it out whenever I can.
    Thank you so much for this post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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