Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation

The statistics are daunting: "Two out of five girls nationwide have had sexual rumors spread about them," reports Leora Tanenbaum. "Three out of four girls have received sexual comments or looks, and one in five has had sexual messages written about her in public areas." The 50 women interviewed for this book differ greatly in ethnic background, age, and economic status, but they share one thing in common--each of them, along with Tanenbaum herself, was labeled a "slut" in junior high or high school. (And, as recent cases involving Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky demonstrate, a woman can face such taunts no matter what her age or professional level.) As such, they became victims of a double standard that winks at sexual promiscuity among teenage boys but insists that young women remain virginal and pure. Even worse, the slut bashing is perpetuated in nearly every case by female classmates. In addition to insisting that schools get serious about combating sexual harassment, Tanenbaum urges the development of sex education programs that acknowledge responsible alternatives to abstinence, programs that would recognize the sexual desires of young women (and men) without condemnation. Her social critique is solid, but it's the personal accounts of emotional abuse--and, thankfully, perseverance--that will thoroughly convince you that the current tolerance of slut bashing is simply unacceptable. --Ron Hogan