Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet: Phoebe Prince, sluthood, race and sympathy

Slate ran a piece on "What really happened to Phoebe Prince," which does some decent reporting as far as logging exactly what the attacks on Phoebe consisted of, and whether they deserve jail time, but also advances a rather questionable hypothesis that "Phoebe helped set in motion the conflicts with other students that ended in them turning on her" by "attracting guys away from relationships."  The Women's Rights blog rightly points out that what happened to Phoebe was slut shaming, not just bullying, but I'd go one step farther and say Slate's article buys into that same narrative.  Apparently, you can bring bullying upon yourself by daring to get involved with young men who may or may not be in fickle teenage relationships.  Men who are eighteen, mind you, but clearly the fifteen-year-old Phoebe is to blame.  Gross, Slate.
Jaclyn Friedman has a great piece on sluthood (hers, specifically) and about how talking about women's sexual experiences outside of committed relationships has the power to help break us free of the virgin/whore dichotomy.  After recounting a story about a casual encounter on Craigslist, she says:
I’m telling you this because sluthood requires support. Because any woman who indulges these urges carries with her a lifetime of censure and threat. That’s a loud chorus to overcome. A slut needs a posse who finds her exploits almost as delicious as she finds them herself, who cares about her safety and her stories and her happiness but not one whit about her virtue. A slut alone is a slut in difficulty, possibly in danger.
And rightly acknowledges that she is in a privileged position to talk about sluthood without jeopardizing her livelihood.  Hetero men can often indulge "sluthood" without fear for their safety.  For women,  non-hetero men, and transgendered individuals, it's rarely so easy.  And by not talking about it, we keep it that way.
For anyone who thinks we live in a colorblind society, please check out these two videos of news reports on 7-year-old boys who each highjacked a family vehicle for a joyride that ended in a police chase.  You'll never guess: When the white boy does it, it's "funny," and his video games are taken away; When the black boy does it, it's "dangerous," and he needs to be in the "system" so he can get "help."


  1. From the Slate piece: "I've wrestled with how much of this information to publish. Phoebe's family has suffered terribly. But when the D.A. charged kids with causing Phoebe's death and threatened them with prison, she invited an inquiry into other potential causes. The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for."

    Now, it may be true that this journalist is publishing this story because 'the truth must out.' But it is hard to disentangle true motives when there is so much upside for the journalist. It's a salacious piece - a pretty young girl, sluttiness, consequences - sounds to me like someone's making pretty good copy. So you have to ask, is the journalist really looking out for one group of mispersecuted kids, or simply exploiting another child's tragedy for pageviews?

  2. Yeah, the piece really rubbed me the wrong way. It's one thing to say, look, what these kids did isn't that different than what a lot of kids do every day, and they're only being prosecuted in this case because someone died, and there's no way to show that their bullying was directly responsible for that because she was troubled before. Plenty of people have made that argument, which I still have some problems with. But this piece goes out of its way to say "but Phoebe was SLUTTY and therefore deserved to have drink cans thrown at her and be cornered and called a whore." Her sleeping with their boyfriends (who were 18, may I remind you) should have ZERO bearing on whether their actions were appropriate, or even criminal.


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