Today we are thrilled to be hosting Young Adult author Lyn Fairchild Hawks as part of her blog tour! Her new novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought is available now. Welcome, Lyn!
Thank you to Emily for hosting me. I’m a YA author who’s here to join the chorus against slut shaming. I’m also here to make a confession.
My Take on Slut Shaming
The UnSlut Project shines light on nasty rumors that thrive on anonymity. Read Emily’s diary, and you’ll squint as the floodlights expose the dark, underground world of wagging tongues. The word “slut” destroyed her life in days. Right this moment, someone’s on a social network, trying to do the same: using words to shut a girl up, render her invisible, kill her soul.
Translate any of these messages of misogyny to this:
Ho, slut, bitch: how dare you have sex! But make sure you dress like a Victoria Secret model and starve yourself to death. And stay pure so we’ll respect you…No, just kidding. We’ll hate you for that, too. (Frigid bitch.) By the way, why aren’t you pregnant? Because that’s your punishment for having sex in the first place.
Behind every nasty phrase, the Madonna-whore complex is alive and well. Maybe celebrities bounce back from sex tapes and nasty Tweets, but not our girls. Not unless we stand up for them while telling them to stop the madness.
The UnSlut Project not only tells the ugly truth of bullying, but it also gives voice to the voiceless. I write YA novels for the same reasons: to expose the hate girls turn on one another and let the silent speak up. Wendy Redbird Dancing is my outcast character—one they call freak and emo bitch—living beneath a hoodie, eyeliner, and a Michael Jackson obsession. She survives a terrible sexual awakening not on her terms. When resident Mean Girl Deanna finds out, she adds ho to the hate list of names for Wendy. Deanna orchestrates a takeover of Wendy’s Facebook page and posts fake nude pictures.
You can catch a glimpse of Wendy’s ostracized life from the book trailer, starring Caity Brewer, Hannah-Kathryn Wall, and Hannah Elsie Chapman. As Caity said at the premiere, “Wendy has so much to say that she doesn’t really ever get to say. Everyone around her has no idea what she’s thinking, and she has so much substance…People just see this angst.” She was glad to bring Wendy to life since so many teens today are bullied and in the shadows.
Terror is awful in any era. My eighth grade year, 1982, the shaming was the same kind of evil, the same game. Sure, we lacked viral media, and we could take refuge in our homes with texts and status updates haunting us, but we still took lives in brutal, direct ways.
I was the nerd and brain who didn’t find herself experimenting with boys or even bullied much. Off the radar, I spectated the social scene and chattered with my few friends about The Beautiful People. And I helped fuel the gossip about one girl we all called slut.
We thought it was justified because by eighth grade she was beautiful, she was flirtatious, and wanted by most of the guys. Greatest crime of all, she had the audacity to date a guy from high school. It didn’t matter she was 14 and he was 15. How dare she.
So both genders turned on her and passed around Polaroids of her supposed sexual adventures. I never saw these but talked about them as avidly as anyone else. Boys called her slut and worse. Her friends abandoned her. She’d once been the most popular girl in class.
Then she disappeared for a few weeks. The rumor was strep throat.
One day, our teacher slammed the math textbook shut and faced us. She said, “Someone’s name is being dragged through the mud. It has to stop.”
Then an amazing thing happened. This Catholic sister, cloaked in black with her hair hidden from us, told us that sex was a beautiful and normal part of life. That it shouldn’t be spoken of with such disgust.
I raised my hand. “I’m sorry for what I said.”
“Thank you,” Sister said. “Does anyone else have something to say?”
No one did.
One of the girl’s best friends approached me after class. She was a former friend of the slut-shamed girl with a tongue like a lash; she always scared me. She stared like I was an alien. “Why’d you say that? You didn’t do anything.”
I shrugged. “I talked about her.”
It was only a few weeks till graduation, and I didn’t really care what this girl thought or said anymore. I’d found my voice, just as I’d helped destroy another.
What’s in a name? Everything. Slut shuts doors, stops mouths, ruins lives. What’s in a name? Nothing. Women, girls--we’re all somewhere between Hail Marys and Mary Magdalene whores, blessed with virtues and pocked with sins. No word can sum us up.
Many of us shut down when the shaming starts, letting our silence cast a vote. Turning away endorses the name game. Wendy’s friend Tanay steps up and crosses racial lines to protect Wendy. Tanay helps Wendy fight back in AP class and in the bus lot. She doesn’t judge Wendy’s life or mistakes. My novel challenges us—me—to question the bullies, to speak up, and to stop talking ugly about other women. If we judge that woman on TV, trashing her outfit…if we question a woman’s sexual past or “purity”…if we throw any kind of stone…guess what? We just joined the game.
It starts with the tongue at the gate of our mouths. The warfare ends there. As Tanay says, “Let’s do this.”
Lyn Fairchild Hawks is the author of a YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, and a collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future. She is also author of several works for educators.
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