Thu
Feb 7 2013 2:00pm

Author Sarah M. Anderson on Slut Shaming and Happily Ever Afters

A Real Cowboy by Sarah M. AndersonToday, we're pleased to welcome Sarah Anderson back to H&H. Sarah is an old-timer by now, having written A Penis by Any Other Name and Names for the Vagina and today's post was inspired by some lively Twitter conversation about romance novels and current popular events. The heroine of Sarah's brand-new book, A Real Cowboy, also suffers through slut-shaming, but ends up, thankfully, with her own happy ending. Thanks, Sarah!

By this point, the names alone should be all you need to hear. Janet Jackson. Kristen Stewart. Kate Middleton. Anne Hathaway.

Not that these women have been alone in experiencing the horrors of being publicly slut-shamed. They’re just the most recent in a long line of women who have been put in their “place” by means of manipulating sex and perception. We’ve been told over and over that their sexuality—the fact that they either had sex or even just had body parts involved in sex—was dangerous, dirty, wrong.

Who could forget Janet Jackson? Remember what she did during that Super Bowl Halftime routine? She stood by while Justin Timberlake ripped part of her costume off, thereby giving birth to the phrase “wardrobe malfunction.” Justin issued a statement apologizing, yet the world went on as if Janet had personally corrupted an entire generation of youths on purpose.

Kristen Stewart—well, no, she probably shouldn’t have been kissing with that married director, Rupert Sanders. But the vitriol poured on a young woman was stunning—so much so that Jodie Foster had to ride herd to defend her. And Kristen’s major crime? Cheating on someone who was really cute. That was, hands down, far worse than what Sanders did—breaking his marriage vows to his wife, no doubt doing serious damage to his two kids (his wife has just filed for divorce, by the way). By and large, the press left Sanders alone while they crucified Stewart on the alter of gossip.

Even royalty—Kate Middleton—do not escape. She had topless photos of her suddenly appear globally—not unlike what happened to Anne Hathaway, who had paparazzi snap photos of her sans underwear as she exited a vehicle. In an interview on The Today Show, Matt Lauer acted the part of the creepy old uncle as he pressed Hathaway on what she’d “learned” from this incident—as if she had done something wrong by not wearing knickers with a floor-length gown. At no time did Matt ask what the paparazzi had done wrong—taking a crude, intrusive picture of someone’s vagina and selling it for mass consumption. To her credit, Anne did a damn fine job of pointing out how society at large treats women as consumable sex objects and tried to turn the conversation back to Fantine, the character in Les Miserables that she plays, that (Spoiler alert!) coincidentally also suffered a fatal case of slut-shaming.

Everywhere we look, young girls and women are told they must be sexually available, sexually ready at all times—but when they act on that (or, in the case of Janet, Kate, and Anne, exist near it) they are held up as examples of sin embodied, everything that’s wrong with our sex-obsessed culture.

Isn’t that why people make fun of romances? “I know what you’re reading, you dirty girl,” they seem to be saying. “You should be ashamed of that.”

Well, they can go to hell. I’m not ashamed of romance. In fact, I think romances are the place we readers and writers go to escape the pervasive sense of slut-shaming in the media today—escape and heal. Romances do something very powerful. They show us that, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what the rest of the family, town, or even world thinks, no matter what really happened or what’s only painful rumors, the heroine—and, by extension, the reader—deserve a happy ending. Everyone does.

The Petrov Proposal by Maisey YatesThe path to this happily-ever-after can take a few different forms. The first is that the hero helps the heroine see that she isn’t defined by the mistakes of the past. Maisey Yates has dealt with this topic several times. In The Petrov Proposal, Maddy is recovering from a Kristen Stewart-type shaming—she had an affair with a married man—her boss—although she didn’t know he was married at the time. The press got ahold of it and ran with the story. In her story, she’s shut herself off from men. She has long held herself responsible, but Alekesi (our hero!) helps her see that the other man was just as much to blame for the mess—even more. Her old boss knew he was married. He made the choice to cheat. Maddy shouldn’t bear all the responsibility and she shouldn’t let that one mistake hold her back. The hero has given the heroine the keys to be free of her guilt. That’s why we love him!

In my upcoming release, A Real Cowboy, Thalia, my heroine, also started with a Kristen-Stewart-type shaming—an actress, she had an affair with a producer who turned out to be married. She got blacklisted as a result and wound up taking the only job she could—working for the very producer who got her in so much trouble. When she finds former-actor-turned-rancher J.R. Bradley, she finds someone else who also wants to leave his past behind. But when she brings J.R. to meet the producer, the whole thing blows up in her face. The worst part? J.R. seems to agree with the producer. Unlike Maddy and Alekesi, Thalia realizes that she shouldn’t have given the producer and the press that much control over her life—and if J.R. can’t see that too, well—there’s the door, buddy. She’s done feeling guilty about it and she’s not going to let anyone else make her feel bad, either. Thalia frees herself, independent of anyone else’s opinion.

Rocky Mountain Rebel by Vivian ArendAnother powerful event occurs in romance when others in the story have their eyes opened. In Vivian Arend's upcoming Rocky Mountain Rebel the heroine, Vicki, is a woman who hasn't done anything wrong, but has spent her entire life painted as a sinner by association by the entire town. While she is frustrated and angered by their attitudes, she's strong enough emotionally to not give a damn—she knows the truth even as she watches her back. It's the hero, Joel, who comes to understand that the accepted small town attitudes and slut shaming are more than annoyances or even soul-killing: the attitude of “a woman gets what she deserves” can be potentially physically devastating. The revelation changes his world and makes him into the hero she needs at her side. 

No matter how our heroines get there, one thing is certain—they get their happily-ever-after. Every woman deserves one in romance—saints and sinners alike. We, the readers and writers of romance, know this. Maybe we’ve lived it, maybe we’ve seen others live it. It doesn’t matter. The only thing we want for our heroines is what we want for ourselves. It’s why we read romance, why we have hope.

No matter what we’ve done, we all deserve to have a happy life.

How do you feel about slut-shaming in romance?

 


Award-winning author Sarah M. Anderson may live east of the Mississippi River, but her heart lies out west on the Great Plains. With a lifelong love of horses and two history teachers for parents, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves out in South Dakota among the Lakota Sioux.  She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how their backgrounds and cultures take them someplace they never thought they’d go.

When not helping out at school or walking her rescue dogs, Sarah spends her days having conversations with imaginary cowboys and American Indians, all of which is surprisingly well-tolerated by her wonderful husband and son. You can learn more about Sarah at www.sarahmanderson.com.

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A Real Cowboy is available for order! Visit your favorite bookseller, Amazon, Powell’s, Indiebound, or  B & N.

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13 comments
ShelleneT
1. ShelleneT
I'm not letting men off the hook, but I don't think Kristen Stewart was unfairly treated in any way. A lot of the people who spoke out against her were young female fans of the Twilight saga who were pissed that she messed up their fantasy. Moreover Kristen is FAR more famous than that director guy who prior to Snow White & the Huntsman was and probably still is in the grand scheme of things a "nobody" . So to argue that she was more scrutinized because of what happened is a bit disingenuous. And finally what she did was wrong. Again NOT letting Saunders off the hook, but all the excuses about her being young and Saunders being more responsible because he's married is nonsense. They both were in committed relationships and they both made that decision to PUBLICLY screw up those relationships. As far as I could see Saunders wasn't exactly getting a pat on the back for his behaviour either.

My point is that not everything is due to sexism, certainly not in this case in my opinion. We're all human beings. Sometimes women, like men, will mess up and at such times they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Fullstop. When famous men are found out for cheating on their wives and significant others no one can say they're spared any embarassment by the media. So why should Kristen get a pass just because she's "young" (being young doesn't mean you don't know right from wrong, or at least it shouldn't) or because she wasn't the married party? She was in a committed relationship and she chose to publicly betrayed and disgrace herself & her partner for all the world to see. I couldn't care less about who she sleeps with, really, but neither of them had the courtesy to carry on their laison behind closed doors, if only out of respect for their significant others. No matter how you look at it that's unacceptable behaviour and I don't care if she's young or whatever. She's old enough to have sex with a married man, she's old enough to take of her business in private. That's just how I see it, and for the record I'm 30 odd yrs old and married. I didn't watch or read the Twilight series and I never will. I just think this case with Kristen and the married dude highlights a lot of hypocrisy amongst those of the feminist persuasion.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@ShelleneT I think the media overemphasized Kristen's culpability in the admittedly equally guilty cheating.Because she's female? Or more famous? Or whatever, but it felt as though most of the attention was focused on her, and not on him, and his betrayal.
ShelleneT
3. Sarah M. Anderson
I'm not excusing her poor choices. I personally do not tolerate cheating at all. But I think labelling her "Trampire" was taking things to the extreme. She lost her movie deal for a second Snow White, too--in fact, the whole Snow White Character was written out in favor of the Huntsman (the delicious Chris Helmsworth--not that I mind that--more Helmsworth, please!). I do think you're right about the fact that she trashed the fantasy her fan base had about the people playing the characters having a happily-ever-after and that's part of where the vitrol came from.

But having said that I do not tolerate cheating, I also think that cheating on a boyfriend, no matter how publicly you declare your love of said boyfriend--IS different than cheating on a spouse (especially when you have children with that spouse). Dating is a more fluid state. Marriage is codified by law. To me, that's the big difference here.
ShelleneT
4. ShelleneT
I agree the "Trampire" label is unacceptable. But again a lot of that vitriol came from her own fanbase which consists of teenage girls and young adult women like Kristen. Most men -- even if that's what they're thinking -- won't be caught dead calling her that in public out of fear of the backlash they'd receive.

Now as for the wife vs. boyfriend thing, we can agree to disagree on that. Personally I see absolutely no difference, esp in this day and age where cohabition is becoming more popular than marriage. What's important as far as I see it is the commitment two people make to each other ... regardless of whether it's lawfully sanctified or not. Kristen and her young man had been dating for a long while, from the very start of the Twilight franchise ... what, some 5 - 6 yrs ago? Certainly that should count for something? Would the same argument be used if the roles were switched and it was the boyfriend who had publicly cheated on Kristen? Somehow I don't think so.

Hugh Grant & Elizabeth Hurley were never married, but they were together for 13 yrs until Grant cheated on her with prostitute, Devine Brown. He was absolutely crucified for his indiscretion in the media, and personally I think he deserved it. If he wanted to have sex with hookers he should have broken things off with Hurley. Same goes for Kristen and Saunders. I thought their antics were particularly callous because they're public figures ... they knew that news of their affair could easily get back to their respective partners and still they chose to carry on in public. I mean, who does tht? Neither of them deserve the seemingly nice people they have in their lives if they're capable of treating them with such blatant disregard.

Moreover, the fact that marriage is codified by law is to me a moot point because the added weight of the law doesn't carry any added benefit in the way of protection against such betrayals. It doesn't become illegal to cheat if one is married ... therefore to me cohabitation and marriage are pretty much the same except a piece of paper exists in one, but not the other.

As for her losing her movie deal, a statement was released by the studio right after that story broke saying that was a just a rumour. But even if it was true don't forget that Hollywood is all about the bottomline. With an unknown as director and a star who's fanbase has apparently abandoned her greenlighting another big-budget film in the Snow White franchise could end up being risky business.

No matter what happens, though, Kristen will be fine. Even if she loses the franchise she's probably gonna be a lot richer than most people for years to come. I'm not worried about her in the least. She made a mistake. Hopefully she understands now that as a public figure she doesn't have the luxury of cheating in public like the rest of the population.
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
My mother always said that women were the worst offenders at crusifying each other and slut-shaming is mostly a clear case of this. There is still a wiff of "Eve" in our culture in that most of the blame goes to the female. The poor defenseless male is usually excused because that evil (w)itch lead him astray. There are some exceptions to this, but mostly the guys get the Brad Pitt treatment and the woman is the one who gets the blame.
ShelleneT
6. Sarah M. Anderson
Shellene, we shall just have to agree to disagree, because a part of getting married is promising to foreswear all others.

Bungluna, excellent addition of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! While I am no fan of Jolie's, I have to say that, from a slut-shaming point of view, she was brilliant. So many were pro-Aniston when the story broke, but Angelina always held her head high and never apologized for her behavior. I think that, with time, more people have come around to her camp because of how she handled herself.
ShelleneT
7. MeganS
The media treated her unfairly. Yes, she made a mistake but she wasn't the one married with 2 YOUNG children. Don't place all the blame on her. She's young, she made a mistake and she owned up to it. People are only human. Something society tends to forget.

And btw- she didn't lose out to the sequel of Snow White. She has already talked how excited she is about filming it. Rupert was the one who got canned.
ShelleneT
8. Fiona Marsden
I don't like sluttiness in either male or female (careless sex that disrespects yourself and your partners) and infidelity, don't go there. I'm in the 'you sleep with your partner you need to be faithful to them' even without the formal vows of marriage camp. Sex with someone carries an element of commitment, or it should. I think society has always been harder on women because they carry the responsibility of the next generation. Carelessness in sexual relationships for a women has that added responsibility. Men still tend to slip under the radar in that respect.
ShelleneT
9. Sarah M. Anderson
Megan--

My mistake. I didn't check my info/assumptions on that movie.

That's what I'm saying--the blame should be shared and, in public at least, Kristen took the brunt of it. Sanders' wife did file for divorce, so he is also experiencing fall out from this, but publically? Not as much.
ShelleneT
10. Sarah M. Anderson
Fiona,

I agree with that. Heck, I don't even read menages because it feels too much like unfaithfulness to me! But in this day and age, I can't say that's how everyone feels. I may not personally approve of any particular man or woman's sexual actions, but I'm not going broadcast my displeasure to the whole world. It's not my job to police other people's behavior (unless you happen to be my son, then it IS my job until he moves out in 11 years!)
Rakisha Kearns-White
11. BrooklynShoeBabe
I don't like slut-shaming. I work with teenagers and whenever I hear boys or girls engaging in slut-shaming, I call them on it. Not in a "femi-nazi" sort of way, but in an empathetic way. For example, a group of boys were calling one young lady a "ho" because she had engaged in oral sex with two boys (at different times and who had been her boyfriends at the time). I asked them point blank, don't you want a girl friend who performs on you? "Yes." Are you going to stay with this girl forever? "Maybe not." Is she a slut if she breaks up with you and gets another boyfriend and he wants her to perform as well? "No."
ShelleneT
12. Wendy W Durden
It goes back to the "lady in public, slut in private" ideology men (and some women) like. Some attire will not work with undergarments, so they go without. That the papparazzi caught them at it (Lindsey Lohan exempted) and vilified them is just plain idiocy (as well as in poor taste). The media sells sex, then to sell more they make it a negative. I think Anne H handled that one well. It was embarrassing for her as it was an unexpected event (hello, floor length not mini) but Kirsten did not handle it well. You cheat on your significant other in a public way, you should get called on it. The vitriol was excessive, and the man should have been excoriated to the same lengths if we are being fair.
I think it is still about power. These ladies should not have the power we perceive them to, so we must knock them down to make ourselves more powerful. Isn't that what every bully does?
@BrooklynShoeBabe: well said! And really, do we want the next generations to call women ho's and *itches? Isn't that disrespectul enough now? And not to be silly, but did these guys reciprocate? Because really, that shows the relationship isn't one sided. Obviously they are ho's too, if they have done anything with more than one partner (snicker).
@Fiona Marsden: I think it goes back to verifying who fathered the next generation. (Pop out the heir and a spare and you can {discreetly} cat around) It seems the sperm donors are never held to the same high standards as the egg donor/gestator.

Who are we to judge any of this? We are readers and women and sisters and mothers and humans who live in this world. We should stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves, and PRIVATELY counsel those who make bad choices to see there are better ones to be made. Maybe that would make us all more civilized. And we can start by not buying (or buying into) the slut shaming in the tabloids.
Shelly Estes
13. ShellyE
I personally think the whole Kristin Stewart debacle was a publicity stunt. And there were rumors that Rob P had an affair with his Remember Me co-star, so thats the pot calling the kettle black IMHO. It's ok for him but not for her, which is the standard attitude. Women are held up to a higher standard because of the Madonna complex.
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