The Problem With Slut-Shaming Comments

rexusa_1837055cd (1)Photo: REX USA/Erik Pendzich.
You probably read yesterday, on R29 or elsewhere, about Lindsay Lohan's TV confession that she had had a miscarriage. Despite LiLo's record of drama, discord, and general hot-messery, we would expect the same sympathetic and compassionate response a trauma of this all-too-familiar nature evokes among friends. Instead, though, the comments were shockingly vitriolic and hateful. They read more along the lines of "a drugged up slut getting knocked up and having a miscarriage is shocking? Lol ok." Some came to Lohan's defense, others agreed. This Facebook post — and the extensive discussion beneath it — reached over 340,000 eyes.
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As someone who reads, moderates, and interacts with a large number of comments every single day, I know that it might be a futile endeavor to attempt to enforce a reasonable level of courtesy on what is currently an anonymous, Internet-wide cesspool of rage. However, I like to think that our readers are smart, and kind, and generally not trolls. Which makes me wonder: What is it about LL that makes regular people respond with such aggressive, pervasive hatred? She's been through hard times, some of which have been her own doing. But, for every tragic story of addiction and mental illness in Hollywood, there's also a story about a star whose triumph and subsequent career rebirth served as an inspiration for all (and a tribute to the fact that the life of an addict is not a worthless life by default). Maybe the problem is that we've been burned before, and because LiLo so often claims a comeback, we're reluctant to believe her in this case. We're too used to bashing her for being sloppy and sad, and apparently, we've become so jaded that a miscarriage is nothing more than just punishment (an experience that is pretty much universally traumatic and fraught with emotion, not to mention the intense hormonal upset and numerous physical issues that come with it).
I can already hear you asking: How much damage can an anonymous comment really do? Aren't concerns about what sort of role model celebrities with widespread influence are offering to young girls more relevant? Whether or not celebrities have an obligation to be role models is an interesting question. But, it doesn't mean we can ignore our own responsibilities as role models. Because the truth is, rape culture, slut-shaming, and misogyny don't originate solely from media and celebrities. The peanut gallery has an equal stake in the problem.
Of those 340,000 people who saw the post, we don't know how many read the comments, but it's fair to assume that enough of them did. As usual, the comments represented particularly vocal opinions on two extreme ends of the spectrum. Beyond that, though, there are thousands of "silent" readers who don't weigh in, but are nonetheless affected by the discussion.
The word "slut" can quite easily devolve into hate speech, and in using it, women can do just as much damage to other women as any misogynistic man. If your opinion is honestly that Lindsay Lohan's (presumed, not proven) sexual exploits, her struggles with drug use, and her physical appearance make a miscarriage less tragic or somehow deserved, you're entitled to that. But, before you express that in a public forum, it's important to be aware of how much reach your voice actually has — and to consider the possibility that a woman reading your comments may actually feel some level of shame, or absorb the implicit message that her experiences as a human are somehow devalued by her sexual expression. Please, Internet: Take that into account and remember the age-old rule to think before you speak. You have a right to say whatever — but a little empathy won't kill you, either.
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