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The Slut Shaming of Willow Smith: A Deeply Troubling Sexist Trend

The Slut Shaming of Willow Smith: A Deeply Troubling Sexist Trend

Just when you think the media “slut shaming” can’t sink to a new low, we have the manufactured Willow Smith controversy to demonstrate that beneath every floor, there’s still further to sink.

If you haven’t seen the Willow Smith photograph, you can do so here, but I’ll describe it for you: in the black and white photograph, 13-year-old Willow Smith is shockingly fully clothed and lying on a bed while,in the background and on that same bed is a shirtless Moises Arias, a 20-year-old actor and former Disney star.

For all intents and purposes, Willow Smith is having no interaction with Arias of even the friendly kind. She simply stares sullenly off camera. Arias at no point appears to be touching her or even remotely being suggestive. Yet, to hear the media talk, Willow Smith might as well have been pictured wearing a dominatrix uniform while bringing Arias to heel on a choker chain.

While we might expect such hand-wringing from the Daily Mail and Fox News, even the respectable Los Angeles Times and the British Independent saw fit to cover this “controversy” (a quick tip for the media: people shooting their mouth off on social media about celebrities should not be classed as news) with the Independent headline being particularly revealing: “Willow Smith and Moises Arias: Singer, 13, criticised after she is pictured lying in bed with 20-year-old actor.”

First: on the bed not “in.” Secondly, doesn’t this just scream what is wrong in the entire fiasco? We’re encouraged to attack Willow Smith, a minor, for something that is chiefly innocent but also surely should, if to anyone, fall to the responsibility of the 20-year old man in the background of this image. Yet the media has decided that Willow Smith lying on a bed with a shirtless man represents a woman’s sexuality running wild and is citing its sources from a few disgruntled social media users. This is journalism, friends. Awful journalism.

Curiously, barely any media headlines have been made about the fact that a shirtless 15-year-old Jaden Smith has also appeared in a similar set of photos, except to note that he is with television personality Kylie Jenner, who is “straddling” him (she’s behind him with her hands around his waist in one photograph–when did that become straddling?) again with emphasis on the fact that a fully clothed female of 16 is perceived to be acting in a sexually provocative manner simply by virtue of being near a shirtless young man.

The manufactured controversy has been so ridiculous that Willow Smith’s mother, actor and singer Jada Pinkett Smith, has even felt the need to speak out. When asked about the photos, which first appeared on Arias’ social media/blogging sites Instagram and Tumblr, Pinkett Smith responded:

“Here’s the deal. There was nothing sexual about that picture or that situation. You guys are projecting your trash onto it. And you’re acting like covert pedophiles, and that’s not cool.”

Of course this kind of double standard, attacking women for being perceived to be even remotely sexually provocative while men apparently can do whatever they want, isn’t new. How can anyone forget the Miley Cyrus controversy of last year where at the VMAs she “twerked” her way into the headlines. “How could she rub up against poor Robin Thicke like that?” was the general tone of the online media, quite forgetting of course that Robin Thicke (who has a good decade and a half on Cyrus) was only too willing to offer up his striped crotch for the twerking while singing a song called Blurred Lines that, even on its very best reading, seems primed as an anthem for rape apologists. He received little criticism, and there were even some media sites clawing to reassure us that, not to worry, his career could survive the wrecking ball of Miley Cyrus.

However, we now we seem to have regressed one step further to condemning a teenage girl for lying fully clothed on a bed with a shirtless man, as though her emerging womanhood is almost radioactively corrosive to a sense of public morality.

There’s a tiny bit of shame-based blaming bubbling away behind that too, isn’t there? “Has she no decency? Flaunting herself in front of that shirtless man!” It’s not much of a leap, is it, to it being functionally almost identical to the permissive “teach women to be safe” rather than “teach men not to rape” meme that continues as a sickness at the heart of our culture.

And it’s clear, so hurtfully obvious, that our media is actively enabling it with its consistent, unapologetic sexism. That’s a trend that should make us all feel deeply disturbed.

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Photo credit: somethingfromnancy.

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284 comments

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1:28PM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

She is 13. It is her parents that need to be slammed.

2:15PM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

This seems to be just a slight exaggeration lol. Much ado about nothing. The parents know the guy for years and he is a good friend of their son. Nothing is going on folks. Read the article.

4:38PM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

I'm actually struggling to construct a comment about this.... if there is anything wrong with this photo then questions need to be aimed at the 20 year old man and the photographer, not the 13 year old girl! Flabbagasted!

7:19PM PDT on Jun 11, 2014

this is stupid. Why are people even writing about this crap?
Doesn't even this article, and, sadly, my comment add to this whole idiocy? How can any of this 'rage' over decency be any good for this girl? Ridiculous.

9:22AM PDT on May 29, 2014

I don't believe there is anything bad going on in this pic. I am sure her parents keep an eye on her, this could be a innocent picture. Only her parents will know for sure.

This could be a part of a future movie, how are we to know? Its up to her parents to follow through on it. I am sure there are pic's in your family that could look bad, but was not. One single pic does not mean anything is wrong. Leave the parenting up to the Smith's.

2:28PM PDT on May 21, 2014

I saw this picture. Moises and Jaden Smith are friends. Willow is Jaden's little sister. When I looked at the picture my first thought was Rico ( Moises' role on Hannah Montana) is all grown up. My second thought is that they look like they are relaxing watch television. Nothing improper or remotely sexual in that.

9:19PM PDT on May 18, 2014

yeah but the whole Kardashian clan are sluts media sluts fur sluts ugly sluts dumb sluts :) even the dad is a dumb slut :) PS PC may be nice in Murica but apart from GEN WHY? its verbal fascism in aus :)

9:16PM PDT on May 18, 2014

We pay too much attention to celebrities.

4:38PM PDT on May 18, 2014

if we can notice we can help someone there is reason to say no. you were once a child and you don't want a child's role model to go spiraling down.

3:42PM PDT on May 18, 2014

If this was just a modeling photo or some other publicity thing, that's one issue. If it's a candid photo, the girl needs some boundaries set. She's too young for situations like this.

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