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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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306 comments

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12:57PM PST on Dec 6, 2014

I remember my first reaction to this story. What the hell? What is the problem? There is no touching going on, nothing at all. I remember how disappointed I was. lol

4:15PM PST on Dec 5, 2014

And just how damaging is the media hype to this 13 year old? Isn't this the same as the vile bullying and abuse girls get on the internet, that sends them into a spiral of shame, depression and even suicide? Media need to be held accountable for their vicious maligning of women and young girls.

5:21AM PST on Dec 3, 2014

Sooooo tired of this sh*t. "news" covering social media then covered by other social media. And - 13 year old girls held responsible for adult's behavior. Just depressing that it never changes.

11:33PM PST on Dec 2, 2014

I'm looking at the half naked 20 year old, NOT at the young girl. Who should know better?

10:44AM PST on Dec 2, 2014

Technically men are bigger sluts than women.

11:59AM PST on Nov 30, 2014

Just more proof for me that women (of any age) are way too powerful for most other people (especially right wing, "hetero" people) to tolerate acting in any way other than our antique prescription of submissive, modest and silent.

7:57AM PST on Nov 28, 2014

Ty

7:57AM PST on Nov 28, 2014

Ty

7:56AM PST on Nov 28, 2014

Ty

4:09AM PST on Nov 28, 2014

lots of unnecessary judgement around this..

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