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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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294 comments

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2:27PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Too too... Shame on the Mommy and Daddy!

3:52AM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

Blatant hypocrisy...quite common in our democracy.

5:13PM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

people are judgmental and superficial

7:06AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

oops, wrong, I wanted to say

Blame the fame, the limelight, the famous parents, she is a target, NO MATTER what she does

7:06AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

Shame the fame

8:39AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Thanks for sharing

7:26AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Really, who cares? Leave her alone. Stop being stupid. Talk about something that matters, Missouri, Israel, etc.

3:12AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

"Clutching their pearls" always struck me as sort of a sexist wisecrack, but it neatly describes the sort of manufactured outrage over abso-freakin-lutely nothing that is on display in this photo. What should we do, put a burka on each of these young persons?

I agree with the girl's mother that any "wrong" perceived in the photo is projected from the mind of the beholder.

And while I can't be bothered to read the internet nonsense connected to this faux-controversy, I agree that the pearl-clutching over the Miley/Robin twerkathon had a decidedly misogynist slant, or at least a double standard.

1:46PM PDT on Jul 25, 2014

This is actually humorous. People need to calm down.

5:39PM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

At first I thought Moises was a woman because of the controversy about being topless in photo, then I saw the pic and was like: So what?! This is not controversial!

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