Guilty by omission?: Standing trial: A defense of “In defense of the slutty bitch”

Conrad Wahl

Two weeks ago the author of the op-ed “In defense of the slutty bitch” shared her perspective on mainstream feminism and on the taboos of sexual promiscuity. She suggested we open our minds to a “variety of human experiences” different from our own and that we suspend judgment more often. She points out how easy it is to label another “crazy.” 

 Last week, the response “Hold ‘slutty bitch’ accountable for her actions” passed judgment on that op-ed, claiming that it was “colorblind and trans-exclusionary” and that the reason for this was that the author was “cis, white and privileged.” I ask of this responding author to read this op-ed more charitably. Be careful about your sweeping judgements.   

You seem to blame this author for not caring about the “right” issues. I argue that form of judgment does not exist. 

Everyone has issues they care about. The role of the op-ed section is to give every student a platform to express what she cares about. Your point that “mainstream feminism” can overlook important issues in trans and black feminism is a good one. I wish your op-ed told us more about why and how we can expand feminism to be more inclusive! Instead, you bashed someone for talking about feminism generally and for not caring about the specific issues that concern you. That is unfair.   

Nowhere in the first op-ed does the author give an indication of being “colorblind” or “trans-exclusionary.” From where are you getting that information? By omission? You cannot make such bold claims about individuals you have not spoken to. 

None of us genuinely think that this author is “colorblind” or “trans-exclusionary” just by not mentioning these issues in her op-ed. We are saying something else here. We are saying two things: 

First, we are saying that the author is expressing experiences and opinions we consider unimportant or ignorant. We are saying that if this person “knew” about the “important” issues, she would shut up (and stop regaling us with her “privileged” issues and thoughts). We use the word “privilege” pejoratively to invalidate, and we privilege only certain issues as worthy of mention.  

Second, we are labeling this author as cis and white, because we think that such labeling of people is useful — it gives us explanatory power. We have come to learn that the challenges of certain identities are categorically less important and less relevant than those of others. Thus, qualities of ignorance and unimportance can be attributed to this author by means of her identity, independently of her actions. This is why we consider, for example, a white and cis identity to be explanatory of the irrelevance and unimportance of one’s experience or opinion. This is unabashed stereotyping.   

If you are attacking “In defense of the slutty bitch,” then at least call our attention to specific points mentioned in the article that support the conclusion you draw. You pretend that everything you accuse this author of can be explained by just TWO features of her identity you cherry pick. That is heartless. 

The sorts of issues that this author mentions reflect what was on her mind at the time.  Are you blaming her for not making a plug for other feminist issues? Is her issue unimportant, or less important than your own? You are assuming the role of Campus Judge and morally faulting this student, charging her as guilty by omission. You are not alone in doing this. It explains why so many on this campus are afraid to speak up or express a public opinion — they’ll be shamed for not caring about “the right” issues. 

This must be made explicit: You cannot be blamed for caring about the “wrong” issue.  There is no such thing as there being a “right” issue to care about. You can disagree with an opinion someone holds, but you cannot disagree with her choice to raise an issue that’s more important to her over another. 

We ought to care about black feminism and trans feminism. We ought to care about climate change as well — yet based on our actions, few of us do. There exist more issues than those which any one person is capable of meaningfully caring about.  What issues we care about … how we care about those issues … reflect our personal experiences. No one can be blamed for caring about an issue that you personally consider less important than another. We should be grateful that there is something (whatever it may be) that another cares enough about to speak up about. There is no Hierarchy of important issues. I hope that no one has the nerve to claim that there is. 

I do not deny that “In defense of the slutty bitch” is self-important in a way that may render it distasteful. This may be true of any op-ed. This does not mean there are no lessons to be taken from it, nor does it imply that the author thinks her opinion is more important than any other. “Hold ‘slutty bitch’ accountable” is the marked silencing of an opinion. I hope this is not what was intended, and I hope the author of “In defense of the slutty bitch” does not shut up.  Agree or not, I’ve enjoyed hearing her thoughts.   

She has made me realize a valuable point about slut-shaming. Slut-shaming is not just shaming someone for her actions — it’s shaming her identity. It is shaming a woman who performs the same actions as a man. “Slut” is gendered. And on this campus, it is the cis, white girl who fits our most reviled image of the slutty bitch.   

To the author of “Hold ‘slutty bitch’ accountable”: You have capitalized fantastically on this stereotype.   

 Please read op-ed articles more charitably. See people more charitably. We owe each other more credit than you’ve shown. We each have a story, and none of us should presume to know anyone else’s by reading an article she writes. This author was calling on us to be less judgmental of others — you responded by being manifestly judgmental. 

Our identities can affect us in ways that are shitty and unfair. There is no denying this fact. The challenges we face, however, are never an excuse to belittle the experiences of others. None of us here is the Arbiter of Privilege. 

Speak your part. Let others speak theirs.   

Conrad Wahl ’20 is a chemistry and philosophy double major from Los Angeles, Calif.