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In Fast Girls, Emily White
investigates how some girls in junior high and high schools acquire the label
of slut, how it affects them at the time, and what consequences it has for them
in the rest of their lives. Central to
the creation of the label is the relentless rumor-mongering that children
indulge in; stories of girls being ready to do anything with anyone, doing it
with the whole football team, giving oral sex for cigarettes, outrageous
behavior at parties, and worse. Rarely
are these stories true, although sometimes they might be based on a
half-truth. But many girls are sexually
active, and only a few of them acquire the label of slut. Theres generally some reason why some girls
get labeled while others do not. White
explains how potent rumors are once they are released; they can change a girls
life almost overnight, and a girl is often powerless to fight the rumor.
Sometimes the girls who get labeled
are those who reach puberty early. When
girls as young as 10 or 11 show obvious physical signs of sexual development,
they become singled out by their peers.
Often the label sticks with them all the way through their school
careers. Making someone an outcast from
a group can help to make those in the group feel more secure; indeed, some have
argued that the creation of an Other is necessary for the identity of a
group. (Sartre argued this in
Anti-Semite and Jew.) Once a girl is
labeled as a slut, she may be harassed, assaulted, and rejected by people who
were formerly her friends. Its not
surprising that many girls who received this treatment became extremely
bitter. White interviewed a number of
women as research for this book, and the she weaves their stories into her
White is struck by the how the myth
of the slut appears in a wide variety of schools, all around the country, rich
and poor. She even finds it useful to
refer to Jungs idea of an archetype to explain the universality of the
myth. Yet later in the book she
discusses how the patterns she describes are not really found in
African-American culture; even if a black girl gets a reputation as sexually
active or promiscuous, her female friends do not spurn her. White discusses why the myth of the slut is
so powerful, and relates it to the idea of purity, the alternatives available
to girls of being either virgins or whores, the double standard for girls that
does not apply to boys. Clearly the
notion of slut is related to popular conceptions of male and female sexuality,
and White discusses movies (Scream, Splendor in the Grass) and
talk radio (Dr. Laura) as a way of trying to understand how we think about
sluts. But she never really formulates
any clear theories or comes to any solid conclusions. Fast Girls is more of a meditation on a theme than a
The book does contain interesting
observations. White briefly discusses
how by writing the book she is also spreading stories about sluts, and she
seems to feel some liberal guilt about this. She discusses how some girls fight against the label of slut by
embracing it; Kathleen Hanna of the Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill would often
appear on stage in the early 1990s with many words and messages scrawled on her
body, including Slut. Sometimes girls
who are labeled as sluts will deliberately dress in a provocative way to induce
anger and fear in others, aiming to use the power of the label to their own
advantage. But more often White finds
that the women labeled as sluts were the ones who were vulnerable, and very
often the women she interviewed said that they had suffered sexual assault at
home. Packs of children can often sense
the weaknesses in others, and will single out those who will suffer most from
being picked on. It never ceases to be
shocking how cruel children can be to each other.
Overall, Fast Girls is an
engaging and interesting book. White
refers to a number of psychological theories and is clearly influenced by
feminist thought, but this is certainly not an academic work. Her conversational style, mixing in her
discussions with interviewees with reflections on her own life with
observations about our culture, should appeal to a wide readership. Given that so many girls who are labeled as
sluts feel as if it only happened to them, Fast Girls could help to get
the label of slut in perspective and to feel less in the grip of the myth.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical
issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers
can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the
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