Megan Barton-Hanson VICE column slut shaming
Illustration: Bridget Meyne; Photo: Megan Barton-Hanson
Life

Megan Barton-Hanson On How to Handle Slut-Shaming

In her latest column for VICE UK, Megan reflects on her experiences with bullying and reclaiming the narrative around her sexuality.
April 29, 2021, 10:26am

Welcome to Megan Barton-Hanson’s new VICE UK column, covering all things to do with sex, relationships and self-love during one of the strangest eras of the 21st century. Read the previous column here.

The first time I was slut-shamed was my first day in Year 9. I had been texting an older guy at school and he asked me to send him a video of me. I hadn’t even explored self-pleasure at this point, so I didn’t, but he was like ‘I bet you haven’t even done it before, you’re such a kid’. So I lied and said I had. That was it.

From the first day back, everyone knew. All the kids were like ‘that’s the girl who touched herself! Oh my god, she’s not even pretty!’ It really stuck in my head. And the hardest thing about it was that all the girls in my friendship group were embarrassed by it too, so it had this knock-on effect. They started joining in, calling me the slut of the group, and that was really difficult. I tried to own it, but I felt isolated. I wanted to change schools, but I didn’t feel like I could tell my mum why I didn't want to be there anymore.

Looking back on it that was definitely one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why I started going to therapy. As soon as I told my mum she was like ‘you should have told me, I completely would have understood’, but being bullied like that really knocks the confidence out of you. As a woman, I don’t think you can win. You’re either “frigid” and “stuck up”, or you're a “slut”. Even if it was true, even if I had done it, there shouldn’t have been any shame in it. That's why I use my platform to speak so much about female pleasure. I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did about it.

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Bullying says way more about the person doing it than it does about you, but it’s still horrible. So, as someone who has gone through it myself, here’s what I’ve learned about how to handle slut-shaming and what everyone can do to help.

THINK ABOUT THE WIDER CONTEXT

If someone slut-shames me for working in the sex industry now, I try to turn it around and feel compassion for them. It’s definitely harder when it’s other women doing it, but that’s just what society has taught them – that certain things are shameful – and because she's stuck to it she thinks every other woman should stick to it too.

It’s carrying on this misogynistic view where it’s acceptable for women to be sexualised when they're not in control or making the money, and shameful when they are. If I was in a music video and paid minimum wage, that would be fine. But because I'm taking the power back or simply doing it because I’m a sexual person and I want to practise self-love, people don't like it. It’s my body and if that's what makes me happy then let me live.

Things are a bit more sex-positive now, so hopefully when it goes on in schools these days girls can feel a bit more reassured by that. When I was growing up there was nothing. Ann Summers was about, but you didn't see women’s pleasure being talked about half as much as you do now. Amber Rose has her own sex toy out, Lily Allen has her own sex toy out, and I’d like to think stuff like that helps female pleasure at least feel like less of a secret thing that you can’t tell anyone about.

TRYING TO GO ALONG WITH IT CAN DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD

My approach to any kind of bullying has always been ‘if you can laugh at yourself then it doesn't hurt as much’, even though deep down it does. So, when I was being bullied at school I instinctively joined in, like ‘yeah I am the slut of the group!’ Looking back on it, I think that was my biggest mistake. I stayed in that friendship group and the digs and jokes just continued as we got older. If I’d stood up for myself straight away and said, ‘it's my body I'll do what I want with it’, maybe things would have been different.

I stopped speaking to that group of girls for other reasons too, but when I started stripping, they would come into the club purely to take the piss out of me. That was awkward, but I also felt empowered in a way. Like, I couldn’t imagine spending my weekends going to a club just to laugh at someone I hadn’t spoken to in years instead of, like, having fun with my friends. I was like ‘wow, I’m really popular! Everyone wants to know what I’m doing!’ They had to pay to get in as well. I feel like the Megan now would go up to them and say “oh d’you want a dance girls?”

NIP JUDGEMENTAL COMMENTS IN THE BUD

Some of my friends in the past have sent me another celebrity or an influencer on Instagram and been like ‘oh my god, look what she's wearing’, and I think you need to nip that judgmental shit in the bud. It’s up to that woman how revealing she wants to be, so if you’ve got nothing nice to say then who cares? People need to be more sensitive about the language they use. A friend of mine recently called a girl “loose” and it just didn’t sit right with me. I am extra sensitive to it because of my experiences in the past, but so are lots of people. Don’t be throwing words like that around in a derogatory way.

This is fuelled by the tabloids as well. They write about me all the time and the language they use is wild. Whether it's the headlines shaming me for my OnlyFans or promoting a LELO toy, they rarely write about it positively. It's never Megan empowers women to explore female pleasure and self-love, it’s always Megan waves around £100 worth of dildos or Megan starts a nude subscription service for only £17.99 a month or Megan with her ample assets spilling out of her bra. Like, first of all, I'm not spilling out of anything, I'm wearing really nice expensive lingerie. They make everything so sleazy! You can literally be wearing a turtleneck and they'll still call it a “figure hugging top”.

THIS SHIT IS PERVASIVE, SO THINK ABOUT YOUR OWN LANGUAGE TOO

Me and my friends used to call each other sluts all the time, in a ‘come around for a ‘thotty’ night, we'll put some music on, have a few drinks’ sort of way. Unless you’re reclaiming them in that sense, I’d try to eradicate words like “slut”, “loose”, “whore” etc from conversation. “Walk of shame” needs to be put out to pasture as well, unless you’re using it as a joke.

I DON’T WANNA HEAR NO CHAT ABOUT NUMBERS

I remember watching Love Island a few seasons after the one I was on and the girls were talking about how they wanted to keep their numbers low. I actually think that shouldn't be shown on TV, because its making people think things like that are so important. It’s sad that we’re encouraging women to put their power into how many people they've slept with when we’re so much more than that.

It's such an old-fashioned patriarchal view of valuing women on their purity and virginity. We should be judged on what our talents are, or what we’re passionate about, or where we want to go in life. We should be supporting each other. If someone wants to go out and sleep with a hundred people we should allow them to, without judging them. It’s powerful to do what you want with your body and not be scared of being judged. I think that’s braver than only sleeping with one person out of fear. Imagine, you could be on an amazing date with someone and then be like ‘oh, no, best not get the numbers up!’

EXTEND YOUR SUPPORT TO DRUNKEN NIGHTS OUT

No one wants to be the butt of someone's joke continuously. If getting with someone is what makes your night more fun, go for it. Even if you’ve got the beer goggles on and you regret it the next day, it’s up to you to regret it. You shouldn't have the added pressure of your friends being judgmental.

When friends are judgemental in these situations, I think some of it comes from their own hang-ups. Maybe they wouldn’t get with someone on a night out, or maybe they’re scared to get with someone, and they’re projecting that onto you for living out what they wouldn’t do themselves or wish they could do if they let go of their inhibitions.

THERE COMES A POINT WHERE YOU HAVE TO JUST DROP FRIENDS WHO AREN’T GETTING IT

When you’re older, you can stop making time for people who have these judgmental views that they won’t budge on. You’re not at school anymore, you’re not stuck in the confines of going to class with the same people and needing someone to hang out with. There’s no reason to keep trying if they’re not being respectful in return. It’s draining. There’s a massive community online, whether that's on Instagram or Twitter or whatever, where you can meet people who are like minded and open and empower women.

Obviously cutting people out of your life is quite abrupt, but if you’ve pulled them up on things before and they’re just not listening, then fuck it. I think the true message of being a feminist is supporting other women. You don't have to agree and you don't have to do it yourself, but support women in whatever it is they want to do. If someone goes and travels the world that’s considered to be ‘gaining life experience’, and sex is no different. So what if you sleep with a few more people than your friends would, why is that a bad thing? You do you! Connecting to people and yourself sexually can be just as much a part of living your life to the fullest.

@meganbartonhanson_