“How You Bully a Girl”

By Sarah A. Miller

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Photo: Twentyfour Students

Helen was fourteen when she lost her virginity. Afterwards, she texted a girl friend about the mixed feelings she had about the experience. By the time her suburban high school started the next morning, her friend had already spread a rumor that Helen was a “slut,” forwarding screenshots of their conversation to the freshman class via Facebook. For the next few years, Helen endured a “slutty” reputation, which isolated her from girls, subjected her to harassment from boys, and contributed to her disengagement from school activities. Toni had a different, yet related experience. Long before she came out as a lesbian, Toni had multiple rumors spread by girls about her sexual orientation. By junior year, fed up with girls’ homophobic gossip and harassment, Toni opted to leave her rural high school and pursue a GED instead. Gaby tells me she also was the subject of a sexual rumor, spread by a girl at her urban high school: “That’s how you bully a girl, that’s how you just get her. You get her by spreading a rumor about her…trying to stop bullying is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.”

In recent years, we’ve seen far too many tragic reports of girls who have taken their lives in the wake of similar experiences. Yet, we don’t see much coverage of why slut-shaming, homophobic labeling, and sexual rumors spread in the first place, or why young women so frequently take part. Though rumor spreading is the most common form of bullying between girls, scholars empirically know little about the content of girls’ rumors or why they’re invested in sharing them. Continue reading ““How You Bully a Girl””

Fifty Shades of Stigma

By Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois

For the past five years, we’ve been studying the culture of romance authors. Together, we’ve conducted over 50 interviews with authors and industry professionals, attended conferences and signing events for romance writers, and followed authors through social media.

One of the first things we observed—and that romance authors suggested as a topic for study when we asked their opinion—was the negative perception of the genre. Anyone who has heard of Fifty Shades of Grey knows what we’re talking about: people call the books “smutty,” “trashy,” and “porn for women.” Not surprisingly, romance writers are constantly confronted with people’s negative assumptions, too, which include a host of misconceptions about the sexual content: that it’s autobiographical, pornographic, and/or an invitation to sexualize the author. Though the romance genre contains a wide range of sexual content, from chaste Amish romances to BDSM-inspired romances like Fifty Shades, writers experience these stigmatizing interactions no matter the level of sexual explicitness in their books because the genre is known for its sexual content. Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Stigma”