American Morning

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April 28th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

In defense of 'dirty girl' culture

Editor's Note: Jaclyn Friedman is the executive director of Women, Action & the Media and a charter member of CounterQuo, a national coalition challenging the way we respond to sexual violence. Her anthology, "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape," was named one of Publishers' Weekly's Top 100 Books of 2009.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Author Jaclyn Friedman says we should stop worrying about "bad girls" and focus on the men who put them in danger."]

By Jaclyn Friedman, Special to CNN

Last Friday, Carol Costello interviewed me for a story about what she called a "dangerous," "dirty girl" trend, (embodied by pop-star-come-lately Ke$ha) saying it involved girls being "rude, crude, and sometimes very, very drunk," and asking if mothers should worry.

While Carol and I agree about the importance of women's safety, watching the final edit of the piece made me realize how much we disagree about how to get there. Kindly, she's invited me to share my perspectives with you.

Now, I'm no Ke$ha fan. (I just cringed as I typed that ridiculous "$" in her name.) Her lyrics and videos embrace shock value for no reason beyond shock. But pop stars being blandly offensive are nothing new – Elvis was no different. Except for one tiny detail: Elvis was male.

And that's what's really at issue here. Bad boys make us shriek and faint. Bad girls make us worry. Don't they know that acting like that is dangerous?

Of course they do. That's why they're doing it. Know what else? All the girls dancing to their music know it's dangerous, too. That's why they like it.

Young adulthood has long been a time for rebelling against social norms, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Want to keep girls safe while they figure out where their limits are? Don't ask them to be good girls in order to stay safe, when they can see that no one asks boys to do the same thing. That's not just unfair – it doesn't work.

Every girl in America knows from a heartbreakingly young age the list of things not to do if you don't want to "get yourself raped:" Don't go out by yourself. Don't wear that. Don't flirt with him. Don't drink. Don't get drunk. Watch your drink. But those warnings don't keep girls safe.

A 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice found that rates of rape didn't decline at all in between 1992 and 2006, and in fact, may have increased. What they do is make it easy for others to blame us when someone attacks us, letting the rapist off the hook.

Every woman is going to sometimes choose short-term fun – even "bad" fun – over the abstract risk that someone might do something violent to us. We're all human. We'll inevitably take risks to have fun sometimes. What's not inevitable is that men will do violence to us while we're at it. If you want to keep girls safe, holding men responsible for their behavior is the place to start.

For example, did you know that, according to one study, if alcohol is involved in a sexual assault, the assailant is slightly more likely than the victim to have been drinking? And yet where are the messages telling boys not to get so drunk they can't tell if their partner is consenting?

Or how about those lyrics to TiK ToK that everyone's so worried about? If you actually read them, you'll find that the worst thing Ke$ha says about alcohol is that she's "tryna get a little bit tipsy." In fact, she seems to understand exactly what she should be worried about:

I'm talkin' bout – everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys tryna touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk

On the other hand, where was the concerned outrage when Oscar-winner (and ostensibly much "better" role model) Jamie Foxx came out with this ode to victim-blame a few summers ago?

Cause shawty know what she want
But she don't wanna seem like she easy
I ain't saying what you wont do
But you know we probably gonna do
Girl what you drinking ?
Gonna let sink in
Here for the weekend
We can
See what we can be if we press fast forward
Just one more round and you're down I know it
Fill another cup up
Feeling on yo butt what ?
You don't even care now
I was unaware how fine you were before my buzz set in, before my buzz set in....

Rapists know exactly who's going to be blamed if their victim has been drinking. That's why they tell researchers that they deliberately introduce alcohol into the situation when they're planning an assault, to increase their plausible deniability. When we focus on women's drinking and not men's behavior toward drunk women, we play right into their hands.

Binge drinking is a real problem, but why is it a women's problem? The study referenced in Carol's story found that men binge drink at a higher rate than women.

As for "raunchy behavior," as long as everyone practices safe sex, it's not particularly dangerous. A recent study out of the University of Wisconsin found that young adults – even young women – who engage in casual sex are just as mentally healthy as those who only have sex in a committed relationship.

So, let's stop wringing our hands about "bad girls" and put the focus where it belongs: on the men who put them in danger.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jacylyn Friedman.

Filed under: Gut Check • Opinion • Women's Rights
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Andy

    It's adult games, pay adult consequences. Everyone knows what they're getting into, and need to accect the consequences for their actions and behaviors. There's no blaming one party or the other, both have responsibility for what they do. Dress in next to nothing, go to a club and get falling down drunk; you're asking for trouble then. Same goes for guys, too. If you want to avoid the problems in the first place, do three things: don't place yourself in those situations, and if you somehow get into a possibly bad situation, try to make yourself look inconspicuous (i.e. don't make a scene), and maintain situational awareness (be aware of what's going on around you, and realize when the situation is going south). You are responsible for what happens to you, not including acts of God. I'm getting off my soapbox now.

    May 11, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  2. common sense

    Bottom line is we want our kids male or female to learn to ride a bike how to drive yet dont want them to get hurt or fall & so we wrap them up in blankets or restrict their movements try everything we can to make sure they dont fall. At some point you have to let them outside you have to take the training wheels off and let the bike go & yeah the kid might fall & will get a few boo boos & even some scars but they will knew to get back up & keep doing it til they get it. Women are more then able to make decisions & live with the results of those decisions & yes sometimes they make bad ones maybe get cheated on or something but then they'll pick themselves up & find that guy who takes them for who they are.

    May 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  3. common sense

    The truth of the matter is the age old tale of people men saying one thing but doing another namely saying women are equal & capable of this or that but then smothering them in the name of protecting women. If there was something i could do to protect women in a heart beat I would believe me but there's not & women are more then able & have every right to make their own decisions live with the results of said decisions & even defend themselves. Does that mean its right that a woman might have to do that of course not again the factor is as the saying goes its a man's world which 1000 years ago may have been the case or in the middle east still may be but the fact is women accept thier abilities they accept the responsiblity of their actions & again are more then capable of standing for themselves. Yet men see this as rebellion or a sign of trouble as the author says & again its because men feel a need to protect them which in turn makes rebellion the only way they can take control of their own lives.

    The mentality in men has to change the idea that women are weak or letting our inner manhood / father in us all take over & try to take away a woman's right to decide for herself what to wear or how much to drink or what guy to date or even make out with the more the women will rebell and less she'll wear or the more she'll drink. I had friends who parents wouldnt let them do anything & as soon as the kids went to college the good kids became the "can you believe it stories" while those like me who were see wrongly as troublemakers or did the drugs or drinking or got into fights in most cases actually did something for themselves & again it's because those who were overly protected werent ready for the reality & real world experiences on there own & werent ready. I knew 80 pound girls stand up to linebackers in high school grow up to be respected happy & capable women. Sometimes in order to protect someone you have to let them get a taste of reality which is why i find it funny everyday in the media how kids shouldnt do this or that & about how kids shouldnt learn to drive or workout shouldnt play sports because they might get hurt or might hurt their developement.. As a parent you want your kid to learn to ride a bike but in order to do that he has to take a few falls. We want our kids to learn to walk but yet dont want them to fall or get a bump so we wrap them in a blanket & pads & yet are suprised when it turns out worse for them because they cant walk.

    May 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  4. catalina

    I was 16 years old working at a fast food restaurant wearing the ugliest uniform that could make anyone unattractive and 2 adult men tried to kidnap me when I went to sweep the bathrooms near the exit. One guy went to get the car while they other guy grabbed me, held my mouth and pulled my out of the restaurant. There are so many people including young children and young adults who are violated. Some people even think that a 4 year old in a bathing suit is too raunchy. They blame the parents for allowing their little daughters to wear two pieces. They are babies! It's a shame that we are blaming the parents for what child molesters and rapists are doing. I understand that some people put themselves in harms way but some people dont. Some people are stolen from their own beds. Allowing the victim or finding a way for the victim to take the blame is just backing us into a corner where all women and children should be covered from head to toes with only our eyes showing so that men wont be forced into violating us. In a totally free society we should all be able to be naked and not have the feer of being violated. That would be freedom not wearing a berka.

    May 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  5. anne

    Telling women they need to take precautions to prevent their own rapes is like telling black and Hispanic men that they should be careful not to look suspicious around police. They're aware of the threat, thanks, and no amount of carefulness on the victim's part is going to prevent a racist cop or a rapist from doing what they do.

    If CNN had any integrity, they'd issue a retraction and an apology for cherry-picking Friedman out of context and perpetuating victim-blaming.

    May 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  6. maze1gerald

    Another lifetime movie attitude you should change channels sometime.

    May 7, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  7. Chuck

    A woman has the right to do whatever she wants to (without breaking the law) without being raped. A person also has the right to do whatever he/she wants to (without breaking the law) without being robbed.

    However, just as there are things that make you more likely to be robbed, there are activities that make you more likely to be raped.

    I agree that we should put more focus on teaching men to treat women properly. However, I think it is irresponsible to gloss over the things that women should do to protect themselves.

    Women shouldn't have to protect themselves from rape, or robbery. But they do, and they should be well informed, and have all the tools they need in order to do that.

    May 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  8. David Flora

    Dirty Girls....The baseline issue here is the sorry, and often sick roll mod-
    els these "celebrities" provide to our youth. Promotion of free love, drugs,
    abusive use of alcohol, violence for a few examples. Young people mim-
    ic this behavior! I wonder what ever happened to the wholesome,
    healthy lifestyle that used to be promoted to our youth, which generated
    on average, better and more responsible adults. What kids are learning
    these days certainly does not lead to a good and bright future. America
    needs to do an "about face", and good parental guidance is a huge part
    of the equation also.

    May 6, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  9. ms.

    I think that society today is on a backward moving trend, where we are becoming more conservative and women are losing their equal footing as time passes. I'm only 27, but I have seen how things have changed since I was a teenager. I wore pretty revealing clothing and went to clubs all the time ten years ago, we all did. And we had a lot of fun, and I never got raped. If I had gotten raped, it wouldn't have been my fault, because of what I was wearing or if I was dancing or drinking, it would have been the rapist's fault.
    When you go to a club to have a good time, you know that women will be dressed up, that men will be too, that everyone will be drinking and dancing. That's what a club is for. If a man goes to a club, and thinks to himself "I'm going to wait to get this girl too drunk and then take advantage of her" or "she is dressed that way so I can do what I want" then he is the one to blame because normal men who know what to expect in this kind of social situation don't think that way.
    A woman should be able to wear whatever she wants and not get raped. There are indiginous cultures where the people are mostly naked, and no one rapes(or if they do they don't blame it on the outfit) A rapist rapes because he or she is a rapist, it has nothing to do with the clothes.

    May 6, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  10. suz

    The author says that "as long as everyone practices safe sex then it isn't particularly dangerous". I would recommend she make an appointment with a nurse who works with patients with STIs before she assumes that. MANY STI's can still be contracted while using a condom.

    May 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  11. Jean

    Women who don't bed hop are much more attractive than women who do. Don't believe me? Ask your boyfriend, if you have one.

    May 3, 2010 at 2:10 am |
  12. dansey

    Yes, men have a responsibility. And so do women. Flaunting your sexuality gives women a false sense of power. It is not real power. Being a dirty girl is not wise nor healthy. Blame whoever you may, lust never fulfills what was originally designed for love. It is foolish to support dirty girl behavior as wise – especially among stars. What words they speak affect how our kids internalize appropriate and healthy behavior.
    So both are in the wrong. Both are seeking foolishness. So while we don't need to make rapists out to be victims, we also should talk about the choosing our words and actions wisely. Both sides are responsible for their actions.

    May 1, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  13. AllHonesty

    I've worked in a night club for several years now. I've seen the dispicable behavior of both genders, but can I say in particular, the females. Nine times out of ten, they are the source of any debacle that happens, they're exceptionally rude (I'm referring to these "bad girl" types who endorse this Kesha crap), they dress as though they have no self-respect whatsoever (as in wearing hardly anything, or leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination). I'm sorry, I can't buy this crap. Yes, parents should be worried! They need to teach their children that this "hooking up" crap is dangerous and disgusting, and that they should have a little more respect for themselves. Once they treat themselves with respect, they will be in a better position to demand it from others and know when they're being mistreated. End of story.

    April 30, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  14. dave

    college students

    Almost 1 in 4 drink alcohol 10 or more times a month and 29% report being intoxicated 3 or more times per month

    April 30, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  15. DoubleItUp

    I agree 100% that it is never the victims fault in these situations, and the assaulter should have had some sense of decency before the incident happened. But that lack of decency is indicative of our society as a whole where racist, sexist, classist, and religious hate statements are allowed to be thinly veiled by even our politicians. It's a problem of society giving bad influence scapegoats.

    On the other hand if you for one second say "but why is it a women's problem" you are doing the exact thing you are complaining about. People need to be educated in proper behavior and safe conduct in this country because we are so stuck behind this door of taboo. Not men, not women. People.

    To clarify proper behavior: I'm not talking oh no you shouldn't drink, have sex, do drugs, ect. I mean common decency and courtesy to your fellow human.

    April 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  16. birdy

    Amen. I'm so sick of the double standards.

    April 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  17. averycat

    Bullcrap that women or men who engage in "raunchy behavior" are statistically mentally healthy that those in monogamous relationships. I get real tired of people who want to justify their trashy behavior with "statisitcs" (which can be made to prove or disprove any point).

    Did anyone ask how many of these people suffered from mental illness? Did anyone ask about any history of mental illness?

    On top of that, when do we EVER come out of the pre 1960's where the woman is ALWAYS the victim? When do women truly get to be responsible for their sexuality rather than act irresponsibly then blame the guy totally when their's a problem? When do young girls and women get to be forced to LISTEN when their parents or older brothers and sisters say "You know it might not be a good idea to go to that party or drive back to college in the dark alone without calling security to walk you back to your dorm room (my sister). " When do we become smart grown ups who tell their children, whether we're parents or teachers, that, you know what, there is nothing wrong being a "good girl" or a "good guy" even though the rest of the stupid people in the world, such as those involved with this article, which when you get down to it, falls under the heading of "same old whiney crap, different day?" Why can't we honor people who make smart choices about their sexuality, such as not choosing to sleep with every Tom, Dick, or Harriet that comes their way then whining about not being in fullfilling relationships? Why can't we tell young people, guess what, if you get in a relationship for sex, that's usally all you get is sex?

    Having worked in the mental health field for a long time, I can tell you that many people who sleep around and make poor choices or "raunchy" choices with their sexual behavior DO tend to have more issues than those that don't. I've seen to many men and women, and it's BOTH genders, who've had more issues in their lives due to sleeping around that anyone can imagine. There's guilt and shame involved and personally, I don't feel that it's due to society's training that produces these feelings of guilt and shame. Life's hard and if you open yourself up to "raunchy behavior" you make life that much harder. It's the same old story, always has been and always will be no matter how much people try to prove otherwise.

    April 29, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  18. Daniel Webber

    This article is totally ridiculous (and I'm not saying that because I'm a male) No one is saying that rapists should be free to roam the streets or that it's the slutty drunk girl's fault if she gets raped. This isn't about blame its about safety. If I walk into a gang territory wearing the colors of their rivals and I get murdered its obvious that the murderer is at fault, but why would I put myself in that kind of danger. Of course the 'dirty girl' has every right to dress like a slut and get wasted to the point where she can't think but why would she want to put herself in that kind of danger. Isn't it possible to "explore your limits" in a safe environment and if the 'dirty girl' requires danger to explore her limits than she is willingly putting herself in harms way, which is within her rights but unwise in many opinions. "Don't be a dirty girl" does not equal "If you get raped it's your fault" but it does equal "I care about your safety so don't put yourself at unnecessary risk"

    April 29, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  19. avathaar

    While I agree with the broad sentiment of the article, including regarding the "blame the victim" mentality, let me express, if I might, the point of view of a father of daughters who have always been encouraged to be what they want to be. I worry about my daughters because they become de facto responsible for the result of any sexual encounters. Yes, it's not fair and, yes, we need to change the prevalent mentality. While we do everything we can in that regard, we need to manage reality at the same time. An analogy may be how dignified African Americans navigated Jim Crow on a day-to-day basis without necessarily becoming Uncle Toms. One has to navigate reality even while working to overturn it. With all due respect, doing otherwise would not be "street smart."

    April 29, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  20. Moe the Carpenter

    It’s about time for the annual Bilderberg conference and I’m wondering if Timothy Geithner will again be attending? Last years meeting in Greece didn’t seem to do a lot for them and I keep thinking I would love to be a fly on the wall and find out what our Secretary of the Treasury little Timmy is up to. It could make for some interesting headlines.

    April 29, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  21. night nurse

    Amen. I would like the "blame the victim" mentality to end!

    April 29, 2010 at 6:52 am |