Not until the age of 22 did I hook up with someone, in any capacity, at a Basque festival. This was not for lack of options or desire in my younger years. I’ve had a few awkward Basque romances in my day, but I never took them anywhere near a Basque festival out of fear of judgment. I didn’t want to be labeled a slut for having a good time. Also, my mom and dad would have killed me. (Hi, Mom! I know you’re reading this. Don’t judge me.)
We’ve all heard stories of girls with reputations, the “sluts.” Maybe we have spread these stories ourselves as the latest hot gossip, passing judgment to pass the time at long summer picnics. I myself am guilty of this crime against sisterhood, so I’m not here to preach about what an awful person you are if you gossip too.
But I feel it needs to be said that our Basque communities are one of the few spaces left in our very American lives where young women are criticized harshly for expressing their sexuality, whether in public or behind closed (motel room) doors. It’s just a known rule for us: Don’t do anything unless you want everyone you know–and, perhaps more importantly, everyone your parents know–to find out.
But finally at age 22, a curious blend of boredom and not caring anymore led me to a dark storage closet with a cute drunk. (Don’t ask who. I won’t tell.) I cringe at how high school the entire thing was, but it was fun.
And the thing is, I thought I didn’t care about judgments any more. But the guilt and embarrassment I felt afterwards told me a different story. I was so ashamed about the hook up that I didn’t even want to tell my friends, which goes completely against girl code. You have to tell your friends who you’re hooking up with. It’s practically law.
For days after “the incident,” as I started calling it, a weird mix of girlish giddiness and Catholic guilt plagued me. If it hadn’t been with a Basque guy at a Basque event, I’m positive I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
Did my friend for the night feel racked with the same tumultuous emotions? I can’t say for sure, but all signs point to: No, not in the slightest. He told one of my friends about the tryst very soon afterward (Cat’s out of the bag! Thanks, bro!) and spent the rest of the summer hooking up with girls at Basque festivals near and far. His friends applauded him for being such a stud, for having such a way with women.
Am I bitter? Not in the sense that you might think. I’m not bitter that he’s moved on to other people, but I am bitter about how easily he is able to do so. I envy his freedom. I envy the male privilege that allows him to do as he likes with very few social repercussions. This privilege that is not afforded to me or my Basque sisters.
While hooking up is the ultimate sin, sometimes all we have to do to earn the slut label is dress nicely (“She’s trying too hard.”) or dance with one person for most of the night (“Did you see how she was all over him?”). Do a combination of these things often enough and your reputation follows you for years, maybe even decades.
I’ve heard of awesome women in their thirties still being talked about negatively for their behavior as young adults. I know women who have distanced themselves from their Basque communities, showing up less and less frequently to club events because of judgmental gossip.
Petty gossip shouldn’t matter, but it does. I hate that it happens, and I hate that it leads women to feel alienated from their communities. But gossip truly has an affect on our actions, because these are communities many of us plan on being involved in for the rest of our lives. And we don’t want something we did in our teens and twenties to dictate people’s opinions of us now or later on.
So I open it up to you, dear readers, as I’m sure many of you have had experience in this area.
How do we fight these double standards in our communities?
- There’s No Such Thing As A Slut (thatgypsy.wordpress.com)
- Double Standards (diaryofanagitatedmind.wordpress.com)
- I Was First Called a Slut at Age 13 (feministsatlarge.wordpress.com)