I Am Not An Apple

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What am I doing here?

That was the first thing I thought when I walked towards my middle school’s gym bleachers. Across the roof hung a banner emblazoned with the words, “SAVE YOURSELF 4 LOVE” in bright pink letters. Most of the school faculty stood in the very back, making sure none of the 257 students sitting beside me managed to sneak out.

If the nervous chatter behind me was any indication, most of the others were thinking the same thing.

To be fair, I knew why we were there, and so did they: more than six girls in the eighth grade class already had babies, with far more pregnancies and a few STD cases than anyone knew. I just didn’t know what good it would do. An old pastor in a tailored suit stood in the center of the gym, lips trembling, hands clutching at the microphone pinned to his suit.

“Listen, girls,” he said, his tone filled with a kind of camaraderie. “Do you want the ‘thug’ who’s going to treat you badly, or do you want a man who’ll treat you well?”

It occurred to me that he was both condescending and pandering to us – apparently he was under the mistaken assumption that no one had ever attempted to use slang to reach us.

“The right man isn’t going to want a woman who’s given herself to every Tom, Dick and Harry,” he said.

He must have noticed the blank, slightly-offended stares, because then he backtracked.

“Think of it this way. Your bodies are like apples. An apple that’s on the ground is easy to access, but it rots, and it starts to smell. And yes, it’s hard – it’s hard to put yourself at the top of the tree, it’s hard to be ignored for the girls who are easy to reach. But don’t you want the one who reaches you to be worth it?” he said.

Some of the girls looked at him and smiled. Others chuckled and looked away. The male members of the audience weren’t even listening at that point – probably because he wasn’t even talking to them. I looked at my shoes and sighed.

One seditious thought ran through my head:

I am not an apple.

And it’s a thought that has remained with me. Throughout high school, when the abstinence talks got more pointed and girls who chose not to be abstinent were shamed by both faculty and the student body, and through college, where any girl who stepped over those tenuous, poorly-drawn social “lines” is called a slut or (by the more intelligent sexists), a “poor lock” to some other man’s “great key,” I’ve heard guys talk about how little they respected women who had sex before some “reasonable” time. I’ve heard women use the term “slut” to describe a woman who they felt threatened by or a woman whose actions they personally disapproved of.

Slut shaming is not about protecting anyone. STD’s and pregnancy can both be appropriately prevented by regular STD tests, contraception and caution. If it were just about protecting women from pregnancy, then we wouldn’t have to fight to get appropriate contraception education in schools. Women are simultaneously objectified and shamed for their sexual qualities. And why?

It does not matter what women do with their bodies, they never escape objectification. We are sandwich-makers, incubators, vacuums, dishwashers, washing machines, and yes, Fleshlights. The reason we are shamed because of our sexual actions is because we are taking an object from its “rightful” owner. Instead of being people with agency and the ability to make their own decisions, women become dolls.

The only difference between a “good” doll and a “bad” doll is how many men have “owned” this woman.

In my opinion, sex is only a mistake if you don’t want to have it. If you want to save yourself for marriage, and if you believe that saving yourself for marriage is the “best way” to go about it, then okay, that is a perfectly reasonable opinion to have (especially given the security that comes with abstinence), but that is your choice. Expression of sexuality has plenty of positive outcomes on a young person’s psyche. Maybe the satisfaction someone gains from having sex is worth the loss of security to them, and that is perfectly fine.

It’s a choice. It’s not a mistake. It’s not stealing anything from anyone. It isn’t hurting anyone. Shaming, on the other hand… Well, it hurts quite a bit more than you’d understand.