Streetcar and Slut-shaming

When Blanche arrives at Stella’s apartment in part by a streetcar named “Desire,” the car seems to be metaphorical for her own desires that have brought her to that point. Her teaching job and her good reputation were lost due to an affair with a 17-year old student, and she had turned to alcoholism, unable to manage the reality of her life. Once her “desires” are revealed, the fact that Blanche has had sex outside of marriage leads both Stanley and Mitch to assert that she no longer has worth as a woman, and her sexuality is no longer hers to dictate.

I believe this aspect of the play is especially relevant to modern day readers. The term “slut-shaming”, which has only recently been popularized in the public sphere, represents a movement to confront the criticism and blame experienced by women based on how they express their sexuality.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - ShowWhile Miley Cyrus may have gained a significant amount of backlash for her racy VMA performance this fall, it seemed as though the deprecating comments about her sexuality were met with just as much of their own criticism. Miley became, for some, a symbol of feminist resistance, an opportunity to confront the slut-shamers head on (See editorial comments on Huffington Post, the personal blog “Hollywood Life”, and New York Daily News).

Miley and Blanche share a similar persecution, in different times. Blanche’s shaming, as was conventional in the mid-twentieth century, involved being outcast socially. We’ve come pretty far as a society, no longer idly standing by (as Stella arguably did) while women get persecuted for sexual expression and desire while men are thought of as animalistic brutes, unable to fight their true nature.

Not completely though, as we find Robin Thicke’s role in the performance not nearly as scrutinized (See columns in fashion blog Man Repeller and Huffington Post). Like Stanley in the play, he is allowed to be sexual however he chooses, facing little negative consequences.

I would wager that many modern readers, if evaluating Blanche’s downfall from a “slut-shaming” perspective, may find that what ultimately brings Blanche to the streetcar named “Cemeteries,” to her metaphorical “death,” is the social drive to cast her out, to dictate her worth through her sexuality- not desire.

– Virginia H.

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2 thoughts on “Streetcar and Slut-shaming

  1. Virginia, this is a really intriguing blog post. You draw a unique and valid comparison between Blanche and modern “slut-shaming.” I like that you point out how Robin Thicke was not held to nearly as much criticism for his part in the risque VMA performance with Miley. I completely agree with your argument here. While I am grateful that in our Western society a woman’s worth is no longer explicitly tied to her sexuality (in most cases), there is still quite a disparity between what is deemed acceptable for men and women in terms of sexuality. For example, if I look on my Twitter feed, it seems as though every other day, someone – male or female – is slut-shaming Miley for something provocative she has done. I commend the individuals who are unabashed Miley fans and supporters. It seems to me that male artists, especially in the rap/r&b/hip-hop world, are commended for their sexual promiscuity, while females who attempt to do the same are labeled as “oversexed” and even “dangerous” women. On the one hand, male promiscuity seems almost normalized, while female sexual expression is often met with criticism and “slut-shaming.” There is progress that has certainly been made, but I still think there are many barriers to overcome.

  2. Hey, great comment Virginia! I really love this topic. And though I’ve never thought of myself as an animalistic brute ;), I strongly agree with your claim. Women have been criticized for centuries for engaging in promiscuous behavior while men are often times praised for the same action. We’ve made progress since Blanche’s time, but are still not at a place of complete equality. Good thought!

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