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In Defense Of The 'Slut'

The last year has brought considerable coverage of school violence, harassment in the schools and school cliques. But a new book tells the stories of 50 girls who were labeled the school 'sluts.'

CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell speaks with Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation, about this high school phenomenon.



Tanenbaum wrote her book years after her own personal experience. At age 14, she was named the slut of her high school for what basically was a disagreement between her and her girlfriend over a guy.

The event disrupted her entire high school experience and, to some degree, still bothers her.

"People were just so mean to me," she says. "People harassed me, came up to me, would say nasty things to my face, giggle when I would raise my hand into the classroom. I withdrew and became depressed."

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Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation
For her book she interviewed more than 50 girls who had similar experiences. Her research uncovered that girls tend to behave in two ways after being called sluts.

"Either they do what I did, which is withdraw into themselves and say, 'I'm not going to be sexual at all. I don't want to give any ammunition to the name callers,'"she says. Or they become more sexually active because they feel they have nothing to lose, she adds.

Neither behavior is healthy, points out Tanenbaum. What she found, however, was that many of those labeled slut had not been sexually active; many had never even kissed a boy.

What she discovered instead was that being different in some way was the reason for them to be ostracized - "If she's an early developer, if she's an ethnic minority, she can be the new student - anything that makes her different from her peers," she explains.

To this day Tanenbaum believes people from her high school think of her as a slut. But it wasn't until 1993 that she decided to do something about it.

Reading the paper, she saw in an article that 42 percent of all girls nationwide said they've been the subject of sexual rumors, she says. That's two out of five.

That meant she was not alone. She decided she wanted to find others who had experiences similar to her own and wrote an article for Ms. magazine and then Seventeen.

The articles generated a huge response. The end result was her book.

Among the people she interviewed was a girl who had no sexual experience but had been gang raped at 13. "In the wak of that gang rape, all of the girlfriends of the guys who had raped her started to gang up on her, because they said, 'Hey, you were having sex with my boyfriend.' And they would pick fights with her, hit her, beat her, pummel her," Tanenbaum says.

Recognizing that it was all undeserved, the girl developed a healthy attitude about her sexuality and is very outspoken against a sexual double standard.

"Look at the vocabulary we have," Tannenbaum observes. "We have probably, you know, dozens and dozens of words to describe a girl who is considered, you know, sexually lose. We've got, bimbo, tart, whore, slut, tramp. We can go on all day. What do we [have] for a man? Womanizer."

This particular girl stayed in her high school but Tanenbaum believes kids who can transfer out should. Concerning the ones that stay, she says, "We have to be sympathetic to them. We have to, as adults, as parents and educators; we have make sure this stops," she says.

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