Why Kristen Stewart’s Affair Matters: The Impact of Slut-Shaming

by Caroline Thirkill

Just another 22-year-old girl?

I spent my summer vacation in a small village in Peru working on an ancient Incan archaeological site. The electricity there was not exactly reliable; we had no TV, no music, and certainly no Internet. But the only information from America that reached me, 10,000 feet up in the Andean Mountains with no connection to the outside world wasn’t Paul Ryan’s nomination for Republican VP, nor anything that would affect the world on an international scale. It was that the Twilight stars had broken up.

Having little emotional investment in the series myself, and absolutely no investment in their relationship, I was terribly confused as to why this was such a big issue that I heard it an entire continent away. Okay, Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson; so what? It was not until I started to think about it that I realized just how far reaching the impact of this issue is.

See, the real issue behind this has nothing to do with the the “Robsten” relationship, or the director Rupert Sanders that she cheated with. The issue is the message that we are sending to young girls who idolize Stewart: a message about slut-shaming. This girl who has been part of the media circus since she was nine years old, far too young to understand where that would lead her. It’s all well and good to say the K-Stew chose this life of fame and fortune, but for a little girl involved in major film roles at the age of twelve, do you really think that it was much of a choice, back then or for her future? It makes you wonder why she scowls, and ducks her head, and tries to avoid the limelight. If this is the only life experience you’ve had, never given the chance to be just a normal girl, wouldn’t you as well?

“It is directly untrue to claim that the slut-shaming of Stewart has nothing to do with her gender. It was not men who took to the Internet to tear her apart over this issue, but young girls. Have we really created a society where it is okay for 11-year old girls to send death threats, because she is not ‘good enough’ for Pattinson?”

The public forgets that there is a real person under the image the media presents us, someone who has been under watch for so many years that she has never had a chance (as 22-year-olds will inevitably do) to screw up peacefully. Everyone screws up now and then, so give her a chance to as well. There is nothing good, or glamorous, or acceptable about cheating on your partner – ever – but to be brutally honest, there are far worse mistakes for a young girl to make.

As far as Kristen Stewart’s career is concerned, it most certainly has been damaged by this scandal. She has lost her contract for the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, one of the highest grossing films of this year so far, while Rupert Sanders still has his job as director, with this scandal bringing him so much positive attention that some people actually believe it was a stunt to generate publicity. As for the assertion that it takes two to tango: Sanders is 41 years old, with far more life experience than Stewart, not to mention his family to think about. Just so people remember, there is a darker side to this issue – as Stewart’s director, he was in a direct position of power over her future, both professionally and personally. How do we know how much of that came into play when considering the affair?

The attacks on Kristen Stewart come from two different perceptions: her fame and her gender. American society has perfected the art of transforming Hollywood stars from people into idols. Whether we like it or not, K-Stew is unarguably the pre-teen idol of our time. In doing this, we stop treating her as a subject, and turn her into an object. What right do we have to dump our personal issues onto her head? Are we so disconnected from our own lives and problems that we need to judge her for hers? She has become a faceless mannequin on which we as a society are “allowed” to pin the blame without personal reprisal.

It is directly untrue to claim that the slut-shaming of Stewart has nothing to do with her gender. It was not men who took to the Internet to tear her apart over this issue, but young girls. Have we really created a society where it is okay for 11-year old girls to send death threats, because she is not “good enough” for Pattinson? While Will Ferrell’s satirization of the public reaction was brilliant, he coined the term “trampire,” which has been turned into a legitimate slur against Stewart. You can even buy shirts that say “trampire” and other abusive messages against her. How is the word “trampire” not slut-shaming by any definition? When men cheat, they almost never face such personal reprisal for their actions. Sure, plenty of men get called out on cheating, but you don’t see Ashton Kutcher losing his new job on Two and a Half Men over it. The same industry that forced Stewart out of a job after something as simple as cheating still glorifies Chris Brown and gives him Grammys, after he missed that same show for beating up his girlfriend–the same girl whose violently battered face he now sports as a tattoo on his neck. Why do we as a society punish Steward for youthful indiscretion, while Brown hears nary a whisper for potentially killing Rihanna? Is that the message we are sending an entire generation–that cheating on your boyfriend is worse than brutally attacking your girlfriend?

Kristen Stewart  filmed Panic Room with
 Jodie Foster in 2002

We should care about the slut-shaming of Kristen Stewart because of all the young girls in society who look up to her as a role model and are seeing the way that society has reacted to her one infraction. This is the first time K-Stew has publicly screwed up, and all of America is pouring hate in her direction. Is that the image of our country that we want to give the next generation? Should my little sister grow up believing that society will condemn her, and ruin her if she makes one little mistake? Will she grow up thinking that it is acceptable to harass other girls over their mistakes? A girl’s teenage years and early twenties are the time when we are supposed to screw up, to learn from it, and learn how to say sorry for it. I don’t want my little sister living in a culture that says bullying and slut-shaming is acceptable for anyone.

There is far more rhetorical vitriol where this came from, about today’s GOP politicians and their “ideas” on women’s rights, about the repressed inequality still present in today’s society that women themselves perpetuate. I will leave you with this: all of the people involved in this issue are big boys and girls, capable of handling their personal lives without the American public weighing in. In a perfect world, what K-Stew does with her sexuality is her own business and no one else’s. But our world is not perfect, and it is far more important for us to condemn the public’s slut-shaming reaction to Stewart’s choices, and teach the next generation that such outcry only adds to America’s still prevalent problems with gender and sexual equality. Judge Kristen Stewart in your head if you absolutely must, but don’t let your prejudices infect the social standards that my little sister will have to live by ten years from now.

Caroline is a junior at Barnard and Opinions editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of People, Customized Girl, and Hollywood News.

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