Erin Brokovich Is Not A Slut

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Cast: 
Me 22-year-old college graduate fresh from the University of Michigan
My father 52-year-old lawyer who took rock science instead of physics in high school but still managed to become partner at his Chicago law firm
My mother 53-year-old ex-lawyer who recently went back to school and is currently on the hunt for a job in the Catholic Church

The scene: 
The three of us are lounging in the living room of my parent's house in the southwest suburbs of Chicago trying to pick out a movie.

Action!

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The evening began the same way all our movie nights do: flipping through Netflix. This time, I thought it would be a bit easier to settle on something, as only 50% of my family was present, but you know how these things go.

“Ok what about this one? I heard it was really good!”

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“Oh look! It’s this movie! It’s already getting Oscar buzz!”

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Finally, after what seemed like decades, we stumbled across a movie about something that both of my parents can relate to. Lawyers.

Erin Brockovich is the Hollywood retelling of how legal clerk and environmental activist Erin Brockovich began her career. I was skeptical at first, hoping for something a little lighter than a single mother fighting her way to financial security by becoming a law clerk who takes it upon herself to pursue a neglected case regarding a chemical company dumping waste into a nearby town’s water supply. But my parents pulled the classic “Oh it’s been years, but I remember it being good!” and we were off.

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My mother and I settled into our respective places on the couch while my father reclined in La-Z-Boy nearby. The first thirty minutes or so went off without a hitch. And then Julia Roberts walked into her boss’s office looking like this:

My mother scoffed. “Ugh, why does she have to dress like that? She looks like such a tramp!”

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I looked over in shock at the small, curly haired woman snuggled into the side of the couch next to me. This woman, this fierce, outspoken, feminist lawyer and mother of four who had raised me and my siblings to understand and respect that there is nothing men can do that women cannot, was slut shaming.

Things got heated. Fast.

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“Why does it matter what she wears? She’s the only one in this office who cares about what is happening to these people who are literally being poisoned by this energy company!”

At this point I was pretty invested in the movie and therefore incredibly distressed about the fate of the people of Hinkley, California as well as Erin’s kids and her biker boo. I did not have time for slut shaming, especially from my own mother.

My mom responded confidently, if not flippantly, which led to a longer and louder disagreement than intended while movie continued in the background. My father, who is usually sound asleep at this point in any movie, sat quietly in his chair, smart enough to not interrupt two women as fighting about feminism.

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While the conversation was much louder and longer than this, I’ve distilled the basic sentiment of both sides of the debate for simplicity’s sake:

“There’s no need for her to dress like that. Her breasts are practically on display for everyone to see!”

“She isn’t dressing for everyone to see! She’s wearing the clothes that she wants to wear while fighting tooth and nail to support her family as a single mother!”

We talked in circles to the point of frustration until my mother finally conceded. She admitted that she certainly wasn’t intending to belittle Erin Brockovich’s accomplishments with her comments on her appearance, she just wished she would dress more professionally and not have sex with her less than reputable next-door neighbor.

My father was relieved.

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But the fact remains that even though my mother said that wasn’t intending to slut shame this woman, by commenting negatively on her appearance and sexuality she was turning the feminist hero into an object to be valued by her appearance.

Just because Erin Brockovich/Julia Robert’s skirt ended above her fingertips and her straps were not always two fingers wide, does not mean that her morals and accomplishments are allowed to be minimized or overlooked. Especially by another woman.

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For some reason, my mother was not able to see what I saw: a strong, independent woman who wouldn't take no for an answer, even when every single man in her life was telling her just that. She wasn't dressing for anyone but herself and she single-handedly saved lives through her dedication and commitment to fighting for good in the face of evil.

And there lies the problem.

If we, as women, are openly judging other women on how they express their sexuality, what they wear, or who they sleep with, then nothing is going to change. It is up to us to hold each other responsible for the empowerment of women. If we do this, and choose to support other women rather than tear them down, hopefully, we can make the term “slut shaming” obsolete.

We just have to do it together.

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Feature photo via sky.com