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Reading Guides

Fast Girls
Emily White
Paperback

 

INTRODUCTION

Whether viewed as villain or victim, outcast or rebel, the High School Slut remains a figure of fascinationand more than a touch of fear. Full of quirky insights into sexual standards and practices, Fast Girls is a journey into the dark side of the teenage years, a revealing study of American society.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily White, a freelance writer, was the editor of The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle. She has also been a contributing editor to the website OpenLetters.net and a Stegner fellow in the fiction program at Stanford University. Her work has appeared in Spin magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the Village Voice, Nest, and L.A. Weekly.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Throughout Fast Girls, Emily White offers explanations for why high school students label a particular girl a "slut." She posits that in part, these rumors can spring out of teenagers' fear and ignorance of sex: "Kids tell slut stories because they need an allegory for the mystery of sex itself" (20). The compulsion to discuss taboo subjects and general teen boredom and malaise are other factors White sites. Do you agree with these origin theories? What other reasons might there be?

  2. After talking to numerous women who had been named their high school's slut, White noticed a pattern of traits these women shared: they were generally extroverted, suburban white girls who had experienced precocious puberty and often had a history of sexual abuse. What do you make of these traits, especially the disturbing history of sexual abuse? If you knew of a high school "slut," did she fit the "type"? Did you know someone who met this profileor even was in fact promiscuousyet escaped being branded a slut? Why do you think that was?

  3. White explores the idea that the slut is an archetype in the Jungian sense and therefore embedded in the collective conscience (or at least, the conscience of a specific American socio-economic group, i.e., white suburban America). Do you agree with this idea?

  4. The author found through her research that women from other backgrounds than white suburbia often used different terminology to describe the "slut" of their school. Some of the nonwhite "sluts" the author spoke with had a differentand less negativeexperience of being the "slut" than the white girls; they did not feel isolated nor were they treated cruelly by classmates. How do you explain these findings? What do you think about White's comment that racial and sexual insults are sometimes paired in high schools as "parallel hateful languages" (177)? White notes that "far more white women responded to [her] survey than nonwhite women" (171). Why does the word "slut" resonate with white suburban girls almost exclusively? Is suburban, predominantly white America a unique social system that engenders the phenomenon of the slut? Why or why not?

  5. White touches upon the difference between the sexual education of boys and that of girls as created and perpetuated by American media culture. White notes that while boys have access to pornography and an interest in it is seen as a "rite of passage" (65), girls are given only "hints, romance tips, and teen idols. A graphic discussion of sex has no real place in feminine development" (66). Do you agree with the author's assertions? How do you see media and culture affecting gender roles and informing what is considered appropriate sexual behaviorfor boys, for girls, for men, for women? How do you think the dissimilarities in how boys and girls are taught about sex relate to the creation of the slut myth in high school? Note that White found that both boys and girls could generate the slut rumor about a girl in their school; what part do you think each gender's knowledge about sex plays in creating these rumors?

  6. How does the presence of the slut (and the slut as a "category" of one person) fit into or disrupt the carefully-constructed high school social system? How is the slut both powerful and weak? How do some of the sluts profiled in the book seek to create power for themselves, in both destructive and positive ways?

  7. Certainly many of the women profiled in Fast Girls were treated with varying degrees of brutality by their classmates. From where do you think this need for violently lashing out at the 'slut' stems? What do the teenagers perpetrating the violence hope to accomplish? Why does the author, and why do you, think that girls are more malicious than boys toward the slut? In the end, do you agree with the author that "high school is such a clear spectacle of cruelty" (40)?

  8. Do you feel that the creation of the slut myth is strictly a teenage/high school phenomenon? Why or why not? How would you explain the process of how and why certain women receive a "bad" reputation in college or even in adult life? Are such women instead classified as "players" or "promiscuous" because of their age, and how do such names differ from the label of "slut"? How are such adult women treated differently than the high school girls by other women? By men?

  9. White talks about how on the "Dr. Laura" show, "women are either mothers or sluts" (107). Discuss women's struggle with the middle ground between beingor being perceived asa "bad girl" or a "good girl." White notes that in a March 1999 Cosmopolitan magazine reader survey, many respondents advised women to lie about their number of sexual partners, skewing lower than the truth (127). How do you feel about this suggestion? Do you agree with the observation made by many of the girls White interviewed that "'the girls are sluts, the boys are studs'" (98)? Why is there no male counterpart to the "loose woman"?

  10. How do you view the women profiled in Fast Girlsas deserving of what they got? As victims? As weak? As powerful? What do you think of them in terms of their diversity, their feelings about being named the slut, their agendas, their experiences in adulthood? How did the label change them, in both positive and negative ways? Why did some of the sluts begin to feel "like a man" (109)? Were these girls indeed "born into the wrong gender" (110)? Why or why not? What do you make of the fact that some of the women felt "devalued" for the rest of their lives and were unable to have normal romantic relationships?

  11. White discusses throughout Fast Girls how many of the "sluts" became disassociated from their "real" selves because they were being defined and objectified by others (117). White wonders whether her interviews of these women were in fact a new process of objectification: "Was I engaged in one more form of writing what I wanted to about her, only this time not on the bathroom wall?" (119). How would you answer the author's question?

  12. White admits that she did not "check out these women's pasts" because she was "far more interested in the narratives surrounding her than in figuring out whether or not she deserved her reputation" (68). If the interviews had theoretically been expanded to encompass the women's families/friends/classmates, what do you think those people would have said? Would these auxiliary voices expand your understanding of why the myth of the slut was generated in each case, or do you agree with the author that it is more crucial to focus on how the "slut" herself perceived, felt about, and handled the label? Do you think White was indeed told the truth by these women?

  13. The author discusses the assumptions and biases she brought to the research; she states she "projected [her] own disposition onto the encounter" and "gravitated toward the sad and melodramatic girls" (p. 19). How do you feel the author's subjectivity colored her research? What drew you to read this book? What feelings and preconceptions did you bring to your reading of the book? If you read Fast Girls a number of years after graduating from high school, how might the passage of time influence your memories and thoughts on this subject?

  14. Do you agree with the author that the rumors of these girls' sexual activities were just that, a rumor, and had no basis in reality? If you knew a "high school slut," has reading Fast Girls changed your assumptions about and perceptions of that girl? The author asks if there is any way to get beyond the myth of the slut (208); what do you think?