Book review: Katarina Wennstam’s ’Flickan och skammen – En bok om samhällets syn på slampor’ (2016) (’The girl and the shame – a book about the society’s view on sluts’)

”Girls and women have always been demonised for their sexuality. The female lust has always been questioned, shrouded by rules and control. The woman who has not followed the narrow model has been smothered, cheapened, become a pariah.”


This is Wennstam’s third reportage book after ’Flickan och skulden’ (’The girl and the guilt’, 2002) and ’En riktig våldtäktsman’ (‘The real rapist’, 2004). The book covers issues such as revenge porn, internet’s significance and slut-shaming, but also the most serious forms of abuse. Most importantly, Wennstam points out how girls still do not have the same rights as boys in and outside the bedroom. Even in 2017 it is still not a given for many that girls can be as horny as boys, or that girls can like sex as much as boys. The girls who want to enjoy their sexuality get easily branded as ‘whores’.


Thanks to internet and social media, the person at the centre of rumours never gets the chance to forget the incident, never gets to escape it. In the past, it might have helped to move to a different place, but now the reputation remains regardless. Wennstam writes about the ‘Bjästa case’ and other similar incidents and rulings to explain how devastating it can be to be an object for rumours.


Wennstam meets Leora Tanenbaum, the head of Planned Parenthood in the USA, who says that the risk for a bad reputation is something that affects all women, in all ages. There is a big difference between Sweden and the US, especially when it comes to views on abortion and sexual education at schools. The development in the US demonstrates how popular culture forms our view on norms and attitudes. TV series, films and celebrity news etc. also shape the Swedish views on masculine and feminine, sexuality, and what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. She highlights Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy and compares the Swedish and American versions of the film. Salander gets to be in charge in an erotic scene in the Swedish version where she rides Mikael Blomqvist until she gets an orgasm, and then leaves him in bed. In the American version with Rooney Mara, she gets to straddle Daniel Craig for a moment until he gets on top. The order is restored.


Wennstam goes also back in history and describes how women such as Marie Curie, Astrid Lindgren, Marilyn Monroe and Monica Lewinsky all were subjected to rumours or slut-shaming.


In the book, Wennestam’s research alternates with stories from girls who have suffered from rumours or slut shaming, which gives the book a very personal impact. RealStars considers the book to be an important contribution to the debate underlining the different presumptions and expectations that continue to influence girls and boys.


  1. Katarina Wennstam has also authored several crime books which break norms and are definitely worth a read!