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Thompson: Woman to woman slut-shaming perpetuates our oversexualized double standard

Growing up a female in the age of technology, slut-shaming has been a constant in nearly every area of my life, and has therefore shaped the way I have come to perceive other women and sometimes even myself based on others’ similar judgments.

It is an unfortunate reality that a woman’s choice of clothing is seldom acknowledged without sexual implications and negative sanctions via slut-shaming—especially in the summertime. Yet, even more unfortunate is the fact that many derogatory comments come from other women who should instead be elevating one another in order to mitigate the sexual double standard against them.

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An article by Jeremy Staff and Derek Kreager in Social Psychology Quarterly defines the sexual double standard as a social phenomenon in which “Boys and men are rewarded and praised for heterosexual sexual acts, whereas girls and women are derogated and stigmatized for similar behaviors.” Similarly, the scholars noted a positive correlation between perceived sexual activity and peer acceptance among men and an opposite, negative correlation among women in their study.

The key word here is “perceived,” which means that in most cases, slut-shaming functions on the premise of stigma, as opposed to actually representing a woman’s sexual activity or number of partners she has had—if any. In other words, a woman’s choice of dress is not indicative of sexual promiscuity; rather, the labels “slut,” “whore” and “ho” are socially constructed and reproduced through continued use as a way of degrading women for the same presumed behaviors that men are so praised for. 

Sociologists A. Ayres Boswell and Joan Spade of Lehigh University claim that part of the reason for this discrepancy is the notion that “Men’s sexuality is seen as more natural, acceptable, and uncontrollable than women’s sexuality,” and many consequences for differential treatment of men and women can be attributed to this common misconception. Of these, slut-shaming, domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape are only a few—and yes, men do experience these things, but as a group are much less susceptible than women. 

Clearly, slut-shaming creates perceived difference where difference does not exist, and gender relations reflect the agreement of the sexes regarding this socially- constructed inequality.

Put simply, it makes no sense that women would knowingly perpetuate their own subordination in a patriarchal society, yet this is precisely what happens when women slut-shame one another. When we use degrading gender-specific labels as ammunition in an attempt to elevate ourselves in a situation, we are really only supporting the notion that women are sexual objects whose identities are defined by our relations to men. As Tina Fey said in Mean Girls, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Like nearly everyone, I have been guilty of slut-shaming other women based on their appearance in academia, the workplace and various social situations. However, it was not until I declared a minor in sociology that I became aware of the damage this attitude can cause when so many women subconsciously perpetuate the system that is responsible for their inequality. 

Therefore, my hope is that this writing will be a wake-up call to people of all genders who think that labeling women as “sluts” comes without a wide array of consequences.

Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.

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