If there were any silver lining to find in the wake of the tragic Santa Barbara shootings, it’s the conversation about misogyny and sexism that has been ignited.
Thousands of women have rallied around the hashtag #YesAllWomen on Twitter sharing personal stories of the everyday harassment they face. The response has been overwhelming and put a spotlight on the sexist culture we live in where a young man resorted to murder for being rejected by women.
Sure, not all men are like Elliot Rodger (there’s even a hashtag to prove it: #NotAllMen), but there is no denying that we live in a society where women are targets of violence and shamed for their sexuality. Women are called sluts for having sex and, like Rodger angrily proclaimed, sluts for not having sex, at least with him. Either way we’re sluts. But as the two studies below prove, men aren’t the only ones responsible for slut-shaming women. Sometimes we women are just as guilty.
The first study published in the Social Psychology Quarterly tracked the lives of 53 women attending college at a Midwestern university and found that women often participated in slut shaming one another as a means of maintaining their social status. The findings suggest that high-status women, those women who participated in Greek life on campus and often came from upper-middle class backgrounds, used slut shaming as a means of bullying lower-status girls and keeping them from climbing the social ladder.
On the flip side, high-status women were also far less likely to be slut shamed by their lower-status peers despite engaging in more sexual relationships. It stands to reason then that lower status girls were targets of slut shaming regardless of whether or not they had sexual experience. Lastly, while high-status women with more sexual experience defined their lifestyle as “classy,” their low-status peers who tried to mimic this behavior to fit it were immediately called “trashy.”
This study illustrates that the ladies are also guilty of creating a culture where women are stigmatized and defined by their sexuality. If women are calling each other sluts as a means of pulling social rank, what are their sexual partners saying about them behind closed doors? Does the fact that women are calling each other sluts make it OK for the men (or women) they are sleeping with to do so? If the Mean Girls assembly taught us anything, then yes.
“You’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores,” says Tina Fey’s character. “It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
It may not make it OK, but it does create a culture where slut shaming women is acceptable.
Another study from a think tank in the UK has found that women are also guilty of slut shaming one another online. The study tracked the use of the words “rape,” “whore” and “slut” on Twitter for about a year and found that 12 percent of the tweets containing these words were intended as a direct threat or insult. What was more alarming, however, was the finding that women were almost as likely as men to send tweets with these words both casually or offensively.
In an effort to make sense of the findings, Time magazine looks to Kate Farrar, the vice president of campus leadership programs at AAUW, a non-profit focusing on women’s empowerment, who argues gender based insults have become s0 ingrained in our culture that it’s the norm:
Words like “slut” and “whore” are thrown around so frequently they “become a part of our cultural conversation [about women] from the time we’re very young…there often aren’t instances that we’re told that it’s not okay or that there’s accountability for that.”
And thanks to our culture’s paradoxical attitudes towards female sexuality, where women are expected to be sexy, but not overtly sexual, one of the most effective ways for men and women to bully, judge and degrade a woman is to brand her a “slut” or “whore.”
Luckily, as far as I’ve seen #YesAllWomen has been a girl-on-girl crime free zone and done a great deal to shed light on the everyday harassment women face. A hashtag, however, can’t last forever, so let’s continue the conversation and not forget that while women are often victims of a sexist culture, we are sometimes part of the problem. I for one will admit that as a college, and even high school, student I used the word “slut” very casually and as a means to put down other women, even if they weren’t actually promiscuous. I wish I could say I hadn’t, but like Farrar points out it was so ingrained in how we spoke that I didn’t think twice, and I was never told it was wrong.
Well, here I am now, saying that it is wrong. Defining a woman by her sexuality, or worse demeaning her for it, is wrong whether you are a woman or a man. It’s high time we speak up when someone calls a woman a slut and analyze our own reasons for using this language. In doing so, together we can all help change the sexist culture that inspired Elliot Rodger’s mass murdering.
Ximena Ramirez Care2 Causes May 31, 2014