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Slut-shaming is all about social status, not partner count

Turns out slut-shaming has nothing to do with being a slut.  A new study of college women and their attitudes toward peers found that the practice slut-shaming had more to do with creating social status hierarchies, than actual sex or partner count.

Al Jazeera America explain:

Sociologists from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Merced occupied a dorm room in a large Midwestern university, regularly interacting with and interviewing 53 women about their attitudes on school, friends, partying and sexuality from the time they moved in as freshman and following up for the next five years.

The researchers discovered that definitions of “slutty” behavior and the act of slut-shaming was largely determined along class lines rather than based on actual sexual behavior. What’s more, they found the more affluent women were able to engage in more sexual experimentation without being slut-shamed, while the less-affluent women were ridiculed as sluts for being “trashy” or “not classy,” even though they engaged in less sexual behavior.

Everything boils down to hierarchy.  The research conducted showed that women follow a social caste system where the well off can slut it up as much as they like, and still retain the ability to deflect slut-shaming that may come their way.  Unfortunately less privileged women in society have little leeway in terms of sexual promiscuity. The studies conducted show that the poorer the women, the more susceptible she was towards having the slut stigma stick.

Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology and organizational studies professor at the University of Michigan provides more insight…

“Viewing women only as victims of men’s sexual dominance fails to hold women accountable for the roles they play in reproducing social inequalities. By engaging in ‘slut-shaming’ — the practice of maligning women for presumed sexual activity — women at the top create more space for their own sexual experimentation, at the cost of women at the bottom of social hierarchies.”

Armstrong and then-graduate student Laura Hamilton, have published their findings in a new book titled “Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality.”  Using the college Greek system as a baseline for peer status research among women, Armstrong and Hamilton went to work…

At this particular university, which they declined to name, participation in the Greek system was “the most widely accepted signal of peer status on campus.” And as it turned out, the 23 women who were in sororities were from upper- and upper-middle-class backgrounds, likely because they had the time and money to participate in Greek life. The remaining women did not, as they came from working-, lower-middle- and middle-class backgrounds, the authors said.

The sociologists discovered through interviews and passing conversations with the women through the years that the affluent sorority girls viewed themselves as displaying femininity in a “classy” way, but that they felt the way the less-affluent women did so was “trashy.” For example, one of the affluent women said “good girls” would never wear a short skirt or a revealing top, but if she did, she wouldn’t dance seductively in that outfit at a party. But the less affluent women did, and therefore were considered “skanky.”

On the other hand, the less-affluent women equated sluttiness with what they viewed as the materialism and the unfriendly, cliquey nature of women in the Greek system. One of them told the researchers that “sorority girls are kinda whorish and unfriendly and very cliquey. If you weren’t Greek, then you didn’t really matter,” they wrote.

“Surprisingly, women who engaged in less sexual activity were more likely to be publicly labeled a slut than women who engaged in more sexual activity,” Armstrong said. “This finding made little sense until we realized that college women also used the term as a way to police class boundaries.”

The authors discovered that the affluent women participating in sororities in fact worried less about being judged as a slut than did the less affluent women, even though they would engage in more sexual activity. That was because they kept that activity quiet and conveniently seemed to define the accepted standards surrounding sexual behavior.

But when the less affluent women tried to befriend them, the affluent women would publicly slut-shame them as a way to convey that they didn’t fit in.

“This often took the form of calling other women out for their dress or deportment, as a way of making it clear that they did not fit in with the high-status group,” Armstrong said.

Society tends to blame men and the patriarchy for the practice of slut-shaming, but Armstrong’s findings show that slut-shaming is more attributable to women than men.  For women, slut-shaming is a form of bullying and a powerful tool to increase, or decrease, a women’s social value.

Armstrong and her team had originally viewed slut-shaming as based on “sexual double standards established and upheld by men, to women’s disadvantage,” they wrote in the study, which was published Wednesday. They thought that, due to societal expectations that men should seek out lots of sexual activity but that women could only do so while in a committed relationship, the women are “vulnerable to slut stigma when they violate this sexual standard and consequently experience status loss and discrimination,” they wrote.

The study showed the exact opposite of what a vast majority of society, and Armstrong herself, had originally hypothesised. Turns out women are the one’s preoccupied with slut-shaming and social stigma. Men, it seems, don’t really care that much.

References:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/29/slut-shaming-study.html

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