There is zero biological basis for the concept of a slut.
“According to the sexual double standard, boys and men are rewarded and praised for heterosexual sexual contacts, whereas girls and women are derogated and stigmatised for similar behaviours” (Kreager and Staff, 2009). Slut shaming can be an overt form of bullying or casual judgement; both are methods of policing a girl or woman for being, as the viewer judges, too inappropriately sexual and deviating from normative femininity. Femininity is commonly understood to refer to a collection of qualities or attributes associated with women in distinction from men. Passivity, submissiveness, and compassionate, caring, nurturing behaviour toward others, are widely considered traits of normative femininity in comparison to masculine assertiveness and competitiveness.
“I was waiting to cross the road one day, wearing a rain coat and carrying my shopping. These guys pulled up in a car next to me and shouted ‘slut’ at me. I was shocked because they didn’t know me and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It doesn’t make any sense, it’s like slut is used just to scare women now.”
Slut shaming is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening since Roman times, when women were punished for appearing overtly sexual. Advancements in technology have magnified and exacerbated the issue.
With the increased use of social media, over two billion active users as of 2016 (Smith, 2016), there is an increased ability to ‘virtually’ shame and bully. 97% of teens aged twelve to seventeen have access to the Internet and 80% of teens log into a social media account everyday (Poole, 2013). The Internet, social media, blogging sites, and digital question sites like Formspring, are all platforms that allow for pervasive and incessant cyber bullying or slut shaming. “Social networking sites currently face zero legal consequences when third parties post offensive, bullying, or defamatory content” (Poole, 2013).
On one Facebook page, ‘twelve year old sluts’, people post nasty comments about pictures of children who they deem are dressed inappropriately. This is slut shaming in the form of casual judgment by strangers.
Casual judgment slut shaming also includes cat calling and making comments such as “that girl’s skirt is too short” or “she needs to put her boobs away”. This is usually done by young adults and is peer-to-peer judgment.
The majority of those affected by slut shaming are women. Far too many young women have committed suicide after being viciously slut shamed by peers as an overt form of bullying. Below is a list of some of the girls who committed suicide because of slut shaming, from 2008 to 2013.
Jessica Logan (18), Hope Witsell (13), Phoebe Prince (15), Alexis Pilkington (17), Rachel Ehmke (13) , Audrie Pott (15), Felicia Garcia (15), Amanda Todd (15), Jessica Laney (16), Rehtaeh Parsons (17), Gabrielle Molina (12)
“On a night out with my friends, a man who was about fifty years old forced himself on me and kissed me. I was really shocked and taken aback so I didn’t fight back or push him off. As soon as he let go I walked away but he followed me and kept repeatedly sticking his hand up my skirt. It made me feel violated and I started to wonder if I could have prevented it by wearing trousers instead of a dress. But it doesn’t seem fair that I should have to plan my outfits for just in case a man gropes me.”
Women and girls are slut shamed for what they wear, jealousy, for revenge, for being too forward, for being too sexually aggressive, for being openly sexual or proud, for refusing to perform sexual acts, or for being the victim of a sexual assault or rape. Women who are not sexually active can also be labeled as a slut. When it comes down to it, girls and women are slut shamed whether they are sexually active or not. They must walk the line of prude and sexy. Young women must present themselves as sexy and sexually experienced but not having sexual desires.
In a 2012 psychology study at the University of Michigan, 63% of men said they would accept an offer of casual sex, while 70% of women said they would not. Not because they did not want to but because they felt they would be perceived negatively. This shows that women who accept offers of casual sex are judged more harshly than men are.
The sexual double standard has created an atmosphere where men constantly police women and their bodies and this has led to a culture where “women will point the finger at someone else to divert attention away from themselves” (Tanenbaum, 2015). Once labeled a slut, the stigma and effects stay with the woman for life. It is no wonder then that girls and women would rather label another female as a slut so as to save themselves from the consequences that come from being labeled a slut.
“When I was in school, the cool thing was to lose your virginity at fourteen. Trying to fit in with everyone else I said that I’d had sex already. Even though it was the popular thing to say, once people thought I’d actually had sex, I became a slut. For three years I was slut shamed all because of a lie I had told while trying to fit in.”
Being slut shamed deeply affects women, especially young girls. They often develop a warped sense of their sexuality and either try to embrace the role of a slut, which usually spirals out of their control, or they become wary of any form of sexualising themselves, which can lead to excessive self control such as an eating disorder. 75% of young people with an eating disorder say that some form of bullying was the trigger for them developing a disorder (Eating Disorder Hope, 2016). But the consequences can be more extreme; “one in five students has been [sexually] assaulted, though only 12 percent of those who have been assaulted report the violence” (Tanenbaum, 2015).
Once a girl has been labeled a slut, she is often also labeled as easy or ‘always up for it’. In many cases when a girl is sexually assaulted or raped her story is called into question and even after the boys or men are sentenced, her sexual history and behaviour is often used against her. The idea that a slut is ‘asking for it’ is still prevalent in today’s society as is using a woman’s sexual history to justify a sexual assault or rape. In 2012, Ched Evans, a footballer was sentenced to five years imprisonment for raping a woman. In 2014 Evans launched his second appeal of the conviction and the appeals court granted him a retrial on the basis of ‘new evidence’. The ‘new evidence’ was two of the woman’s previous sexual partners who described her sexual behaviour as similar to what Evans had described. In 2015, Evans was cleared of all charges.
“I was drugged and sexually assaulted. The first thing some of my friends asked me was what was I wearing and they accused me of dressing provocatively. They said I was ‘asking for it’ and should be ‘grateful that I got laid’. I’m not someone who ever goes out with that in mind and I never dress provocatively, not that that should make a difference. It made me feel worthless and helpless as a person, like I wasn’t ever going to be safe anywhere. If it wasn’t for my other friends, I’d have felt really isolated and alone.”
In 2011, an eleven year old girl was gang raped by eighteen young men in Cleveland, Texas. When the story was released the media “seemed to justify the men’s assaults by focusing on the girl’s behaviour: “[S]he dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.” (Poole, 2013). This eleven-year-old child was slut shamed, and her rape justified, because society and the media did not want to believe that these supposedly ‘normal’ men had gang raped her. Using pre-rape behaviour to label the girl a slut justifies that she had ‘chosen’ to become a victim.
In 2012, American congressman Todd Akin suggested that “sluts” cannot truly be raped, as “any woman who ‘chooses’ to put herself in a situation in which sexual violence is a risk is a ‘slut’ who implicitly consented to be assaulted” (Tanenbaum, 2015).
After analysing data from one hundred girls aged three to seventeen who had been victims of sexual assault, a sociologist at Marquette University found that a majority of the girls did not recognise what had happened to them as a crime, as they viewed sexual assault to be a crime only when it involves “violently forced vaginal penetration” (Tanenbaum, 2015).
These examples all show the consequences we currently face because slut shaming has been normalised.
“My boyfriend abused me when I was 15 and he was 17. I had no self-esteem and no control. After a particularly scary experience, I got the courage to break it off with him. True to high school, rumours spread quickly about what happened to me. Some even bluntly asked in public whether I was raped. I felt trapped and soon it seemed all anyone was talking about was my sex life. I went from virginal nerd to a slut overnight in the eyes of my peers. Stares, sly comments, and giggles followed me, even teachers looked at me differently. My mental health deteriorated quickly. Boys started claiming I’d slept with them, so my reputation got worse and worse. I felt like I was living the Scarlet Letter. I told my parents nothing; I lied to friends about what had happened because it was impossible to tell the truth with the scale of rumours. There were even intimate details written on tables, nothing was private anymore. Nobody wanted to hear my side of the story- or the truth. People even spat at me, slut shaming ruined my school life and was a big part of a breakdown when I was 17. It fuelled many suicide attempts and addiction to self-harm. I still suffer because of it today, catcalling and leers panic me so much I can’t use public transport and I’m terrified to walk alone.”