What’s a Slut? It’s About Socio-Economic Status

Slut-shaming is something one shouldn’t do because it’s a patriarchal tool for controlling women’s sexuality.

But is there more to it than that?

I have a couple sisters, and growing up it seemed like girls called each other sluts more than boys did. Sometimes one girl was mad at another. Other times a girl wanted a boy to think ill of another girl. Which isn’t a good strategy.

In high school, the boys seemed less concerned about sluts, except in three situations:

  • He’s looking for casual sex and thinks she’s a good prospect, in which case her sluttiness is a positive;
  • He’s looking for a relationship, in which case her sluttiness rules her out, but it’s not hugely negative unless a relationship is already established or he thinks it’s about to be;
  • Or they’ve done the deed and she thinks it means they’re in a relationship, but he disagrees, in which case labelling her a slut is an excuse for dumping her.

That’s just my opinion. So let’s turn to science. Dr Elizabeth A Armstrong and Dr Laura Hamilton found that affluent women can sleep around without being labelled sluts. But poor women, even virgins, are far more often labelled sluts – and usually by more affluent women.  Armstrong states, “This finding made little sense until we realized that college women also used the term as a way to police class boundaries”.

That neo-puritanism/Victorianism are as much about women controlling other women’s access to men as they are male control of women’s sexuality isn’t surprising to many of us, however.

What does this mean for slut walks? There was one is my fair city, but I stayed home to avoid the crowds. (Though I once accidentally attended an alternative energy rally because I was out for a bicycle ride and happened upon the scene. All the hippies thought I rode my bike there on purpose, and they gave me stickers and a free coffee.)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that slut walks are mostly attended by white college women, who being among the educated skew disproportionately higher on the socio-economic scale. It’s ironic that they’re primarily blaming men for slut-shaming when in fact it’s these women’s peers who are the worst offenders.

I agree that slut-shaming is inappropriate. But neither do I believe in shaming pick-up artists (aren’t they just male sluts?). “Man up”, and other variations such as being called a misogynist for disagreeing with anti-male aspects of feminist theory, also is inappropriate shaming.

Shaming in general is ineffective. One feels guilt when there’s a mismatch between one’s ideal moral self and one’s actual behaviour. But shame is a mismatch with other people’s or society’s expectations of oneself.

Unless real harm has been done, shaming is a manipulative attempt to control someone’s behaviour. Submission is not a healthy response, but fighting back is. Telling someone clearly, “I decide this for myself, you are not entitled to impose this on me”, is a way to take back one’s power without shaming the shamer.

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