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(sex)uality: slut shaming, the double standard of sexual promiscuity

‘What’s the boy word for slut?’
‘They still haven’t come up with one yet’
- Definitely, Maybe (2008)

Why is that?

Mary Jane Sherfey asserted in 1966, that the female sex drive is an insatiable force that has been repressed by society for the sake of maintaining a civilised social structure. For every action there is an equal or opposite reaction, and Sherfey states that the strength of the female sex drive can be measured as equal to the force exerted by society to repress it.

So who is exerting the force? Baumeister and Twenge evaluated theories in 2002 surrounding the suppression of female sexuality. Their findings supported the ‘female control’ theory. Basically, if women ‘aren’t as interested in sex’ the man is at a disadvantage and must provide incentives (such as marriage) to entice females to have sex. The scarcity of sex, because apparently women aren’t interested in it, makes it worth more. Any individual ‘bringing down the price’ is a perceived threat to the group. As such, she will be discouraged from acting in this way through peer pressure, ostracism, and the ‘S’ word: slut.

To have relationships reduced to this kind of dry, cold, material exchange is terrifying. Yet, women do direct the ‘S’ word at other women more often than seems right. Why is this? Are we threatened as individuals? Is it our ‘market value’ being threatened? Let’s, for a moment, start to question this propensity to call someone a ‘slut’ at the drop of a hat.

Why we would degrade each other by using a term designed to suppress female sexual activity? I want everyone to have the option to take a different action from judging and name-calling. Aside from the commodity market of marriage and sexual favours, which I would like to relegate to pre-sexual revolution times, what could the reasons for calling another woman the ‘S’ word?

Safety
Oftentimes, when you are out on the town, you see a girl at the drunken end of the scale who is flirting indiscriminately without any regard for her personal safety. The girl’s actions put her in a situation where her safety is in question. If the wrong person decides to take advantage of her extra friendly and uninhibited state, she could be in serious trouble. Perhaps our reason for using the ‘S’ word is out of concern for her safety. Maybe, in a bizarre way, we want the social censure to cause the girl to rethink her behaviour and act in a way that keeps her safe.

If this is the case, we should make ourselves aware of this. In a state of awareness we can be more able to understand why we are lashing out and act in a way that is more congruent with our values. If someone is acting in a way that could endanger their person, instead of ostracising the individual we could help. Take her to a cab, get her a strong coffee, have a chat and ask if everything is okay. You are going to feel better about yourself and so will she.

Fear of ‘the other woman’
Another potential reason for lashing out at other women’s sexual behaviour could be a belief that perhaps this could be a woman who breaks the code of the sisterhood and ‘steals’ men. Out of a sense of support for our sisters, we want to protect them from the heartbreak of being cheated on by their partners.

I have a really simple solution for responding to this fear. Leave it up to person IN the relationship to SAY NO! Wow, what? Letting people be responsible for their own sexual restraint and their own actions within their relationship? We might not be able to protect the sisterhood from cheaters, but we can protect them from harsh words and judgments that shouldn’t really be directed at them.

Every woman can be, and often is, called a slut. It is a gendered slur designed to keep female sexual behaviour within the confines of the patriarchal ideals of ‘how a woman should act’ within a society. It can be directed at women who dress provocatively or women who unashamedly admit to being sexual. It can also be directed at women who have the simple misfortune of being born attractive. It doesn’t benefit us, so why do women get on the ‘slut’ bandwagon?

For whatever reason, we have been socialised to shame anyone acting outside our idea of appropriate sexual behaviour. It is a double standard though. There is no ‘boy word for slut’. Men who are promiscuous might receive a reputation as a ‘bad boy’…. but don’t girls stereotypically go for the bad boy? This reinforces the same behaviour in men with a desirable connotation to their reputation. Meanwhile, we call women engaged in those same behaviours, sluts.

Next time you feel the ‘S’ word on the tip of your tongue, think about the social conditioning that went into creating that sexist slur. Think about how subjective the definition of ‘slut’ is and how you could be fitting into that definition for someone else. Think about how you would feel being called a slut, just because your actions don’t fit into someone else’s ideal for how a woman ‘should’ act. Aren’t we, as people, supposed to be empathetic, after all?

(Image credit: 1.)

3 thoughts on “(sex)uality: slut shaming, the double standard of sexual promiscuity

  1. Hi Sara! I’m curious what you think about the idea of ‘reclaiming’ the word ‘slut’. I hear in the polyamory community it is used already as a term of affection.

  2. Sometimes it’s hard not to slut shame when my roommate cheats on her boyfriend continuously and constantly, and doesn’t use protection. She doesn’t hide it from me either….she talks about her conquests. She doesn’t even know many of their names and she uses many of them for money. Honestly, it’s not that she’s having sex with different dudes, but it’s the cheating and not using protection part. And yes, she has herpes and has told me. She says that if she ever gets pregnant, she’ll abort because she hates kids – her words. This is where sex positive feminism can kiss my ass because that kind of behavior is just foul and nasty and yes, I will say something about it because she’s not just doing this to her own body, but she’s giving men diseases and lying about it. It’s disgusting.

  3. Slut is actually a unisex term… the fact that it is often used to describe a woman is irrelevant. I have often heard women calling men sluts. If a woman OR a man act in a dishonest or disrespectful way to themselves or others, or they or lack dignity… why not call a spade a spade? Feminism attacks the objectification of women, yet also promotes it as being a woman right to objectify herself… thats pretty messed up and schizophrenic. What we wear, just like what we say… does effect how we are perceived… this video proves it… 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab… ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgw6y3cH7tA

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