there are no real sluts

slutlast week’s atlantic article about slut shaming was eye opening.  the article written by olga khazan explores a study by two researchers who interviewed 54 women between their freshman year to their first year out of college. their findings about financial security and inequality are captured in their book paying for the party. however, the results of their research project didn’t stop there. what the women learned about how the college students labeled, shamed and marginalized each other based on real (but most often perceived) sexual promiscuity is fascinating.

“all but five or six of the women practiced “slut-shaming,” or denigrating the other women for their loose sexual mores. but they conflated their accusations of “sluttiness” with other, unrelated personality traits, like meanness or unattractiveness. it seems there was no better way to smear a dorm-mate than to suggest she was sexually impure.”

in a patriarchal society the fact that women are held to unattainable standards of sexual purity isn’t new — hell, the fact that we hold ourselves and each other to these standards is the most damaging.  however, there are two things interesting about this study: 1.) while the term was commonly used among these women, there was no strict definition of a slut, and 2.) the concept was used to enforce class hierarchies, with the wealthier girls being allowed to have “loosier” sexual mores (think kim khardashian and paris hilton versus love and hip hop star mimi faust). so what’s the purpose of having a word in the english language that has no strict definition, but forces women to live under amorphous constraints? the article breaks the answer to this question down perfectly:

“… “slut” is simply a misogynistic catch-all, a verbal utility knife that young people use to control women and create hierarchies. there may be no real sluts, in other words, but there are real and devastating consequences to slut-shaming.”

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