Battling 'slut-shaming'

UB community discusses cultural impact of gender roles in sexuality

By MADELAINE BRITT
On February 11, 2014

  • People in the UB community are talking about “slut-shaming.” Students posed for this photo to display the different expectations society has for men and women relating to their sex lives. Aline Kobayashi, The Spectrum
  • “Dudes are normally seen as awesome for sleeping with girls,” said Ali Mahmoud, a sophomore computer engineering major. “If you are going to shame someone for sleeping around, ignore their gender. Your belief should stand for both genders.”. Aline Kobayashi, The Spectrum

Her heels echo on the aluminum floor. The wrinkled skirt she wears shifts back and forth as her body struggles to stay balanced. Flyaway hair strands frame her face, which is covered in smudged eyeliner and remnants of lip stain. Stockings bunch awkwardly at the knees, and the early-morning sun reflects off the label-less plastic bottle poking out of her purse.

In the eyes of society, she is, according to global gender studies assistant professor Christine Varnado, a "slut" - a term used to express condemnation of a person's sexual behavior and actions. Many women who possess traits of sexual freedom are categorized and publicly shamed, Varnado explained.

Some students and faculty members are calling for a cultural change.

"We can think of 'slut-shaming' as any time the word 'slut' (or any of the many words like it, like whore or ho or easy) is used as a take-down or insult, whether it's actually about someone's sexual behavior, or because they're doing something else that draws disapproval - being outspoken or controversial or selfish or not 'nice' in the ways we expect women to be if they want to be liked," Varnado said in an email.

Women are timid about sharing their sexual behavior, and it isn't uncommon for them to hold back their attitudes and behaviors when it comes to sex, according to an Ohio State study. This may be a result of the judgment many women face when it comes to their sexual practices, Varnado said.

"Women or men can slut-shame; that's because it's used to police social standards about what is acceptable behavior for women," Varnado said. "Women who use these insults are in essence saying they have a stake in staying in the 'good' or socially-approved-of category; they're trying to differentiate themselves from other women, because as women, they're all at risk of being called a 'slut' next."

Julia Ramirez, a sophomore communication and sociology major, has seen such shaming happen in her friend circle. She is against it and believes men do not have to face the same criticisms as women when it comes to sexual activity.

She was angry when she witnessed her peers slut-shaming her female friend.

"If it was reversed with guys, it would not be the same situation," Ramirez said. "[Society] doesn't accept as much as it could. You don't hear it as much with guys. It's like, 'Oh cool, high five. You slept with a lot of people.'"

Some men on campus, like Ali Mahmoud, think the double standard needs to end. Mahmoud said although he has never personally seen slut-shaming, it is something that shouldn't be just for women.

"It sucks that it doesn't work both ways for gender," said Mahmoud, a sophomore computer engineering major. "Dudes are normally seen as awesome for sleeping with girls.

"If you are going to shame someone for sleeping around, ignore their gender. Your belief should stand for both genders."

That is not the case, however, based on Varnado's findings. She said society sets higher expectations for women than for men when it comes to sexual relationships.

"Unfortunately, the sexual double-standard is alive and well, and I think the root of the problem is that women are still not quite seen as whole, complicated people," Varnado said. "Their social status - and even, in some people's eyes, their morality - is still so unfortunately attached to their sexual conduct or lack thereof.

"It's kind of sick when you think about it: that roughly one-half of the population has to deal with the entire population's feelings and opinions about what they do sexually ... I wish this for men, too - for everyone, straight and gay and otherwise - to realize that sexuality is a complicated and fun part of being human, not a tool for the social police."

Brynna Owens, a senior communication major, can't think of a good reason women should feel violated by society when it comes to their sex lives.

"Women should be able to do anything with their bodies," Owens said. "Anyone who says otherwise is an a**hole. How is that for blunt?"

Every woman witnesses slut-shaming, Owens said. She believes double standards are taught at a young age.

"It starts on an educational level," Owens said. "We are taught at school, telling girls to cover up because they are distracting men with their knees and shoulders. I thought that we were beyond that. We need to teach people to respect one another from intelligence to what they do with their bodies. If we don't, we are only contributing to a greater level of rape culture."

Andrew Safe, a freshman English major, said if society doesn't change its views on females and their sexuality, the double standard for men will continue.

"I don't know where it stems - [maybe] from history and how women are locked in roles," Safe said. "Men are proud when they sleep around but not when women do that. Society is really touchy about women's sexuality."

To Shannon Torpey, a freshman political science major, slut-shaming comes down to the feeling that women should be subordinate. Gender roles are a big part of it, she said.

"It's the way that people view men and women - how they contribute to society," Torpey said. "Women being sexual is a way of being dominant."

But for Varnado, sexual shaming is not the root of the problem. To her, calling a person a slut is no different from using any other destructive slang.

"It's really important to understand you don't even have to have sex toget slut-shamed," Varnado said. "It's a form of social violence - bullying, really - that relies completely on no one ever questioning that for women, 'slut' would be a terrible thing to be, and thus an extremely hurtful insult or rumor to deploy when you really want to do some damage."

 

email: news@ubspectrum.com


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