Women Slut-Shame More Than Men?

19TIER_SPAN-articleLargeStereotypes and evolutionary psych say men slut-shame because they want to know that their partner’s babies are not some other guy’s.

But women are actually more likely to promote the double-standard. Here’s one study of shaming in action:

McMaster University psychologists told college women that they were studying female friendships. They actually wanted to see how women respond to sexy vs non-sexy women, as pictured above.

When a plainly dressed woman entered a room, she was nearly invisible and received no negativity. But adorned in short skirt and revealing blouse, virtually everyone became hostile. As John Tierney explained in the New York Times:

They stared at her, looked her up and down, rolled their eyes and sometimes showed outright anger. One asked her in disgust, “What the [expletive] is that?”

Most of the aggression, though, happened after she left the room. Then the students laughed about her and impugned her motives. One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts “were about to pop out.”

I get why men would push a double-standard. It creates a sense of male superiority: men are free (to have sex), women are not. Plus, ridiculed women are lesser-than. Also, if women withhold sex, it becomes a greater prize in the ritual proving of manhood.

But why would women slut-shame when it represses their own freedom and sexuality?

Well, many think their sex drive is natural and unaffected by this sort of thing.

And, both men and women have internalized the double standard – meaning it has seeped, unconsciously, into our heads. So it seems natural and persists even when criticism chips away at it.

Still, what is gained?

Psychologist, Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, says women gain power over men by limiting sexual access, so they become hostile toward promiscuous women.

But little power is thus gained. The power to get men to commit, maybe. And men choose to commit when they are in love, even amidst other options.

I suspect hostility arises more because women’s worth is so tied to their looks. A sexy beauty walks in the door and practically shouts, “I’m better than you.” Then, slut-shaming can become a weapon.

And, most women don’t feel at liberty to approach men. They must passively attract, instead. They may get angry when others seem better at it.

Regardless of the reason, the more attractive a teen girl or woman is, the more likely she is to be bullied by her peers.

So both women and men slut-shame. It arises from men’s worries that they aren’t man enough and women’s worries that they aren’t beautiful enough. And it all harms relationships between men and women, and women and women, and women and their own bodies as their sexuality is repressed.

Surely, there are way better ways to feel good about yourself.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Girls Walk Fine Line Between Attractive, Slut
Did Slut-Shaming Kill Phoebe Prince?
From Being Bullied to Being a Star

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 16, 2013, in feminism, psychology, sex, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. I think there might be another reason for women slut-shaming other women: out of the sense that a provocatively dressed woman compromises all women’s efforts to fight objectification and be taken seriously.Or is that just a feminist’s perspective?

  2. I confess, I sometimes shake my head at the outfits I see some women wear. I remember being in college and thinking to myself that some of the girls must be freezing as they walked to the bar during the winter in a mini skirt. I also knew friends who verbally told me they were wearing what they were wearing to attract the attentions of a man.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just not my cup of tea.

    To say that every woman dresses the way she does for the sake of male enjoyment is disgusting, but I think it’s still a thought in all our minds. It shouldn’t be a crime for a woman to want to look good for her own sake. I wonder if slut-shaming would even be a thing if we instead assumed a woman always dresses for herself.

    • I’m not thrilled with objectification, myself, but I don’t think that slut shaming is the way to deal with it (I’m guessing you don’t either). See my response to carinaintheory above.

      I actually surveyed my students on why they dressed sexy -– Which is different from objectifying yourself (it may or may not overlap) and about one-third of them said they did it with men in mind, another third did it with women in mind (dressing to impress other women or raising their status among women) and another one-third did it because they were trying to meet societal ideals. I’ll be writing on that at some point.

      • Those responses are interesting. I look forward to reading those as well.

        I suppose my stance on something like this is that people should be able to do what they want. Who cares how anyone dresses so long as it meets local decency laws (because I’m pretty sure there is a law saying I can’t walk outside naked).

      • Yes. And you would be right.

  3. Ugh, I hate knowing that I am sometimes guilty of this. I try not to be, especially because I live near a large University but my boyfriend has caught me doing “the look” where I sort of appraise someone from a distance with the “what is she wearing?!” face. At least he calls me out on it… it makes sense about thinking that somehow your “property value” is diminished by the sudden appearance of someone more attractive. In my defense I choose to believe that a fair amount of the time I’m just checking them out with the men ;)

  4. This is really insightful-about why people slut-shame and that women do it more than men. Thanks for breaking it down so articulately. There does seem to be something primal that gets struck by seeing a woman perceived as sexual by either gender-being perceived promiscuity even– and I am really curious about this now.

    • Yes, it seems primal. But culture seems to be behind it. For instance, tribal men don’t see nearly nude women the way Western men do. And if a woman’s worth weren’t so strongly based on her looks, women probably wouldn’t get so upset when a gorgeous, sexy woman walks in the room. Again, you don’t find a woman’s worth being based on looks everywhere.

  5. Ah… so once more society has done this to itself and then we just all perpetuate it. Nice to know though that under it all this isn’t our natural tendency, which means it really can be unlearned.

  6. I hate the term “slut shaming”. That said, I look at women who fall into the “I have no worth unless I’m the fairest in the land” with pity. Though I blame patriarchal society for creating all the maidens, I believe women and girls have a responsibility to step up and stop perpetuating this ugly cycle of wanting to be nothing more than a slab of beef. They need to be enlightened. And I’m happy to do that. ;). But it’s important to note that women, though should be able to dress how they want, do a serious injustice by being a simpleton, shallow crowd (aka men) pleaser. So I disagree that “equality” means do what you want. Not when, as a result, women like me and you will never be taken seriously because of it.

  7. “Women are wonderful” effect.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E2%80%9CWomen_are_wonderful%E2%80%9D_effect

    The “women are wonderful” effect is the phenomenon found in psychological research which suggests that people associate more positive attributes with the general social category of women compared to men. Related to ambivalent sexism, this effect reflects an emotional bias toward the female gender as a general case.

    In a review conducted by Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991), strong evidence was found that women are evaluated quite favorably as a general social category, and significantly more favorably than men.

    These studies also found that people automatically favored their mothers over their fathers, and associated male gender with violence or aggression.

    • Yes, it’s true.

      In a lot of ways we favor males and male-things over female. When you look at stereotypes that we believe adhere to males versus females(which they often don’t in real life) we prefer active over passive, leader over follower, rational over emotional, Etc.

      But we think women are nicer, and we really value that. So despite having less status and privilege, we like women more.

  8. As a man who doesn’t consider himself misogynist which…I know…everyone else gets to be the judge of that… I’ve often been confused about what “objectification” even entails, maybe because I don’t do it its hard to put myself in those shoes? But then maybe I do do it by feminist standards and don’t acknowledge it as such. I personally can be very sexually attracted to someone and even notice a difference in arousal in what they wear, and this still does not make me respect them any less for anything else. I’ve been very attracted to co-workers before that I still respected as co-workers. I sought to learn from them and appreciated their work and my attraction wasn’t in-spite of this nor effected by it. There were many others I respected I wasn’t aroused by. I’ve never understood I guess why one HAS to imply the other. But I also don’t see why seeing someone is a sexual way means they must be an “object” either. Am I on the right track or is there something I’m missing about my mindset?

    • If a man saw Angelina Jolie and got aroused, and saw her as nothing but something that existed to sexually gratify him — he didn’t care about her state of mind, wishes, desires… She only existed to serve him, then she would be a sex object.

      Or, a man could see Angelina Jolie and get aroused, but also recognize that there is more to her: she is a talented actress, writer, director, producer, mother, UN ambassador and humanitarian. If he ever had the opportunity to be with her, he would care about her state of mind, wishes, desires… He would know that she did not only existed to serve him. So she is not a mere sex object.

      Arousal isn’t the problem. If it were, women and men couldn’t both respect each other and reproduce the next generation and humanity would come to an end. So of course you can find someone arousing and also respect them.

      Take a look at this post:
      Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?

      http://broadblogs.com/2014/05/26/anything-good-about-being-a-sex-object-2/

  9. I hate the arbitrary analysis of Dr. whoever suggesting that women are basically jealous of the sexy woman able to get attention. That’s basically what most men think when women criticize other women’s behavior and “trashy” look. Not that slut-shaming is an appropriate way to handle things but I think there are many women who dislike raunchy women because of other reasons too. Some women do have a background that emphasizes modesty and finds that value important. Of course they cannot force other women to have the same values but they feel instant repulse to immodesty. As someone said already, the women flaunting their sexuality also seem to undermine the efforts of other women trying to not be objectified. When they express dislike to singers, porn stars or so they get dismissed by men calling them “jealous.” They simply do not want to be put in the same category like that and be told by men that the most objectives of women is to appear sexy to men.

  10. I’ve been slut-shamed by both men and women. I admit to slut-shaming somebody else once years ago, when I was younger…it was a girl who was after my boyfriend in high school.
    My thoughts on slut-shaming? It is immature behavior that often stems from an immature mentality. If a person is secure within themselves, there is no need to attack somebody else for what they wear or what they look like or for being perceived as sexy/sexual.

    On the one hand, I understand the concept that some women believe being viewed as “sexy” by men is setting women/feminism back. I don’t believe that a woman’s only worth is tied to her appearance or what she can do sexually for men. We are much more than that. But at the same time, women are not a monolith…we don’t all share the same feelings or thoughts or beliefs or experiences.
    Some women actually find empowerment through objectification while others might find it degrading. Some women are very feminine in a very flamboyant way, like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith (before she became a train wreck) and Pam Anderson and even Kim Kardashian.
    Some women love to express themselves and yes, flaunt their bodies through clothes and makeup. I find it interesting that many of the women who carry themselves in this way tend to be more open-minded and less judgmental of others in general, while the ones who are mostly into a more conservative look are often quick to cut another person down, with the exception of one woman I know who dresses provocatively with her breasts on display but slut-shames others (ironic, isn’t it?)

    I love makeup and I also love sex, two things that made some people hate me when I was growing up. And I still don’t see why because I wasn’t sleeping with anyone’s boyfriend/husband…I was a girl who liked to dance and flirt sometimes and most of the sex I had was in a fairly long-term relationship with a guy I loved.
    As to makeup? I was shamed so badly that for about 3 years I stopped wearing makeup completely. I’m not hideous without makeup, I don’t wear it because I hate myself without it, but I’ve always been feminine and I enjoy being able to play with makeup. It is a soothing ritual to put on mascara and eyeliner and to enhance my natural beauty…it helps me feel prettier. But according to some people, wearing makeup (even a little bit) is sinful and unnatural and slutty.

    People need to understand that sex isn’t dirty. It is OK to have healthy desires and to BE desired…there is nothing wrong with that as long as no one is hurt. You don’t have to like it or approve of it, but it isn’t anyone’s place to belittle somebody or “shame” them because they are having sex or wearing makeup or a short skirt.

  11. @wun…I see what you’re saying and it makes sense. I agree with you to some extent. But it can also be said that women who slut-shame other women are engaging in misogyny. I understand how annoying it can be when a guy says “you’re just jealous because she’s hot”. That is really immature. But at the same time, there is some truth in that statement sometimes. As women, it might be painful to admit that some women receive a lot more male attention than others for whatever reason…they are flirty or vivacious, they are seen as prettier or sexier, big boobs, hourglass shape, or they don’t even have to be any of these things to get attention. Some women simply have a certain “presence” that makes people notice them even if they aren’t always conventionally attractive.

    I’m not what most people would call gorgeous but I’m aware that I have this presence, this something about me. It really bothered some girls and women when I was around…and trust me, I wasn’t trying to steal anyone’s man. I remember several instances of girls ganging up on me as a young girl (even some adult women joined in!) because they felt threatened. This is what “slut-shaming” does, it divides women and keeps us from understanding one another fully as individuals.

    Personally, I don’t see how a woman wearing sexy clothes or makeup or being sexy is an attempt to undermine anybody else. I don’t think that most women who “flaunt” their sexuality do so because they’re trying to hurt/disrespect anyone. I think they are simply comfortable with looking a certain way and in some cases, being perceived a certain way…but it doesn’t have much bearing on all other women. Again, we aren’t a monolith because every woman is different. Some women choose to play by the rules of society and only have sex within marriage or a committed relationship and dress conservatively and wear little makeup. Other women choose to wear halter tops and short skirts and 6-inch heels, paired with smokey eyes and red lips. They choose to have sex with different people and sometimes they make mistakes, but it doesn’t make them bad people.

    As to women who look down on strippers and porn stars, it can be said that they don’t understand how a person can end up in that lifestyle…it is easy for people to judge and dislike what they don’t understand. Porn stars and other women who work in the sex industry are not inherently evil, despite what society often says. If a woman feels threatened by a porn star, she might want to look within and ask herself what the real problem is…why dislike a person you don’t even know? Is it because they aren’t fully comfortable with the idea of a woman having complete autonomy over her own sexuality? Is it because they, themselves have internalized shame and so they want to impose/project that shame onto others to keep them in line?

    Look, I understand that some people were raised in a very conservative way. I certainly was…my mother emphasized that I was to remain “pure” until marriage. Makeup was frowned upon when I was a teenager, a time when most girls should be free to play with makeup if they want to. I had people trying to “police” my sexuality even when I became an adult…slut-shaming was rampant then. I remember doing nothing more than dancing innocently with a male friend at a party once and this friend of my cousin started calling me names and saying mean things out of the blue, things that weren’t true.
    This girl disliked me for some reason so she attacked me simply for having fun. At a party. When there was nothing remotely inappropriate or even sexual going on. I was 22 years old. The same is also true of the time my uncle locked me up in his house for two hours (again, as a grown woman) because somebody told him that they saw me talking to a guy on the street. Do you see what I’m saying here? There is something very wrong with slut-shaming and people trying to impose their fake morality on others.

  12. I have to admit it. I’ve done that. I have judged women because of their looks. However, I don’t think I do it because “I get angry when others seem better at” being sexy. I know it’s wrong to judge people like that, but it is something I can’t help. It is like how come you are wearing that? Is that comfortable? Is that what you learned at home? And I think all this is because of the way my parents raised me. I now think that there is nothing wrong with that. Everybody is different, have different ways of thinking, they all have different lives, and also free to do whatever they want. I shouldn’t be slut-shaming other girls because that’s none of my business, instead I should be taking care of my own, and see what’s wrong with myself.

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