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 and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 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?
      https://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.

  13. @jswakis…sounds like you’re on the right track. 😉 I agree that as human beings, we all make judgments about others at some point in life.
    Sometimes it is positive, sometimes not so much.

    However, it sounds like your eyes have been opened to the fact that everyone is different and sometimes we need to look within before judging others harshly based on appearances. And yes, I understand it is how you were raised but it is good that you’re trying to overcome that mentality. I had a very similar mindset when I was much younger because my family (and certain others) looked down on certain women especially if the woman was pretty, but at the same time, they seemed to worship beauty.
    It was very confusing to me.

    When I was in Las Vegas recently, there were a lot of pretty women and some of them wore very skimpy outfits despite the cold weather. At times I wondered if they might have been cold or if they were comfortable, but not in a catty way…I just admired their beauty and style, and remembered the days when I wore similar outfits.
    I also can’t wear high heels anymore due to foot problems so I have to wear flat shoes all the time now which sucks, but oh well.

    As to people who say things about another person like, why are you wearing that? It all comes down to that person’s free will and choice. I’ve had people make some very negative comments about my appearance, including my choice to wear makeup.
    I don’t wear a lot of makeup but some people still feel entitled to comment on things like my makeup, hair, clothing, weight, body parts, etc.

    Some women feel more comfortable in sweatpants and a t-shirt with flip flops (I personally hate that look).
    Other women strike a balance with casual, but cute clothes/shoes. And still others prefer to be all dolled up with perfect hair and makeup and glamorous outfits.

  14. Hi,
    I was very interested in this topic because just last week my coworker asked me what did I think about double standards on slut-shaming. He mentioned, “sometimes I think to myself all women are the same, they all just care about make up, want to have fun, go out, get drunk, have sex”. My reaction to that was very defensive because I don’t really focus on make up, I’m not a big fan of parties or living young wild and free. Then he said to me, “but then I think, not all are the same, there are some who focus on different things in life”. Without noticing I slut-shamed women for the way the dress and talk to seduce men or get their attention. I do not like to be put under that category because I’m a woman. Since my way of doing things is very much different than those women who choose to expose themselves to that extent I was ashamed for a moment. I told him I didn’t like that in a way they put me in an unfair position of being viewed as one of them.

    • Thanks for sharing that experience. I’ve noticed that I have been on both sides of this. Sometimes I have been attacked because another woman was jealous of me. Other times I have noticed myself doing a little slut-shaming — not of a particular woman but in the way you did. But recognizing that we do things is the first step toward change.

  15. Hi,
    This is a very interesting article as it pointed out that women are actually more likely to call out on another woman’s more revealing style. I think that is somehow due to jealousy that is within them. I have my female friends showing me another girl’s Instagram and asked me if I thought she was pretty. I think that is when they feel like the girl is beautiful and perhaps more beautiful than herself so she wants an opinion from another. I do, however can find other ways men are jealous of another man. (I am going to refrain from using the word “slut-shaming” for this content because it doesn’t fit) I suspect that a portion of people who don’t like Justin Bieber is partially due to the fact that he is a good looking man. (It is not an opinion of only myself but magazines such as Glamour shared the same opinion) People are jealous of another good looking and beautiful same- sex because they are afraid that they have better chances for having a girlfriend or boyfriend. Just like other animals compete for female mates.

  16. I found this article very engaging, I’ve noticed this double standard, as I hope most have, and I’ve realized how this happens unconsciously. Its interesting to see that when a man has a number of partners their praised and considered “manly’, but when a woman has a number of partners their considered a “slut.” . Both Women and men are products of falling into societies expectations and double standards, men are judged if they don’t sleep with enough women. And women are considered pure if they are a virgin but when a man’s a virgin they are considered “prude.” Society is constantly using misogynistic terms making women feel less than. Women are often seen as “catty” towards each other, constantly bringing each other down, I never fully understood and still not quiet sure on to why this happens. Women are taught unconsciously that they must compete for each other for a mans attention, which is why women can be more “catty” towards each other. But i do not agree that all women slut shame other women because they are particularly “jealous.” This also has a lot to do with culture, religion, and era. It is a shame that a woman who is perceived “beautiful” are bullied by women who don’t fit the definition of “beauty” at that moment in time. The definition of beauty changes so frequently it is sad that us humans make others feel unworthy or unattractive because they don’t fit that image. Imagine just a hundred years ago, being “full bodied” was considered beautiful now being “skinny” is considered beautiful. Women are in a constant battle that was created by men, to make themselves feel powerful, women fight with each other for a man. It is more then getting a mans attention, it is not fitting that image of beauty in that moment in time and causing them to have insecurities.

    • Yeah, and in the end even guys are hurt by this, Since most of them would like more sex than they get. But women don’t want to have sex when they will get punished. And over time this sort of punishment represses women’s sexuality, leaving nearly half of us with sexual dysfunctions like low interest, difficulty climaxing, and pain.

      That’s probably one reason why a lot of guys are against patriarchy — guys are hurt by it to.

  17. This article describes that bout men and women slut shame. I am very aware of the slut shame that a lot of women are going through, on the other side this article made me aware that slut shame is maybe even more common among girls than boys. Boys want the approval that their girl is faithful even though he might not be faithful back and therefore use words like hoe to describe that if a girl does this and this they will act like a hoe.

    The interesting part about this article was to see that girls’ slut shame each other even more. I know this is true, I guess I just didn’t think about it myself. Every time a girl, random girl or a friend, wears clothes that show off her boobs or her ass, we girls tend to noticed it and comment it. I believe that we might do that because we are not secure. We find negative things with each other and tend to take them down, to build us higher. We can call another friend a hoe, because she had sex with the cutest boy- even though it’s totally wrong to call her that, we tend to be jealous and then we act in a negative way. My point is that if we really want to decrease the slut shaming we all have to start with ourselves, and stop being so prejudice and unsecure with ourselves.

  18. “But little power is thus gained. The power to get men to commit, maybe.”

    The power to get men to commit is the whole deal! Yet you dismiss it so easily.

    Women slut shame other women because a slut infiltrating the community undermines their whole strategy, and it’s competition to their man. Men on the other hand, as a generalisation, are tired of women withholding sex, so a victory over the entrenched Matriarchy is a victory for all, plus it’s good intelligence to know where the easy women are to be found.

    • Well you are looking at it from a stereotypical perspective and not from a real perspective. Women aren’t so desperate to get guys to commit as men seem to assume.

      • It doesn’t matter if they are desperate or not, it’s instinctual. Your argument is like saying men don’t care about sex, because they are not so desperate to have children as you assume. The instinctual behaviour has become detached (somewhat) from the intellectual outcome.

      • Really, there’s just not a big difference in how much women versus men want a committed relationship.

        By the way, see my comment policy. Especially #3: https://broadblogs.com/comment-policy/ I don’t have the time or energy to read and respond to all of your comments. And I won’t approve comments unless I have at least how do chance to skim through them.

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