Think We’ve Overcome Victorian Repression?

Think we’ve overcome Victorian sexual repression and now enjoy a sex-positive society? What about statements like this:

Some girls make it difficult for the rest of us to get respect.

That’s what a sorority sister said about girls who “give it away” too easily.

When I ask my students in the progressive San Francisco Bay Area what they think about this, I often hear thoughts like this:

Yeah that’s true. Some girls do give it up too easily and make it hard on the rest of us.


Their mamas didn’t teach them right.

Shaming girls for being “too easy”

All of my American students have witnessed slut-shaming in high school. And some of them have been shamed. Even without being sexually active.

One had transformed herself from tomboy to fashion-plate over the summer. But when she returned to school in the fall the kids at her middle school mocked her as “easy” and a “slut.” She spent lunch hours hiding in the bathroom — she didn’t want to eat because she’d lost her appetite, and she felt safer there. Eventually she began home schooling to escape the abuse and was put on suicide watch.

Another girl was shamed just because she had C cups by 6th grade. And when she eventually became sexually active, she was humiliated — although the boys she had sex with were not.

These girls often blame themselves instead of questioning the double standard.

Against fears of punishment for being sexual young women damp down their desire, oftentimes until it actually goes away, leaving about half of us with low to no interest in sex.

We don’t guilt guys that way. In fact, we cheer them on. Sometimes even for sexual assault. And too often we humiliate girls who are assaulted! More on that soon.

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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 October 2, 2017, in sex and sexuality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. I have always thought about the fact that women, starting at a young age, are exposed to a large amount of double standards. However, I have never realized that a lot of these morals that are upheld on a female’s side, such as modesty and Chasity, originally stem from the Victorian Era. Interestingly enough, as you mentioned in the blog post, many of the critics over a girls attire or sexual life seem to be other females. I went to an all-girls high school, so interaction with boys on campus with limited however every single person on campus new about the relationship status of another student, whether or not they wanted them to know. Many of the girls would be quick to judge each other, however when a boy would say the same about a girl, they were quick to defend her. I haven’t actually thought about it too often and I don’t think that anyone else truly was aware of how hypocritical our actions were at the time.

  2. We have come far in changing overall views to fit a more sex-positive society, but we also have a long way to go. Chapter five of Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices emphasizes the struggle women are still facing in regards to the politicization of their bodies. The chapter, “Gender and the Politics of the Body”, states that the “human body is not merely flesh and bones, it is also constructed by our culture” and that “women’s bodies are disproportionately judged on physical appearance and objectified”. Women are disproportionately judged for anything and everything to the point where other women feel that they need to distance themselves from those they feel are making it “hard for the rest of us”. These judgements are usually based on physical appearance alone and mostly do not take the actual actions of these individuals into consideration. A girl that matures faster does not necessarily become sexually active nor should she be shamed if she does choose to do so because she is not engaging alone and typically the male behavior is never questioned. To hear that girls as young as middle school are being shamed to the point of being put on suicide watch is heartbreaking.

  3. Our society hasn’t overcome Victorian sexual repression and is far from enjoying a sex-positive environment, especially for women. There is still no equality when speaking of sex, a bitter inheritance of the patriarchal society. Women were raised believing that they need to be rescued by a prince and live the ‘happily ever after’, and for that, they need to follow certain patterns of behaviors – the ‘good woman to marry’, otherwise they will be categorized as ‘not good to marry’ AKA slut. Furthermore, their sexual desires must only be related to the marriage. How many times I heard in my life that a man can never know the number of people that a woman had sex with, that she was asking to be sexually assaulted because of her clothes, and many others. That’s why, unfortunately, comments like “Some girls do give it up too easily and make it hard on the rest of us” don’t surprise me, and clearly show how our society still repressing woman’s sexuality, and the sad part is that the women themselves are being part of that. This kind of judgment is clearly different when related to men’s sexuality, there is no shame, on the opposite, it’s a sign of pride – the famous double-standards, that privileges men over a woman, the unfair heritage of the patriarchal.

    • I just saw this in the New York Times today: consumer technology innovation award was revoked from a company that makes a hands-free sex toy. The reason, some believe, is that the product is made for women.

  4. We have definitely made some progress in moving away from this Victorian sexual repression but I would not say that we have overcome it. There are such tremendous double standards when it comes to sex-positivity for men versus women. For men, ceasing the opportunity to date or have sexual relationships with people is seen as cool or admirable. Whereas for women, there is such a stigma around it. If a woman ceases her opportunities to explore her sexuality or date people it is often seen as sleazy or unacceptable. These unfair double standards of society are taking a toll on our younger generations. The experiences of these young ladies who have felt the cold unfair judgments of their peers because of their sexuality cut me to the core because I can relate on a personal level. I was once that young girl being slut-shamed by her peers because of a very natural phenomenon. It’s called growing up. I wish someone had told me when I was younger that as you grow up you will explore your sexuality and that you don’t need anyone’s approval. You should always remain authentic to your truest self and as cliche as it sounds, you must always listen to your heart. Don’t apologize or feel guilty about exploring your sexuality because it is so natural. That being said, I believe that it is our job to make moves to remove these unfair stigmas surrounding women’s sexual journey.

  5. Sexuality and women have always been a issue ever since the “pure maiden” image has been slapped onto women and everything related to femininity. Men are never subjected to mocking when it comes to promiscuity, and are even celebrated for being sexually active while women “lose” their prized possession — their virginity. For years, women are condemned for looking at all sexual; being chastised by schools for showing too much cleavage and tempting men, instead of educating men on behaving themselves and treating women like humans. Whether or not this double standard will improve in the coming decades remains to be seen, as many older generations still adamantly believe in putting the blame on the women — and newer generations are starting to adopt this mindset, too, whether we realize it or not. Many women struggle with internalized misogyny by accusing other women of being slutty, too, as explained in this article, and even mothers would shame their daughters to wear clothing with more coverage.

  6. Often I have found myself as one of those girls who “blame themselves instead of questioning the double standard,” likely due to the fact that modern society has not completely abolished principles of Victorian era repression. Though women have achieved greater equality, such as voting and taking active roles in leadership, the ridicule and male-superiority ideas remain the same.
    Based on a few of the students mentioned, around the age of puberty is when the initial encounters with repression take place. For example, one of them “was shamed just because she had C cups by 6th grade. And when she eventually became sexually active, she was humiliated — although the boys she had sex with were not.” I do think occurrences like this make women to an extent willing to act, dress, and think a certain way to avoid judgement or to idealize procedures like breast reduction/enlargement to appease others. Moreover, this gives opportunity for advertisement of particular beauty requirements. In the workplace, lots of actresses and models face ultimatums concerning image and the longevity of their success; male counterparts usually do not.
    We are only going to move forward as a nation by efforts which promote both genders alike.

  7. This topic has been one of my favorites so far, I highly believe and still experience the “Victorian Repression”. I personally have experienced that negativity with my own people about me being too liberal and modern. A women who works, goes to school, takes care of her children, and dresses up sexy does not make me an easy or bad person. Society still thinks that doing all of that is not good because we are not being good parents or cannot do a lot at the same time. If I decide to have sex or not we live in a country where we can do anything if we wanted to, but that feeling inside of me still bothers me because I tend to feel ashamed at times. That is because people have that idea and stigma about women with children need to behave a certain way. That just needs to stop at least I will make sure that my son or daughter do not feel that way. They can do whatever they wanted to and of course with respect within themselves and others around them. That is why i still think that as a society we have a lot of work to do and this repression against women or men needs to stop, we need to make changes now not tomorrow. Well at least I need to work on my insecurities and care less because I am as many other beautiful women out there who never give up!

  8. Women’s sexual repression is a difficult issue to deal with because while in the process of “unlearning repression” women oftentimes find themselves in between being comfortable of their sexuality AND trying not to be seen as an easy target of the society and men’s objectification. Being comfortable and in touch of one’s sexuality is a liberating feeling for a woman, however, it is seen by the society as an open door for criticisms about businesses that should not be theirs (sex life, relationships, and more). While it is already hard to educate oneself about how to embrace sexuality as well as not be judgmental of others’ sexual encounters, I wonder, how could we educate people, especially women, that slut-shaming others actually hurt the overall women’s standing in the society? What I’ve heard from people a lot of the times is that women who are open about their sexuality do not have self-respect apparently. People really do tie self-worth to sex in many aspects of life. I find this way of thinking very dangerous as it contributes to many women’s issue such as objectification and the likelihood of low self-esteem. When people tie respect with women hiding their sexuality, hiding their sexual expression, it promotes the thinking that those who can submit to this society’s standards are the only one’s who are “worthy.” Then, many are left unhappy.

  9. In a way it does feel like we have overcome the victorian sexual repression, I believe. But that independence and sexual freedom has backfired on us in a way that when we exercise these freedoms, we are punished for it. And just like we feel free to be whoever we want and experiment, men have also taken it upon themselves to also take what they want without permission.
    We are still bound by societal norms on what is called sexy or even slutty. Young girls will want to dress a certain way to fit in to what it is deemed popular standard but once they do so, they are slut shamed for it. It’s a no win situation in which only the girls get punished. We applaud the men for their sexual conquests and they are deemed masculine by having had sex. But put the shoe on the girl, the opposite is true.
    In a way we are stuck. It’s a repetitive cycle that we can’t break. I think that we the attitudes of men have to change before society as a whole can change their outlook. We can be free all we want but nothing will change if men don’t start treating women with the same regard as they do themselves. It’s only a starting point for change.

  10. Short answer, heck no! It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where a person is constantly being judged. You’re judged by your looks, your intelligence, the language you speak, the clothes you wear, where you live, etc. It is no different when it comes to your sexuality. Although movements continue to be attempted in changing the perception of women in society, in reality we are far from changing the traditional view that has come to expect woman to be proper, submissive and virtuous. Layer on human nature where envy and superficiality come in to play and now women have an even higher bar to reach for total societal confirmation. Not only is society dictating acceptability standards, women then have to deal with their peers’ dysfunction on how they are viewed. Where is the fairness in that? So, I say to my women friends, “Do you.” As long as no one is getting hurt, or hurting anyone in the process – live and let live.

  11. Think We’ve Overcome Victorian Repression?
    In my perspective I believe that victorian depression has not been overcome yet. I believe that there’s is nothing wrong with women being sexual, each person makes their own decision and it’s their body, if a girl wants to give up her virginity right away then it’s her choice and shouldn’t be judge by it. It is also for men to know to respect all women and know that not all women give up their virginity easily. It is in both and women’s nature to feel horny and be sexual, we all have our needs. Women shouldn’t be shamed, it’s a double standard. You are okaying men to be sexual and go on and sleep with women and are praised for it, when women should be allowed to and not judged. It’s also the thing how women are to be taught to show less skin because then men will look and yet when women show skin they are judged right away when we have the freedom to dress the way we want to. Why do people find women sexuality so wrong?, yet it’s in humans nature to be that way. People shouldn’t look at it that way, both men and women should be equal.

  12. Men who sexually assault women are oblivious to what they’re doing. It’s hard for them to admit what they did is considered “sexual assault”. Most men believe that “she wanted it” when in reality there was no consent leaving the assault burned into her memory forever afraid to tell anyone what had happened because nobody will believe it because the man they know “wouldn’t do that”. When rumors begin of someone having sex people are so quick to assume that they’re a slut but do they stop and think did she really want this to happen? Men do take pride in what they do, but when will they release no doesn’t mean yes?

  13. Reblogged this on sketchuniverse and commented:

  14. “…That’s what a sorority sister said about girls who “give it away” too easily.”
    Reminds me of when Trump said there was voter fraud.

  15. Just two weeks ago it was in the headlines that gender stereotypes are fixed by age 10. Presumably that includes repressive attitudes towards female sexuality. What we need, really, is more diversity in primary education, and (in the case of Mx Chloe Bressack) less tolerance of bigotry from transphobic parents.

    There’s no such thing as a slut. Sadly, there are all too many slut-shamers out there, and that’s a polite term for them.

  16. Absolutely, I think we are so repressed in the States… I truly do not understand how we as a society got so twisted and offended by sex ~ and resort to placing “blame” on women. It kills me. First, there is no blame to be had. Second, the concept of blame has been derived from a male-driven society (politics) and it is still going strong.

  17. Women who come across as “easy” can be labeled on both male and female sides of the spectrum. Whether it markets women and their bodies as a place for a man instead of for themselves or appear to a males as a “slut” there is no consideration for the woman behind this label. As said above there are multiple instances where woman are driven to fear being who they really are and resort to blaming their self value by others. It is too often that woman’s identities are engulfed into their label and feel that they have to conform to a certain, unrealistic, standard. There is no realism in this expectation. Not everyone can meet the endless varieties of specific standards that determine a woman as “normal”… and why should we have to? When men are praised for being laid but yet who asks if it was consensual? Males are fixed on the visual representation of a woman for being sexually attracted to them whereas females look for more emotional connection to be attracted to someone, yet we are still treated by males as a “hit it and quit it” and that can be all for a male. The sexual arousal from a woman and the pursuit to get laid seems to be the main objective for a male. So for some men to feel the need to label a woman as a “slut” or “too easy” is baffling. Woman even criticize each other for being a slut but yet females get twice the blow from both sides. meanwhile men receive praise for using a woman to fulfill their own needs without consideration of how the woman was.

  18. Bullying is awful 😦

  19. Victorian Repression is still being “taught,” subconsciously. It’s a cycle in the sense that people don’t realize they are engaging in Victorian Repression, giving it and receiving it. It is a concept that is learned, but anything learned can be unlearned. The problem is that it was/is seen as the norm since the concept has been around for such a long time, therefore, the unlearning aspect of Victorian Repression teachings is a rather difficult task. In some cases, people outgrow the part of giving Victorian Repression. Ultimately, if a group of people outgrow giving Victorian Repression, they can also outgrow receiving it. But, that has to do with learning more about ones’ own sexuality and the realization of sex as being normal and natural for both males and females. With that being said, in an almost paradoxical concept, one must learn something about Victorian Repression before unlearning anything about Victorian Repression.

  20. Billie Le- Wmns studies

    It is a double-edged sword because female are held to different standards. How you dress yourself is a representation of yourself, so when you are dressed a certain way it can be precieved as either being too provacative or too conservative. I don’t condone in “slut” shaming, but I do understand how it could be misinterpreted. One side, you can be considered confident in your own skin or on the other side you can be perceived as someone who does not respect their body. It is a thin line between the two perception.

  21. Sexism and the repression of women’s sexuality has become so ingrained and normalized in our society that both men and women unconsciously engage in sexist behavior. While I think that young people have become more aware of sexism through women sharing their perspectives via social media platforms like Facebook, it is so incredibly difficult to change beliefs that have pervaded in our patriarchal society for years. Many girls who have internalized these beliefs feel a deep shame associated with sexuality, or even for developing sexual characteristics as they reach puberty, and in turn, shame other girls, perpetuating the Victorian notion that it is wrong for women to display any signs of being a sexual being. When women slut-shame other women, arguing that women who are labeled as “easy” make being taken seriously and achieving social equality difficult, girls learn from a young age that in order to gain respect they have to act sexually repressed, and to a less extreme extent, perpetuate the value of the non-sexual Victorian woman.

    • Yeah each post has so much context that has to be left out since they’re only around 500 words long. Reading more widely in the blog helps to catch a lot of the context. Thanks for your contribution.

  22. Cultural ideas about what it means to be “male” and “female” are so prevalent and begin to be taught at such early stages, in seemingly innocuous ways. Even in the 21st century we continue to assign colors and toys into gendered categories, beginning the separation in its formative years.

  23. If those are the comments you’re getting from students in the Bay Area, you can imagine what you would hear in more socially conservative parts of the country.

  24. “Sluts” stand out because many girls require emotional attraction and don’t want sex easily like guys or on the spur like that and there’ more dates and time spent or needed for a guy to get sex. And add in the fact that girls want relationships and less interested in no strings sex unlike men. So the one’s who want to sleep around and easily, they will stick out, but that’s because many women don’t operate like that. Because they don’t have the sex drive, are inhibited, less visual and less interested so it takes more for them to want to just have sex like that. That’s why there’s the divide of wanting sex like guys do and women. If women or girls had or a majority had the sex drive and interest for sex, no string attached and got horny and just ready to go like guys. It would be seen as normal since the majority would behave that way and young boys would see that girls lust and interest in sex was no different than theres. So there wouldn’t be a conquest for guys getting laid and there wouldn’t be shaming for sexual girls, because it would be the norm. It’s not though which is why the promiscuous girls “stand out” among many women.

    • And it’s a vicious cycle. Women’s sexuality is punished which makes women damp down there desire. And then fewer women have high desire so that those who do stand out and get talked about — very often not in a nice way. And around in circles it goes.

      • So do you think it’s tv shows or cartoons or such that persuade young girls growing up, in which when they are the age where they maybe get interested in boys and lust, they have more desire for emotional connection and relationships that straight visual lust liike boys do for girls? Because it would make sense with what you said if girls hit puberty and would otherwise be sexually focused and then society dampers it, but it seems that they already don’t have that sex drive and urge like guys do, so the hoopes being jumped through for guys already needed which is why girls who are “Easy” stand out. It seems inherent.

      • I know that I felt terribly guilty about sexuality by age 10. I think it was messages I heard from my mom, from church, my friends, from TV… I don’t know what all.

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