Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Sex + Relationships

What is Slut-Shaming & Why Do We Do it?

According to Cady Heron from Mean Girls, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total sl*t and no other girls can say anything about it.” But even if no other girls can comment on how sl*tty an outfit may look, we know we can be guilty of judging her sexuality in our heads (and often we say something out loud, too). So what defines a girl as a sl*t and why do we judge her? We spoke to Lisa Wade, the founder of Sociological Images and chair of sociology at Occidental College, about sl*t-shaming in college.

How we slut-shame

It seems that one way girls like to insult other females is by calling them derogatory names related to their sexuality, regardless of whether or not they fit the actual definition of the word.

“One time, in high school, this girl called me a ‘town wh*re’,” says Kreisha*, from British Columbia Institute of Technology ‘15. “I overheard her. I don’t think she meant it literally, but she probably just called me that because she didn’t like me.”

Although she’s had this word used against her, she admits that she’s been guilty of judging other girls in the same way. “Sometimes girls wear something too revealing and I’m just like, ‘whoa, a little sl*tty! What’s she wearing?’”

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one who thinks this way.

“I would define sl*t-shaming as stigmatizing women based on how many sexual partners they’ve had or how many sexual partners they’re engaging in,” says Wade.

While society generally seems to shame women for being sexual, there seems to be a more specific expectation for college females when it comes to sexuality: They can’t be a prude, but they can’t have too much sex either.

“It’s tricky on college campuses because women have to walk this interesting, narrow line,” says Wade. “There’s definitely this imperative now to be sexual and have sex if you’re female but you want to somehow have had less sex than something [or someone].”

There might not be a clear definition of what a “sl*t” is. There is no set amount of people one girl has to have slept with to reach sl*t status. So how do we decide who gets the label and who doesn’t?

According to Wade, “it’s like a moving target, depending on how many sexual partners you’ve had, who you’re around [and] maybe what year in college you are. Maybe the number of sexual partners that make a freshman a sl*t wouldn’t make them a sl*t as a senior.”

Women might label someone who has a reputation for engaging in more sexual activity than they are. “As long as they can push off a label onto someone else, then they are less likely to feel like they themselves might be sl*t-shamed,” says Wade.

Why do we do it?

It seems that both males and females are guilty of sl*t-shaming, but why does it happen and where does it stem from?

Sl*t-shaming is based on the “Madonna-whore, good girl/bad girl dichotomy,” Wade says. The idea that a woman is either pure and chaste or she — at the very opposite end of the spectrum — is an immoral and promiscuous woman.

This thinking goes back to the invention of private property.

“It’s been important to control women’s sexual behavior so that men can ensure that their stuff in their own bloodline,” Wade explains. “So the reason why we wanted to control women’s sexual behavior historically is so we can know who [the] fathers are.”

How does slut-shaming hurt us?

We rarely use the term “sl*t” to describe a guy, because society doesn’t hold them to the same standard as women when it comes to being sexually promiscuous.

“It’s always bad to have this narrow range,” says Wade. “It doesn’t really matter how much is counted as a sl*t. What matters is that there are these sorts of rules that women have to follow in order to be seen as a decent human being.”

Students like Sara Janak, HC Campus Correspondent at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, agree. “We shouldn’t be policing other women’s sexuality. Sex is a natural thing; people have sex,” she says, adding that we shouldn’t make people feel guilty or inferior for their sexuality.

“We need to do away with the word ‘sl*t.’ Sl*ts are just people,” says Sara. “Sl*t-shaming feeds into victim-blaming and rape culture in our society.”

In 2011, when a Toronto police officer told York University students that they should avoid dressing like “sl*ts” in order to avoid being raped, it sparked outrage and inspired international SlutWalks as a way to protest against blaming rape victims.

Although Sara believes we should ban the word, some girls like Amanda Punshon, recent alum from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, believe in reclaiming the word “sl*t” to fight against the negative connotation; to stop it from hurting us and instead empower us.

“If I call a person a sl*t, specifically when referencing their sex life, I’m complimenting them. If you love your body and want to show it off, I’m behind you one hundred percent,” says Amanda.

How are our ideas of women and sexuality changing?

The idea that we disrespect women who are sl*ts and respect women who aren’t seems to be changing, at least in the way that college males think.

Typically, more college relationships are started through a series of hook-ups, in which how much the man respects a woman’s sexuality progresses as the relationship changes, says Wade. He might think she’s a sl*t if they hook up for the first time, but after the fifth or sixth time they’ve hooked up, he might see her as girlfriend material and look at her differently. At that point, he doesn’t judge her based on how many sexual partners she’s had.

“Men think differently about different women, but it’s not necessarily [in] categories of women[‘s sexuality] but the type of relationship that that guy’s engaging in with that particular woman at the same time,” explains Wade. “So she hasn’t changed, but the frame for what they’re doing has changed the definition for their relationship.”

What do you think about this topic?  Sounds off in the comments!

Sarah Casimong is a graduate of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She has written for the Vancouver Observer, Cave Magazine and Urban Pie. She is also the scriptwriter for Beautiful Minds Radio on Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5 FM, and occasionally conducts interviews for the "personal story" segment of the show. In her spare time she enjoys British music and television, playing the Mass Effect and Dragon Age video games and getting lost in really good chick lits. You can follow her on twitter: @sarahcasimong
Similar Reads👯‍♀️