Slut-Shaming on College Campuses

Slut-Shaming on College Campuses

Hook-up culture flourishes on many college campuses. There is a constant fascination with who’s sleeping with whom, and students assign reputations based on this information. Unfortunately, hook-up culture is an extremely gendered practice. Men are congratulated for hooking up with as many women as possible, while women are punished.

I’ve been really interested in slut-shaming because I think it is one of the most pervasive forms of sexism in our culture. I think that it is prevalent on college campuses because people are becoming sexually active and more aware of sexuality during this time of their lives.

What makes slut-shaming particularly fascinating is that it is rampant among women. While conducting research for a blog I was writing about slut-shaming in an anthropology class, I found that people consistently believed women slut-shamed more than men. I asked students at my school, Wheaton College, to share their opinions on slut-shaming with me. I’m including some of their responses here to illustrate the gendering of slut-shaming:

“It’s so different when guys say it,” said a female student.

“I know it’s objectively wrong, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t partaken in it,” said another female student.

“When I hear about a woman’s sexuality it doesn’t seem so much of a problem to me as the other women talking about it,” a male student said.

Slut-shaming is one of the most effective forms of policing women’s sexual behavior because women internalize it. It’s easy for a girl to recognize what would be considered “slutty” behavior, because slut-shaming is ever-present in the media. Young women internalize and enforce these behavioral standards. Although the word slut has no concrete meaning (it can be used to describe the way a woman acts, dresses, or her sexual behavior) it is clear that it is a negative label. The best way to avoid being called anything is to distance yourself from the term — you can’t be a slut if Jenny is one, because you’re nothing like her. I believe women slut-shame to avoid being slut-shamed personally, and reaffirm that they are “good girls”.

As a freshman in college, I am witnessing how repulsive the label is to some people. I hear girls talk about how so-and-so should be careful, because we’re all new students, and they’re starting to get reputations. I have been at tables with people when a girl with a slutty reputation walks by, and people will laugh and collectively groan at her. Being labeled a slut sticks, and that’s the reason why these girls tell their friends to be careful. You can be labeled a slut in a matter of seconds, but the label will stick for years.

I think the best way to counter slut-shaming is to talk about it. People don’t realize that it is a form of sexism because it’s been internalized and turned into one of those things it seems like everyone does. However, when you talk about slut-shaming you realize it is a way of policing women’s sexuality. Next time you hear someone slut-shaming, talk to them about it. Ask questions. Nothing will change without acknowledgement and discussion.

It is important to educate people about slut-shaming and work to change attitudes, because slut-shaming often leads to victim-blaming. One in four women will be sexually assaulted before she graduates college. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the recent outcry in response to handling rape at Amherst, many colleges and university do not handle these assaults in the best way. But many people are speaking out and things are continuing to change.

Educate yourself about the sexual assault policy at your schools or the schools you are applying to. It is also critical to talk to older students about their policies. Chances are they have seen it in action, and can tell you whether or not it is effective. Unfortunately, many upperclassmen have known students who have been sexually assaulted and can tell you how the school has dealt with it.

Many schools offer student panels on sexual assault and misogyny, or groups that work to change the campus atmosphere. Look into these groups at your school and consider getting involved. If there isn’t a group already in existence, you can always attempt to start one, or volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter.

Alex currently writes a blog about slut-shaming for her anthropology class. Click here to learn more.