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Sociologists from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Merced found the practice of judging a woman’s worth via her sex life, or flatly calling out perceived “slutty” behavior, is more related to class lines than anything else.
Researchers recruited 53 female college students for their research, seeking their opinions on partying, sexuality and friendship.
They found when women described slutty behavior, they were more often referring to social standing or class rather than actual sex promiscuity.
Additionally, researchers discovered wealthier women were not judged by the same sexual standards as others. They found affluent women could engage in more slutty sexual behavior than those further down the socioeconomic scale without being labeled as such.
Sociology professor Elizabeth Armstrong, of the University of Michigan, is one of the study’s authors. She said when affluent women ridicule others through slut-shaming, they may be displaying some territorial behavior.
“By engaging in slut-shaming — the practice of maligning women for presumed sexual activity — women at the top create more space for their own sexual experimentation, at the cost of women at the bottom of social hierarchies,” she said.
Through the research, the authors hope to bring more attention to slut-shaming as another clear form of bullying.
“In a few recent cases, slut-shaming has played a role in the suicides of girls and young women,” Armstrong said. “We hope that our findings are constructively used in campaigns against bullying.”
“By slut-shaming, women create space
for their own sexual experimentation.“
According to the study, sororities may have something to do with slut-shaming. Of the subjects, the 23 who were members of a sorority also had upper-middle to upper-class backgrounds.
Through interviews, researchers determined these more affluent women tend to see themselves as displaying femininity with class, while the same behavior from someone less affluent would be seen as “trashy” or without class.
Similarly, less affluent women viewed the materialism displayed by affluent friends as “kinda whorish.”
One early finding that had the authors stumped would ultimately lead them to their conclusions.
They were puzzled as to why some women who engaged in less sexual activity were somehow more likely to be publicly labeled as a slut for it.
“This finding made little sense until we realized that college women also used the term as a way to police class boundaries,” Armstrong said.
The results appeared in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.