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Dangers of Slut-shaming – Multimodal Essay

Women are Objectified from Day One

From the day a girls figure begins to take shape and you can no longer confuse her for another lanky child, she becomes sexualized. It all starts with the development of her chest. I can starkly remember my mother looking down at me one plain afternoon shaking her head saying “Oh we have to do something about those” and within the hour I was being handed training bras to try on at Target. Initially I was confused as to why another layer of fabric must be worn to cover up ones budding breasts, but I soon came to realize that this was just one of the many policing mechanisms used on women to ensure they adhere to society’s standards. The event of buying ones first bra marks a turning point in all young girls lives.  From that day a girl becomes conscious of how she should act, dress, and present herself to meet societies standards. If those standards are left ignored or un-followed, for instance if a girl wears a low cut top or short skirt the Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.12.11 AMword “slut” becomes introduced into the mix to reinforce expectations and keep girls in check. As girls get older the definition expands beyond dressing “inappropriately” and begins to extend to how they portray their sexuality. It is used as a derogatory term to categorize women, to police them, and to keep them in line, and it is effective. Girls everywhere are faced with the Madonna versus whore dichotomy; faced with the decision to avoid sexual encounters and be labeled a prude or put themselves out there taking agency over themselves only to get slapped in the face with the label of being a slut. Receiving the title “slut” with all of its negative connotations is not a welcome occurrence. When a girl receives the title slut from her peers she is bombarded by rumors and a new set of expectations to live up to. She is looked down upon by other girls, her reputation precedes her, boys expect to get laid, and she becomes a leper of sorts ostracized and left friendless. Recently a term has emerged to describe this phenomenon: slut-shaming.  Due to its recent introduction into the vernacular little research has been done to understand its impacts. However, I believe that a parallel can be drawn between ostracism and slut-shaming. Oxford dictionary defines ostracism as; banishment by general consent and or a form of exclusion from a society or group. Ostracism has been linked to negative mental effects such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, as well as a lost sense of belonging. Slut-shaming is targeted exclusion resulting from judgment passed on a woman’s sexual activity. It constitutes as a form of social ostracism and in turn results similarly by negatively impacting young girls not only causing the aforementioned but also mental and emotional trauma that I believe is carried with women throughout their lives.

What does it mean to be a slut?

The term slut has a violent and tumultuous history. According to the online etymology dictionary the word originated in the 15th century meaning “dirty or slovenly women” it has evolved and adapted to have many negative connotations pertaining not only to the sexualization of women but also to race.  African American women have faced hypersexualization and objectification long before modern day women started protesting. In an op-ed word press blog titled “Haifishgeweint”, the author writes that dating back to colonialism African American women were viewed as property and were raped not only for sexual pleasure but for procreation to create future generations of slaves. Initially the word was racialized and has only recently begun to resurface in society.

Presently the guise of the word has broadened. In 2011 a Toronto police officer made a speech at a campus safety event educating women about the dangers of sexual assault and violence there; he suggested that women should be conscious of the way they dress in order to escape victimization. Thus the SlutWalk movement was born. In response to the officer’s comments two female students organized a walk to express their outrage and to display that violence against women occurs regardless of their choice of clothing (Mendes,2015). A year later in March 2012 The Washington Post covered a story about a female student from Georgetown gave a speech advocating for access to birth control on college campuses with religious affiliations. In response to her speech, politician Rush Limbaugh called her a whore and a prostitute alluding that the reason this woman so desperately wanted birth control was because she was having so much sex and could not afford it herself when instead she was merely expressing her concerns over her reproductive freedom. The term slut has transformed and run rampant in our society. Slut-shaming has become an epidemic. Names are called, rumors are spread, women everywhere are judged based on their sexual activity. Even in instances where sexuality is not regulated we make excuses to categorize others and keep the label in circulation. A social study was performed by students at the University of Oslo, Norway, in which teens were interviewed during their graduation ritual. In Norway teens are given a few weeks after their graduation to party. For this short period of time sex is no longer taboo and the regulation of ones sexual activity is no longer enforced for the time being. Knowing this you would think that girls are able to escape the label, however this was not the case. The title of slut even with sexual acts removed, still remained and was awarded based on matters of hygiene and where it was deemed appropriate to have sex. “Sex in the open was a part of the celebration, but the possible immorality of having sex in this forest was underlined by its uncleanliness… “The forest at Tryvann is infamous because everyone lies around there, fucking. So I’m sure there are many who regret it, because it was so open. It’s very disgusting when you lie in the forest with two others on top of you, or behind.” The disgust Astrid reports is a common emotional reaction to breaches of sexual norms” (Fjaer, 2015). Astrid was a student who participated in the study by providing interviews describing the rituals mentioned above.

“You Can’t Sit With Us” – The Art of Ostracism

To understand the extent to which ostracism affects individuals requires a closer look at what we as humans need in order to prosper. As humans we crave a sense of belonging and acceptance from our peers. We thrive when functioning as a part of something bigger than ourselves. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who studied people’s driving forces or motivation. He coined the widely accepted theory of a needs hierarchy (Van Fleet, n.d.). Broken down into five categories that build off of one another in pyramid form. He believed that physiological needs or our basic necessities, set the foundation of the pyramid, then continuing in ascending order the need for safety, love and belonging, self esteem, and lastly atop the pyramid self actualization. The need for love and belonging sits mid tier on the pyramid but serves as an aid to the development of our self-esteem and how we view ourselves. This is significant and should be stressed because when we are unable to fulfill those needs there are negative implications that affect our wellbeing. We are unable to meet our needs as social creatures when we experience social ostracism. When individuals are ostracized they are cast off or rejected from their social groups thus deprived the feeling of the acceptance we so highly crave. When deprived of social interaction or bombarded by negative interactions we begin to question our self worth and reflect on ourselves believing that there is something wrong with us. These negative thoughts begin the descent into a downward spiral often times leading towards depression or social anxiety.untitled-infographic

Several studies have been conducted to measure the effects of ostracism. A common method used to aid in the data collection is the use of a virtual game of ball toss. Subjects are divided into two groups, the first individuals who were to be ostracized and a control comprised of individuals who were to be included. The virtual simulation was composed of 3 computer-generated characters one representing the subject. When in possession of the ball the subject was given the choice of who to pass to. However the outcome of the games were predetermined for all subjects. Those in the control group were passed to equally approximately one third of the time. While those in the experimental group who were purposely ostracized were passed the ball initially but no longer after two catches. When the experiment came to a close individuals were asked to participate in various reflective activities. This method of data collection has been used in various studies investigating ostracism but it has been manipulated to look at specific variables.

One such study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology aimed to study the effects of ostracism on individuals who had been chronically ostracized. In order to determine the extent to which individuals were ostracized to deem it a chronic affliction, subjects were monitored for six years. Annually individuals in the group being monitored would vote on those they liked least and liked most. Those who fell in the lowest ten percentile year after year were labeled as chronically ostracized. Those chosen in the top ten percentile year after year were chosen as those who were included.  Individuals chosen for the study were then subjected to the virtual ball toss game with the addition of an fMRI scanner to monitor brain activity. Initially a base test was performed to demonstrate that exclusion is distressing across the board. This test highlighted that exclusion activates a portion of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex or the ACC that aids in the processing of emotional distress. When the study was performed on the specified individuals to understand the implications of chronic ostracism findings displayed that said individuals not only experienced a heightened neural response to the ACC but also in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain or the aPFC which is correlated to rejection sensitivity.  In total the results suggest “that chronically rejected adolescents show enhanced neural response to exclusion that they share with individuals who are more sensitive to rejection, who have lower levels of self-esteem, and who have less satisfying social relations.”

Another ostracism study implemented by students at the University of South Wales examined the effects of memory and perspective on the extent to which ostracism was felt. Once again the method of the virtual ball game was used except this time when the tests came to a close individuals were asked to write a short reflective essay in five minutes and answer a questionnaire regarding their experience. However the reflective essay topics differed. Participants were asked to write about their experiences from one of two perspectives, a field perspective or first hand account recalling sensory details or an observer perspective, which is more detached. The results found implicate that the role of an individual’s memory plays a significant role in the extent to which ostracism affects them,  specifically indicating that the use of the field perspective prolongs the negative effects felt by ostracism (Lau, 2009).

Both studies took a closer look at the negative phenomenon that is ostracism; changing variables to better understand its impact. They discovered that ostracism’s negative implications cause heightened neural activity in the brain and provide lasting effects triggered by memory. According to the study conducted to measure chronic childhood peer rejection “Adolescents who display enhanced neural responses to social exclusion are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms 1 year later” (Will, 2015). Beyond these studies social exclusion has also been known to cause emotional and physical distress, a decrease in mood, and symptoms of anxiety, and trauma, which were not specified in either study.

Where is all this headed? Why does this hit home?

The effects of ostracism can easily be applied in situations of slut- shaming. Slut-shaming is a targeted form of ostracism based on the way an individual’s sexuality is perceived. Using a transitive property if ostracism is known to cause negative effects and be detrimental to an individuals wellbeing and if slut-shaming is a form of ostracism then in turn being a victim of slut-shaming can also result in the same negative implications.

Throughout high school I struggled trying to escape the label of slut that had been mistakenly bestowed upon me. One fateful night at a party, a drunk boy trapped me in a bathroom and everyone in attendance assumed we had had sex. From that night onward my fate was sealed. My friends dropped like flies, I was given numerous sideways glances, I was talked about, and I found myself alone a lot of the time. I constantly thought about that night trying to recall if I had done anything to deserve the label. I questioned my self worth and often faced an internal battle over whether I thought I was capable of standing up for myself and fighting off the rumors or if I should succumb to them. My behavior followed the latter, which turns out can be explained by Howard Becker’s labeling theory. The labeling theory is a sociological phenomenon created by Becker in the 1960s with the publication of his book “Outsiders”. It states that recipients of a deviant label are influenced by said label and tend to act out displaying deviant behavior in response. Another thing I found interesting is that initially Becker uses the term outsider and deviant interchangeably. Slut is a deviant label, upon receiving it I remember going off the deep end. I acted out and in doing so caused myself further damage. Slut-shaming proved traumatizing and to this day it still influences my decision making. I’m mistrustful of others motives when entering into relationships and always hypersensitive in social situations conscious of my actions fearful or receiving yet another label, fearful of being ostracized once again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZtMR9PZcmI

Labels are labels; get over it!

While there may be long-term negative effects associated with slut-shaming little to no research has been conducted to discern the connection. This then raises the question should research be conducted to potentially discover a correlation between slut-shaming and lasting traumatic effects? For some the answer is no. It’s plausible to argue that we all receive labels and that as humans our use of categorization is inherent. If we all took what people say about us to heart then we would all be in great need of therapists. Receiving a label can be seen as character building and those that let it negatively impact them should just grow thicker skin.

Another aspect called to question is the role of an individuals memory. In the experiment measuring the pain felt as a result of ostracism conducted at The University of New South Wales a correlation was drawn between the method one used to recall memorizes of experiencing ostracism and the extent to which the participant felt pain from the experience as a result. Memory is often skewed, subjective, and based on a false perception of reality. Is it possible that girls that cry wolf about slut-shaming are misinterpreting their experiences, reacting hyper-sensitively and looking through the eyes of victim goggles?

Though research on this particular area of study is lacking claims such as the above are unfounded and instead indicate a gap in the research that needs to be explored. A vast amount of research has been done to analyze the negative impacts of ostracism, which presented a correlation between negative emotions elicited as a result along with heightened activity in various regions of the brain. This correlation was uncovered through research. Just think of the opportunities and discoveries that could present themselves if given the chance to better understand long-term implications of slut-shaming or a targeted form of ostracism. In an era where individuals show an increased focus on mental health and mindfulness programs individuals affected by repercussions as a result of slut-shaming should not be overlooked.

Resources

  • A Brief History Of SlutWalk Racism. (2013, May 12). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://haifischgeweint.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/a-brief-history-of-slutwalk-racism/
  • Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. Retrieved from https://monoskop.org/images/2/2b/Becker_Howard_Outsiders_Studies_In_The_Sociogy_Of_Deviance_1963.pdf
  • Fard, M. F. (2012, March 2). Sandra Fluke, Georgetown student called a ‘slut’ by Rush Limbaugh, speaks out. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-buzz/post/rush-limbaugh-calls-georgetown-student-sandra-fluke-a-slut-for-advocating-contraception/2012/03/02/gIQAvjfSmR_blog.html
  • Fjaer, E. G., Pedersen, W., & Sandberg, S. (2015). “I’m Not One of Those Girls”: Boundary-Work and the Sexual Double Standard in a Liberal Hookup Context. Gender & Society, 29(6), 960-981. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://gas.sagepub.com/content/29/6/960.full.pdf html
  • Lau, G., Moulds, M. L., & Richardson, R. (2009). Ostracism: How Much It Hurts Depends on How You Remember It. Emotion, 9(3), 430-434. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/emo/9/3/430.pdf
  • Mendes, K., & Macmillann, P. (2015, August 12). How the ‘SlutWalk’ Has Transformed the Rape Culture Conversation. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.alternet.org/books/how-slutwalk-has-transformed-rape-culture-conversation
  • Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=slut
  • Ostracism, n. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/133172?redirectedFrom=ostracism #eid
  • Van Fleet, D. D. (n.d.). The Need-Hierarchy and Theories of Authority. 26(5), 567-580. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://hum.sagepub.com/content/26/5/567.full.pdf html
  • Will, G. J., VanLier, P. A., Crone, E. A., & Guroglu, B. (2015). Chronic Childhood Peer Rejection is Associated with Heightened Neural Responses to Social Exclusion During Adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. doi:10.1007/s10802-015-9983-0

 

One Comment

  1. I like the movie clips and also the hyperlinks in your References page! : )

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