Social Psychology Quarterly
2014, Vol. 77(2) 100–122
Ó American Sociological Association 2014
‘‘Good Girls’’: Gender,
Social Class, and Slut
Discourse on Campus
Elizabeth A. Armstrong1, Laura T. Hamilton2,
Elizabeth M. Armstrong1, and J. Lotus Seeley1
Women’s participation in slut shaming is often viewed as internalized oppression: they apply disadvantageous sexual double standards established by men. This perspective grants women little agency and neglects their simultaneous location in other social structures. In this article we synthesize insights from social psychology, gender, and culture to argue that undergraduate women use slut stigma to draw boundaries around status groups linked to social class—while also regulating sexual behavior and gender performance. High-status women employ slut discourse to assert class advantage, defining themselves as classy rather than trashy, while low-status women express class resentment—deriding rich, bitchy sluts for their exclusivity. Slut discourse enables, rather than constrains, sexual experimentation for the high-status women whose definitions prevail in the dominant social scene. This is a form of sexual privilege. In contrast, low-status women risk public shaming when they attempt to enter dominant social worlds.
stigma, status, reputation, gender, class, sexuality, identity, young adulthood, college women, qualitative methods
Slut shaming, the practice of maligning
women for presumed sexual activity, is
common among young Americans. For
example, Urban Dictionary—a website
documenting youth slang—refers those
interested in the term slut to whore, bitch,
skank, ho, cunt, prostitute, tramp, hooker,
easy, or slug.1 Boys and men are not alone
in using these terms (Wolf 1997; Tanenbaum 1999; White 2002). In our ethnographic and longitudinal study of college women at a large, moderately selective
‘‘Slut.’’ Urban Dictionary. Retrieved December 18, 2013 (http://www.urbandictionary.com/ define.php?term=slut).
university in the Midwest, women labeled
other women and marked their distance
Women’s participation in slut shaming
is often viewed as evidence of internalized
oppression (Ringrose and Renold 2012).
This argument proceeds as follows: slut
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
University of California, Merced, Merced, CA, USA
Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Department of Sociology,
University of Michigan, Room 3001 LSA Building,
500 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
shaming is based on sexual double standards established and upheld by men, to women’s disadvantage. Although young
men are expected to desire and pursue
sex regardless of relational and emotional
context, young women are permitted sexual activity only when in committed relationships and ‘‘in love’’ (Crawford and Popp 2003; Hamilton and Armstrong
2009; Schalet 2011; Bell 2013). Women
are vulnerable to slut stigma when they
violate this sexual standard and consequently experience status loss and discrimination (Phillips 2000; Nack 2002). Slut shaming is thus about sexual
inequality and reinforces male dominance
and female subordination. Women’s participation works at cross-purposes with progress toward gender equality.
In this article, we complicate this picture. We are unconvinced that women would engage so enthusiastically in slut
discourse with nothing to gain. Synthesizing insights from social psychological research on stigma, gender theory, and
cultural sociology, we argue that women’s
participation in this practice is only indirectly related to judgments about sexual activity. Instead it is about drawing
class-based moral boundaries that simultaneously organize sexual behavior and gender presentation. Women’s definitions
of sluttiness revolve around status on
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