Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat. This means that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. Extremely isolating, this shame about having a body often separates people from those around them. And isolation is hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have been slut shamed. This can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are far too many reports of young women who took their own lives after being slut-shamed (particularly online).
2. Increased Cortisol Levels
Studies about shame have shown that experiencing feelings of low social status lowers an individual’s self-worth and increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Usually after a perceived threat is over, cortisol levels return to normal. But when they don’t, your health can suffer negative consequences. This includes, but is not limited to: depression, anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory impairment, and heart disease.
3. Sexism & Rape Culture
Slut shaming can be nuanced, and subtle. As one HuffPost article puts it: “slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for “making the first move.”
As I talked about in my post, Slut Shaming, this phenomenon is a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, warrant applause for men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) There can be very real consequences for women. Many of us self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly received the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Dominant social norms and this pervasive sexism could potentially lead to a woman being fired, or not hired, for how she presents herself on social media.
The tie to rape culture should be apparent. Rape culture is blaming the victim of a sexual assault for what happened to them, rather than blaming the perpetrator. Often this is framed to say that the victim did something to provoke the attack. I couldn’t put it better than this HuffPost article:
“Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for “asking for it” by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren’t, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.”Sabrina Nelson, High School Journalist <—- you go girl
So what now?
As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. As a woman, I am conscious every day of what I’m wearing, how I do my makeup, where I am walking (especially at night), where I am driving, and who is looking at me. I have been trained to be afraid.
I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. And often feel anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could encounter based on what I post on social media. I struggle with shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger that any of this has to happen to anyone.
A study conducted by Ditch The Label found that 52% of misogynistic tweets over a four year period were penned by other women. And more often than not, slut shaming happens between women. There needs to be a tremendous amount of change in how we teach young boys about masculinity. But, I also think that we as women have a huge responsibility.
The next time you see another woman on social media and start to judge her based on what she posts, stop yourself. Maybe count in a week, or a day, how many times you do that. And maybe instead, throw her a like or a comment. We need to support each other if we are going to combat such toxic, entrenched behavior.