Last Friday, the 23rd, Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. As an explanation for what drove him to such violence, police turned to his YouTube channel and a written manifesto, which revealed a hatred for women who had rejected him (and by extension all women) and men who seemed more sexually successful. In the days that followed, a hashtag appeared on Twitter, #YesAllWomen, which was used to draw attention to the fact that many, MANY women have had to deal with men who felt that they were entitled to a woman’s attention and who react with anger when told no. From cat-calls, to policies regarding appropriate clothing that are biased against women, to rape, to honor killings by family members, many women know the feeling of being objectified.

Yes, sexual persecution of women by men exists, and hopefully #YesAllWomen will help start a dialog, and this horrible tragedy in California will be a catalyst for change. But what about persecution of women by other women? As the great Tina Fey says in Mean Girls:

“Ok, so we’re all here ’cause of this book, right? Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores. Who here has ever been called a slut?”

Source: (IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377092/quotes)

 

I found a very interesting article about this very topic in Slate this week, titled, “Are You a Slut? That Depends. Are You Rich?” The study conducted by two sociologists interviewed women from one dorm at a Midwestern University over the course of their college careers. Part of the study examined how the term “slut” is utilized and interpreted (the term “slut narrative” is used), and they determined that it has more to do with social class and money than sexual activity. Calling other women a “slut” was “more about policing women’s looks, fashion, and conversational styles than criticizing the notches on their bedposts. And the vagueness and ubiquity of the term “slut” on campus allowed these women to effectively police each other without denying themselves actual sex.”

I’m always interested in how social systems affect the language (vocabulary and conversational style) of the members of that particular society. In this study, there are two groups separated by class, each with their own rules for behavior and language use relating to sexuality: calling someone a “slut” had more to do with the social status of a girl’s romantic partner, and less to do with the number of sexual partners.

I think Tina Fey was right. And I also think that some women have found a way to change the understanding of what terms like “slut” and “whore” mean when used by female peers, and to deprive them of their power when it comes to female sexual choices. But outside these gender specific groups, these negative connotations can come roaring back, and I wonder if anyone over the age of 13 still believes that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

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