As the weather heats up, the rain coats get stashed away and everybody rushes to dig out those summer clothes. Suddenly there are T-shirts, sun dresses, bro tanks, jorts [jean shorts] and flip flops as far as the eye can see. However, since people have a tendency to judge others by the way they dress, as the temperature increases so does the judgment.
Slut shaming is the act of criticizing someone’s sexuality, particularly female-identified individuals, based on their behavior or the way they dress. The word “slut” is used to describe someone who is sexually promiscuous. The word itself is not necessarily negative, but it can have a negative connotation.
“In my perspective slut shaming is the social vilification of female sexuality and punishing primarily women for representing themselves, their bodies and their sexuality in a certain way,” said AS Women’s Center Assistant Coordinator Emily Hanna.
Slut shaming comes in many different forms.
“Unfortunately slut shaming comes from both male-identified folks and female-identified folks,” Hanna said. “We have this idea that women have to be sexy in order to have value, but if they’re too sexy and they cross an invisible arbitrary line, then they get punished for that.”
Hanna said men sometimes devalue women for dressing or acting like a slut, being overly forward or acting promiscuous.
“These are very arbitrary things, but both men and other women call women out on these activities or choices in a way that men don’t get called out on,” she said.
Slut shaming sometimes isn’t done consciously, but it can still contribute to the effect of women’s behavior constantly being policed. One example is catcalling, which may seem like a harmless compliment, but implies judgment about the way women dress and act. Even if it is intended as a compliment, it is not always received that way.
As sophomore Summer Storholt was waiting for the bus one day in a dress, someone yelled “damn” out the window of a passing car. She, like many others, did not take it as a compliment.
“They don’t need to spend their time to do that, they don’t know who I am,” Storholt said. “It makes you feel like, ‘Oh, is my dress too short, should I change? Is this my fault?’ I wasn’t doing anything [to attract attention].”
Storholt and Hanna both believe that people catcall because they are taught that it’s okay.
“[Catcalling] perpetuates the idea that women are just there to decorate men’s world,” Hanna said. “This assumes that she’s dressed to attract attention instead of just for herself. Dismissing it as a compliment really devalues the larger patriarchal structure that that is upholding.”
Storholt feels that women can often be the worst offenders of slut shaming. Slut shaming among women occurs because women are constantly conditioned to compete with each other, according to Hanna.
“For people who are female-identified it’s really important to focus on building each other up instead of tearing each other down,” Hanna said. “I think, first and foremost, if you’re part of a marginalized community, that marginalized community needs to galvanize and support each other.”
Hanna does not blame individuals for slut shaming, but the oppressive system itself.
“We’re taught to oppress ourselves from a very young age and if you’re always worried about what people are thinking of you and what you look like then it’s really hard to exit that mindset and think of the system as a whole that’s oppressing you,” Hanna said.
Western strives to create an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity for success. There are many offices and codes in place to ensure this, for example the AS Women’s Center is geared toward combating gender inequality and the Equal Opportunity Office focuses on all different types of inequality.
A common misconception of inequality at Western is Wade King Recreation Center’s dress code. Although some may believe that the dress code polices how students should dress, Assistant Director of Marketing Bob Hofstetter assures that the dress code is only for sanitary and safety purposes.
Though there are reasons for dress codes other than policing, systems like these can teach people that it is okay to judge people for the way that they dress. However, according to Hanna, individuals have the choice to either perpetuate these systems or change these systems.
“One of my favorite quotes is from Alice Walker, she says ‘The easiest way to give up power is by thinking that you don’t have any,’” Hanna said. “If we just throw up our hands and say ‘Well this is just the way the world is,’ then we’re never going to be able to change the way the world is.”