1 – Isolation
Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat, meaning that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. This is isolating, and often can separate the person being shamed from those around them. This has been hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have experienced being slut shamed. This isolation can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are way 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 lowered an individual’s self-worth as well as increased 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, including, but 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, Body Talk, slut shaming is also a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, are often applauded in men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) Because of this – there are very real consequences for women. Many of us begin to self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly been given the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Therefore the dominant social norms and pervasive sexism could potential 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
Where do we go from here?
As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. 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 – because I have been trained to be afraid. I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. I experience anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could experience based on what I post on social media. I experience shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger than 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. Now besides the tremendous amount of change that we need to bring about in teaching young boys about masculinity – I 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.