‘Slut’: Gender Policing As Bullying Ritual

From The Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabethe-c-payne/slut-gender-policing-as-bullying-ritual_b_1952205.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices


10/12/2012

We at QuERI often ask LGBTQ kids to list for us the “bad names” that they get called in school spaces, hear others called and see scrawled across bathroom walls and on lockers. Those derogatory terms are, by vast majority, terms that police gender: words like “fag,” but also words that mark the sex and sexuality of girls through slut shaming.

The variety of names for the high school “slut” is astonishing, and she is often painted as a larger-than-life character performing superhuman feats on the 50-yard line and sending nice girls to zealously guard their boyfriends with a watch that would keep the crown jewels safe. Most people can tell you who the “slut” in their high school was, regardless of how many decades might have passed since graduation. Stories of her wanton escapades spread like wildfire through the halls of high school, and students take pleasure in sharing their own richly fabricated details, making the story steamier with each telling. This is a bonding activity: Students create a sense of belonging and group membership through joining together to throw verbal stones.

Research suggests that for girls, “slut” and its derivatives are among the most common and most feared of possible pejoratives hurled in the high-school social arena, equivalent in regulatory power to the “fag” label for boys. Both “slut” and “fag” tell young people that they are doing their gender “wrong” and that they’d better get in line or suffer the consequences. The virulence of “slut,” and the reduction in a girl’s cultural capital that accompanies being called a “slut,” make clear to all that there is an association between a woman’s worth as a human being and her sexual behavior. Abusive naming practices reveal not only the in-group/out-group dynamics (who’s hot, who’s not) but the cultural value system that situates the named positions within the social hierarchy. In other words, calling a girl a “slut” not only marks her as “undesirable” but simultaneously restates that sexually active women are unwelcome pariahs. Our culture still marks a woman who is sexually active outside heterosexual marriage (or perceived to be) as a person of little value. Amazing, isn’t it?

As kids approach adolescence, increased value is placed on gender conformity and heterosexual desirability. Social stratification and popularity in schools become increasingly based on how well an individual’s gender matches up with peer ideals of masculinity and femininity. A significant portion of the expected gender conformity for girls includes managing relations to and with boys. Social worth for girls becomes less determined by their individual accomplishments in arts, academics or athletics, and increasingly they are evaluated by their success in attracting, maintaining and regulating the attentions of boys in “acceptable” ways. Girls straddle an often unclear line in appearing sexually attractive (desirable) and receptive (thus not “gay”) yet unavailable (not “sluts”). Girls who cross the line, appear to have crossed it or are rumored to have crossed it are marked as transgressing gender norms and disrupting moral order. The “slut” (and the “dyke” and the “fag”) are positioned as transgressors, failing to properly align their sexual desires and behaviors with normative gender prescriptions. Adolescent culture regulates gender and heterosexuality through active assault on those who break the gender rules, and through social exclusion and isolation — through bullying. Other (presumably “good”) girls justify openly hostile (mean/bullying) behavior toward their marked peers through moral judgments; breaking the rules of gender and sexuality makes a girl a “bad” person, and she therefore “deserves” the social harassment she receives (“She brought it on herself”).

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabethe-c-payne/slut-gender-policing-as-bullying-ritual_b_1952205.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

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