“You have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” –Tina Fey, Mean Girls
Yesterday, I was reading a blog post about being called “easy”. “Easy” and “slut” and “ho” are stigmatic terms that are very hurtful to women. Some women claim that they don’t care about being called slut. Sticks and stones. But for most people these terms are painful. They sting.
In I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet Leora Tanenbaum writes about these as “hostile and malicious acts” of bullying. And she’s right – it’s truly damaging to a woman’s self-esteem to be labeled with these words. So why do women keep calling each other slut?
I’m going to offer a different perspective. Let’s think about sex as an exchange and the heterosexual community as a marketplace (see Baumeister and Vohs, Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions). In this marketplace, men are the buyers (they do have a higher sex drive!!) and women are the sellers of sex. Each individual women has a different “price” that she would like to set.
I have one friend who really enjoys flattery. (We all do). For her, though, a nice conversation, an intense connection, a spark — this feeling is enough for her. This is her price. It’s pretty rare and magical to feel a genuine spark with someone so her feeling is completely relatable. I have another friend who is a born again virgin. She will only have sex once she gets married. Yes, this happens today. Her price is marriage.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle, though. We want a nice, monogamous relationship and we want to feel completely comfortable with someone before we have sex with them. That might take three days or it might take three months.
What does this have to do with slut shaming? In a perfectly competitive market individual firms (or individual women as it were) don’t set the price. The market does. My friends tell me that it is customary to have sex after three dates. I guess this is the market price. If a woman postpones sex until she feel comfortable — say three months of dating — men start to accuse them of playing games. So many women just have sex after three dates because it is expected.
And that’s where slut shaming comes in. A woman who is “easy”, who wants casual sex or is willing to have sex with a man after a couple of dates drives down the price on the market.
And if women are willing to sleep around, to have sex without a relationship, then men will take the casual sex and forego the relationship.
After all, would you buy onions for $3.00 if every farmer on the market was selling onions for $0.50.
Thus, slut-shaming is a way of regulating the market. Women who lower the price of sex face reputation risks.