Women, let’s stop using the s-word

Social Double-Take

The sexual double standard exists.

This isn’t breaking news. Men with a greater number of sexual partners are more likely to be accepted and praised by their peers than women with a similar number of sexual partners. Hey, did you see that girl the other day who got a fist bump and a dragged out “niiiiiiiiice” for hooking up with three guys in one weekend? Yeah, me neither. Swap the genders, and it seems to make more sense.

This has been a common cultural notion for a while — I would say since the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s, when the acceptance of premarital sex and the emergence of the birth control pill fully liberated men into the world of nonmonogamous sex. It was not quite the same for women.

Although familiar and long-standing, the sexual double standard is still too often incorrectly seen as a women versus men issue. Many women tend to blame men for the perpetuation of this hypocrisy by generalizing that men are the ones primarily responsible for calling the guy who’s hooked up with 30 girls a “bro” and the girl who’s done the same a “slut.” As a college student and a shameless attendee of numerous fraternity parties, yeah, I’ve definitely witnessed guys calling girls “sluts” or “whores” because these girls enjoy having sex and, therefore, have a lot of sex with different people. But the truth is that intrasexual criticism is actually to be blamed here — research by Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychologist at the University of Ottawa, shows that the “suppression of female sexuality is by women” and that the stigma of female promiscuity is also enforced mainly by women. These findings pose an interesting question: In their acceptance of their friends’ sexual freedom, could men be on to something here?

Well, kind of. A guy referring to his friend as a “bro” because he’s “slaying bitches,” or solely because of the sheer number of sexual partners, is hardly a valuable lesson, as that guy is clearly stuck in the what-should-now-be-ancient practice of explicit female objectification. But aside from the praises that arise from hooking up with a large number of women, the acceptance of having sex with whomever one chooses — consensually, of course — for the sake of his own enjoyment and personal desires is certainly admirable. Women have yet to achieve this same acceptance of other women who have sex with whomever they want simply because they want to. Slut-shaming — a term recently proliferated in use and subsequently obscured from its true definition of the cultural tendency to make women feel inferior for being comfortable with their sexuality — is an act that’s mostly committed by women themselves. Especially in the pervasive hook-up culture of college, girls calling other girls sluts is very much the norm, sometimes not even for their sexual behavior but for their attire or make-up.

So men have a much more widespread approval of true sexual liberation and expression than women do; this is exactly why men are not the ones to blame. Women are being women’s worst enemies. Since the 1950s’ taboo of sex was lifted, women have gradually been learning that sex can be either romantic or casual, intimate or simply gratifying. The aforementioned double standard exists because women are primarily the ones who are failing to accept and trust each others’ personal sexual decisions.

And the thing is, the sexual double standard has some serious consequences, ones that we can clearly see among women and very rarely among men. Many women feel they cannot express themselves sexually without being scrutinized. It sends the message that sex is, for some reason, a bad thing, especially in high frequencies. By using words like “slut” to describe each other, women are actually objectifying themselves in their own eyes and in men’s eyes, too. (Last night, my friend’s frat bro actually came up to him and asked if he wanted to go to a sorority event for some “DTF sluts.” I mean, come on.) And one of the double standard’s worst effects is arguably found in the courts with rape cases. Victim blaming — claiming the woman was “asking for it” from the way she dressed, flirted, etc., and thereby sympathizing with the rapist — perpetuates rape culture.

The reason behind the prevalence of the sexual double standard can be found in the asymmetry of men and women’s intrasexual relations: Sexual behavior is not a reason for men to put down other men, but it’s enough for women to put down other women. How do we go about fixing this cultural error? It’s not a question of whether you should applaud and fist-bump that girl who got it on with three guys last night; it’s a matter of recognizing and accepting that every person has the right to make his or her own sexual choices.

Hailey Yook writes the Monday column on contemporary social issues. Contact her at [email protected].