I’ve just read this account in Al Jazeera America about a recently published study on college slut-shaming, and I’m feeling ambivalent.
On the one hand: Yes! Of course slut-shaming is about class! It’s long been the case that what passes as sexual liberation among those with cultural capital gets disparaged as sluttiness among the unlettered classes. And it’s about time that we bring class-consciousness into our discussions around slut-shaming. (Obviously, race/ethnicity, dis/ability, gender identity and sexual orientation are important parts of this story too. I don’t raise them here because the Al Jazeera article doesn’t raise them.)
However, I’m less in accord with bits like the following:
“Viewing women only as victims of men’s sexual dominance fails to hold women accountable for the roles they play in reproducing social inequalities,” Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology and organizational studies professor at the University of Michigan, said in a release. “By engaging in ‘slut-shaming’ — the practice of maligning women for presumed sexual activity — women at the top create more space for their own sexual experimentation, at the cost of women at the bottom of social hierarchies.”
I mean, yes, to the extent that people should be held accountable for helping to reproduce unjust systems, then of course this accountability must extend to both men and women. Sure.
However, I’m just not on board with the liberal view that individuals are answerable for systemic inequities. The thing about the interlocking systems of power that Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has helpfully termed “kyriarchy” is that we mostly reproduce such systems without ever deciding to do so. Even when we’re well-intentioned and trying really hard to treat people justly and to leave the world a little better than we found it, we daily, behind our own backs, reproduce the unjust system of which we are a part. We can hardly help it, having been socialized within the system.
Sure, some people are just assholes. And, I’ll bet that’s true of some of the Greeks in the slut-shaming study. Ultimately though, it’s really important to remind ourselves that tenacious systems of power are tenacious precisely because they operate through not just isolated assholes but through all of us – nice, well-intentioned folks included.
So, rather than deciding whether men or women are to blame, or trying to zero in on which men or women are to blame, we should focus our attention on understanding the mechanisms of systemic injustice. Taken with a grain (or a cup) of salt, this study may be helpful to that end.
[H/t CB for the original link.]