Posted on June 6, 2014 | 2 Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton, both college professors, give us an up-close look at today’s young college women through their five-year immersion in dorm life at a large Midwestern university. Their book, Paying for the Party, reveals their findings. We may like to think that the college experience and dorm life are the great equalizers for females post high school, but that simply is not the case.
Instead, there is a social hierarchy, based upon one’s family income, the degree of financial debt one incurs, social networks and financial prospects. This hierarchy extends beyond the college years into life choices and career moves after university graduation.
As live-in observers of dorm life, the book’s authors saw first-hand the way in which this hierarchy played out in the dorms. Olga Khazan writes about their new study published in Social Psychology Quarterly, in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-slut/371773/) . The conclusion of Armstrong and Hamilton was that economic inequality “drove many of the differences in the ways the women talked about appropriate sexual behavior.”
New to me was the term “slut-shaming”. Calling someone you didn’t like a slut was a guaranteed way of making her feel bad. Interestingly, there was class division in how this term was viewed and applied. The affluent young women considered casual sex (outside of steady relationships) okay, as long as vaginal intercourse was not involved. Thanks to President Bill Clinton, frequently “hooking up” with guys for oral sex is not considered slutty behavior by these women.
The less affluent women tended to have what sounded like a more conservative view. To them, all sex and hooking up belonged in steady relationships.
Hurling the term “slut” at one another was not limited to commenting on one’s sexual behavior. It could be used when wanting to insult someone for being rude or uncool. While most of the slut-shaming was done privately, the affluent young women were more likely to publicly humiliate those of lower socioeconomic means. This happened when the less affluent dared try to break into the richer social clique.
Why is this the case? The affluent women apparently felt themselves superior to the unaffluent. It was not enough that they had more money, access to the sorority system, better social connections and more choices. They actively sought to do damage to the other women. That sounds like a war on women by women to me.
I’m guessing that all of the young women went through diversity training in high school or college. Surely they learned to have respect for other groups, based upon race, gender identify, and ethnicity. But they must have missed the course on how to treat others of lower socioeconomic standing.
We can and should do better. Check your daughters’ and granddaughters’ attitudes toward others, especially those they consider their “lessers”. A crash course in character development may be needed before they head off to the dorm next Fall.