Rich Girls Slut Shame the Most, In Case You Didn't Believe 'Mean Girls'

Slut shaming is a thing that happens, and happens way, way, too often, but we don't often think of slut shaming in terms of social class. But according to a new study from two researchers from the University of California and the University of Michigan, we really should. It turns out that the way girls slut shame each other has almost nothing to do with actual behavior and everything to do with perception and social class.

Apparently calling women "sluts," at least on college campuses, mostly functions as a way for women to distinguish which women are "good" and which are "bad." It has very little to do with who's actually promiscuous — in fact the study found that women who have the least sex tend to be slut shamed the most. Because of course. And that women who are wealthier tend to slut shame other women the most, especially other women of lower social and socioeconomic status. Say it with me this time, everybody: Because of course.

In the study, which took an in depth look at one large, Midwestern university, researchers found that women tended to form friendships that corresponded roughly to their socioeconomic status, with upperclass women often funneled into the Greek system. According to Elizabeth Armstrong, one of the researchers, “One of the ways that high-status women signaled to those trying to break into their social groups that they did not fit in was by engaging in public ‘slut-shaming,’ ... as a way of making it clear that they did not fit in with the high-status group.” In other words, treating someone like a slut is a way to tell them they don't belong.

Of course, the study found that rich girls aren't the only ones who slut shame; women of lower socioeconomic status do it, too, and just as the upper class girls directed their slut shaming at women of a different social status, middle and lower class girls directed their slut shaming at women of high social status. The difference? Women of high social status tended not to care. As the ones in a position of power, they were also to ones with the most ability to define what acceptable sexual activity was, so slut shaming from girls with less social and socioeconomic status mattered less.

"By engaging in 'slut shaming,'" Armstrong explains, "women at the top create more space for their own sexual experimentation, at the expense of women at the bottom."

So what does all this mean, apart from the usual rich-girls-are-awful trope? Well, for one thing, it means that slut shaming is bullshit. Which we sort of knew already; after all, if the word "slut" really just meant a woman who has a lot of sex, its meaning should have become less negative as our society becomes more sex-positive. As women become more able and willing to explore their sexuality, criticizing a woman for "slutty" behavior — or just outright calling her a slut — should have fallen by the wayside. Instead, it's become a weapon to disrespect people of different social status.

Ugh!