Mean Girls or Our Own Worst Enemies: The Psychology of Promiscuity and Slut-Shaming

Mean Girls or Our Own Worst Enemies: The Psychology of Promiscuity and Slut-Shaming

Why you want to scream, “You can’t sit with us!”

mean girls psychology

Whether or not you happen to have a uterus, it’s no secret that sometimes women can be especially catty towards each other. Bullying doesn’t just end on the playground for most women, but carries long into adulthood. From clothes and friends to uncontrollable things like body size and type come under harsh scrutiny that makes headlines: from obsessing over celebrities to blaming society and Photoshop, things have certainly changed.

But what if we had more to do with it than we’re willing to admit?

It’s in Our Genes

While women are naturally inclined to be less competitive than men, we’re also more inclined to compete against other women. How does this make sense? First, let’s take a look at the men: the stereotype for being strong, emotionless creatures driven to provide for a family isn’t always right, but it is in their genetic makeup. In the caveman days, it was natural—and expected—for men to compete against each other for mates, food, and everything else we take for granted in today’s society.

While women did not have to compete in the same way as men for food and shelter, they did need to compete for male interest. Since it is not within our nature to compete openly, passive-aggressive tactics tend to prevail.

Slut-Shaming and Clinical Studies

While practices like slut-shaming are quickly blamed on the media, anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy surveyed the research literature and performed studies of her own to come to a new conclusion. Because women are usually indirect in their aggression, it can be harder to track; to see how females react to a rival in a controlled state; researchers brought pairs of women to a research lab at McMaster University for a “discussion about female friendships.”

The experiment began when a third female was introduced to the group. The woman had been chosen by researchers and embodied “qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective: low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.” Sometimes, the woman would wear a T-shirt and jeans; other times, a low-cut top and a skirt.

slut shaming psychology

What researchers found wasn’t surprising: when the woman wore the low-cut top and skirt, the women in the group tended to react aggressively. When wearing jeans and a T-shirt, the woman solicited almost no reaction at all from the other women.

Dr. Vaillancourt, who conducted the primary study, said, “Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others, especially women they perceive as rivals. The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men.”

That’s right—a lot of the problems we face as women are caused by our own psychological makeup.

“Sex is coveted by men,” Vaillaincourt explains, “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

Studies have also shown that media tends to reflect the trends going on in society, and doesn’t necessarily create them. Dr. Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, reported on studies performed that showed little difference in how women reacted to svelte, thin actresses over not as thin actresses.

While there’s little we can do to change our genetic makeup, it doesn’t necessarily excuse everything. The media gives the people what we want: so why not start educating your nieces, daughters, and sisters about what’s really going on in the high school cafeteria? If you have questions about the female genetic makeup, give us a call! We’d love to help!