In spite of efforts by big names like Lady Gaga and Dan Savage, teens continue to treat each other like shit. And so the great tradition carries on, as it did during my high school career and the high school careers of the women who came before me: bullies' preferred method of making girls feel bad about themselves seems to be via harassment about sexual proclivity. Why do teenagers love calling each other "sluts" so much?
LiveScience writer Stephanie Pappas ponders this question, speaking to experts and educators about the ongoing epidemic of sexual or gender-themed bullying among adolescents. The reasons behind all the whoretalk are more complicated than one might imagine.
In some cases, girls who call other girls sluts aren't implying that their targets are sexually promiscuous; rather, the bullies are critiquing the sexual and gender identity of the bullied. Cornell University's Ritch Savin-Williams said,
Recent research is showing that it's not their sexuality that's getting them bullied, but their gender expressions. It's that they transgress those gender roles that we have established. … It's not like they're saying, 'Oh, you're having sex with another girl.' That's not what they're picking up on. What they're picking up on is, 'You're not acting like a girl is supposed to act.
Basically, "slut" can mean "anyone not coming correct to teenage girlhood." One way to do that is by acting too much like the gender that doesn't match your biological sex, and another is to overact your biological sex.
If a teenage girl is somehow perceived as abnormally hypersexual, she's singled out and bullied, whether or not she's even having sex, because teenage girls are supposed to be sexy, but not too sexy. Too sexy means slutty and, in the immortal words of cast out Jersey Shore cast member Angelina, "sluts get abused." Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Maureen McHugh explained,
If [girls] don't act sexual at all, they might be rejected, but when they act sexual, they get blasted. And it's not just at that age, but in high school, and even in college.
Ah, yes. Our old friend, the sexual double standard, where girls are chastised for that which boys are congratulated. So good to see you again.
And finally, in many cases, the word "slut" has been drained of meaning through overuse, but remains the nuclear bomb of teenage insults; overuse hasn't drained its hurtful potency. "Slut" means that the person saying it wants to be as hurtful as possible to the person they're targeting, and during a stage in an adolescent's life when she's just trying to figure out where she fits into the world, the most horrible thing to be told is that she doesn't.
Bullies use sexual taunts to hurt teen girls [LiveScience]