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Social Psychology Quarterly

Good Girls: Gender, 2014, Vol. 77(2) 100122


! American Sociological Association 2014
DOI: 10.1177/0190272514521220
Social Class, and Slut http://spq.sagepub.com

Discourse on Campus

Elizabeth A. Armstrong1, Laura T. Hamilton2,


Elizabeth M. Armstrong1, and J. Lotus Seeley1

Abstract
Womens participation in slut shaming is often viewed as internalized oppression: they apply
disadvantageous sexual double standards established by men. This perspective grants women
little agency and neglects their simultaneous location in other social structures. In this article
we synthesize insights from social psychology, gender, and culture to argue that undergrad-
uate women use slut stigma to draw boundaries around status groups linked to social
classwhile also regulating sexual behavior and gender performance. High-status women
employ slut discourse to assert class advantage, defining themselves as classy rather than tra-
shy, while low-status women express class resentmentderiding rich, bitchy sluts for their
exclusivity. Slut discourse enables, rather than constrains, sexual experimentation for the
high-status women whose definitions prevail in the dominant social scene. This is a form of
sexual privilege. In contrast, low-status women risk public shaming when they attempt to
enter dominant social worlds.

Keywords
stigma, status, reputation, gender, class, sexuality, identity, young adulthood, college
women, qualitative methods

Slut shaming, the practice of maligning university in the Midwest, women labeled
women for presumed sexual activity, is other women and marked their distance
common among young Americans. For from sluttiness.
example, Urban Dictionarya website Womens participation in slut shaming
documenting youth slangrefers those is often viewed as evidence of internalized
interested in the term slut to whore, bitch, oppression (Ringrose and Renold 2012).
skank, ho, cunt, prostitute, tramp, hooker, This argument proceeds as follows: slut
easy, or slug.1 Boys and men are not alone
in using these terms (Wolf 1997; Tanen-
1
baum 1999; White 2002). In our ethno- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
2
University of California, Merced, Merced, CA, USA
graphic and longitudinal study of college
women at a large, moderately selective Corresponding Author:
Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Department of Sociology,
1
Slut. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved Decem- University of Michigan, Room 3001 LSA Building,
ber 18, 2013 (http://www.urbandictionary.com/ 500 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
define.php?term=slut). Email: elarmstr@umich.edu

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Good Girls 101

shaming is based on sexual double stand- INTERPRETING SLUT DISCOURSE


ards established and upheld by men, to AMONG WOMEN
womens disadvantage. Although young
We outline three explanations of womens
men are expected to desire and pursue
participation in slut shaming. These
sex regardless of relational and emotional
approaches are not mutually exclusive,
context, young women are permitted sex-
in part because the concept of status is
ual activity only when in committed rela-
central to all three. We treat status as
tionships and in love (Crawford and
the relative positioning of individuals in
Popp 2003; Hamilton and Armstrong
a hierarchy based on esteem and respect.
2009; Schalet 2011; Bell 2013). Women
This approach is fundamentally Weber-
are vulnerable to slut stigma when they
ian and consistent with (often implicit)
violate this sexual standard and conse-
definitions of the concept in social psy-
quently experience status loss and dis-
chology (see Berger, Ridgeway, and Zel-
crimination (Phillips 2000; Nack 2002).
ditch 2002; Ridgeway 2011; Lucas and
Slut shaming is thus about sexual
Phelan 2012). Those with high status
inequality and reinforces male dominance
experience esteem and approval; those
and female subordination. Womens par-
with low status are more likely to experi-
ticipation works at cross-purposes with
ence disregard and stigma. While status
progress toward gender equality.
systems among adults often focus on occu-
In this article, we complicate this pic-
pation, among youth they develop in peer
ture. We are unconvinced that women
cultures (e.g., Eder, Evans, and Parker
would engage so enthusiastically in slut
1995; Milner 2006). Since the publication
discourse with nothing to gain. Synthesiz-
of Colemans (1961) The Adolescent Soci-
ing insights from social psychological
ety, research on American peer cultures
research on stigma, gender theory, and
has found that youth status is informed
cultural sociology, we argue that womens
by good looks, social skills, popularity
participation in this practice is only indi-
with the other gender, and athleticism
rectly related to judgments about sexual
traits that are loosely linked to social
activity. Instead it is about drawing
class (Adler and Adler 1998). In this
class-based moral boundaries that simul-
case, status is produced and accrued in
taneously organize sexual behavior and
the dominant social world on campus
gender presentation. Womens definitions
the largely Greek-controlled party scene
of sluttiness revolve around status on
(also see Armstrong and Hamilton 2013).
campus, which is largely dictated by class
From a social psychological stigma
background. High-status women employ
approach, sexual labeling is primarily
slut discourse to assert class advantage,
about distancing the self from a stigma-
defining their styles of femininity and
tized, and thus low-status, sexual cate-
approaches to sexuality as classy rather
gory. Another approach suggests that
than trashy. Low-status women express
labeling regulates public gender perfor-
class resentmentderiding rich, bitchy
mance. A final, cultural approach sug-
sluts for their wealth, exclusivity, and
gests that labeling facilitates the drawing
participation in casual sexual activity.
of class boundaries via distinctive styles
For high-status womenwhose defini-
of performing gender. Individuals at
tions prevail in the dominant social
both ends of the status hierarchy seek to
sceneslut discourse enables, rather
apply their definitions of stigma, but
than constrains, sexual experimentation.
only high-status individuals succeed in
In contrast, low-status women are vulner-
the spaces where status is produced.
able to public shaming.

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102 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

Sexuality, Stigma, and Defensive code already imposed by a dominant


Othering group (Schwalbe et al. 2000:425).
Social psychologists view the attribution In this case, however, the above model
of negative meaning to a human differ- does not fully apply. As we will demon-
ence as initiating the stigma process strate, womens criteria for applying the
(see Link and Phelans 2001 model; also slut label were not widely shared. There
Lucas and Phelan 2012). The focus of appeared to be no group of women consis-
tently identified as slutsat least by
most contemporary work in this tradition
women. Everyone succeeded at avoiding
is on how individuals cope once a social
stable classification. Yet slut stigma still
identity, or membership in some social
felt very real. Women were convinced
category, calls into question his or her
that actual sluts existed and organized
full humanity (Crocker 1999:89; see
their behaviors to avoid this label. Thus,
also Jones et al. 1984). Research on the
an explanation that ends with womens
management of stigma offers insight
attempts to evade slut stigma by deflect-
into how the stigmatized respond to their
ing it onto other women is unsatisfying.
situations (Goffman 1963; Major and
We employ a discursive approach to
OBrien 2005; Killian and Johnson
explain how individual efforts to deflect
2006; Saguy and Ward 2011; Thoits
stigma reaffirm its salience for all women.
2011). One strategy involves deflecting
stigma onto others (Blinde and Taub
1992; Pyke and Dang 2003; Payne 2010; Gender Performance and the
Trautner and Collett 2010). This process, Circulation of Stigma
referred to by Schwalbe and coauthors The doing gender tradition suggests
(2000) as defensive othering, helps that slut stigma regulates the gender pre-
explain womens participation in slut sentations of all girls and women (Eder et
stigma. The perspective suggests that al. 1995; Tanenbaum 1999). The empha-
womenas subordinates to menfear sis is on how women are sanctioned for
contamination and thus work to distance failing to perform femininity acceptably
themselves from stigma. This model cor- (West and Zimmerman 1987). This sug-
responds with the taken-for-granted gests that slut stigma is more about regu-
approach described at the start of the lating public gender performance than
article. regulating private sexual practices.
The framework outlined by Schwalbe Taking this approach further, Pascoe
et al. (2000) and applied by a variety of (2007) draws on Foucault (1978) and But-
scholars makes several assumptions: sub- ler (1990) to analyze the circulation of the
ordinates accept the legitimacy of classifi- fag epithet among adolescent boys. She
cation while distancing themselves from shows that the ubiquitous threat of being
the stigmatized category. There is a clear labeled regulates performances by all
line between subordinates and oppres- boys, ensuring conformity with hege-
sors, with some people stably located in monic masculinity. Boys jockey for rank
the subordinate category. Distancing is in peer hierarchies by lobbing the fag
seldom fully successful; those engaged in label at each other in a game of hot
defensive othering do not escape the sub- potato. Fag is not, as Pascoe (2007:54)
ordinate position, much as they would notes, a static identity attached to a par-
like to. Oppressors define the categories ticular (homosexual) boy but rather a
and the meaning system, while subordi- discourse with which boys discipline
nates react to an oppressive identity themselves and each other.

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Good Girls 103

Pascoes discursive model, when have no necessary connection with sexual


extended to our case, suggests that slut behavior yet are taken as its signifiers.
discourse serves as a vehicle by which Performances of femininity are shaped
girls discipline themselves and others. It by class and race and ranked in ways
does not require the existence of real that benefit women in advantaged catego-
sluts. Just as any boy can temporarily be ries (McCall 1992). Respectable feminin-
a fag, so can any girl provisionally fill ity becomes synonymous with the polite,
the slut position. Slut discourse may accommodating, demure style often per-
even circulate more privately than fag formed by the white middle class (Bettie
discourse: girls do not need to know they 2003; Jones 2010; Garcia 2012).
have been labeled for the discourse to This suggests that high-status women
work. The fag label does not hinge on sex- have an interest in applying sexual
ual identity or practices; similarly, the stigma to others, thus solidifying their
slut label may have little or nothing to erotic rank. Such an explanation is par-
do with the amount or kinds of sex tial as it does not account for why other
women have. In the same way that the women engage in slut shaming. We need
fluidity of the fag identity makes it a framework that accommodates the
a powerful disciplinary mechanism interests of all actors, no matter how sub-
(Pascoe 2007:54), so may the ubiquity of ordinate, in deflecting existing negative
the slut label. classifications.
Just as masculinities are hierarchi-
cally organized, femininities are also dif-
ferentially valued. Labeling women as Intersectionality, Moral Boundaries,
good or bad is about statusthe nego- and the Centrality of Class
tiation of rank among women. Men play A third approach highlights the symbolic
a critical role in establishing this rank boundaries people draw to affirm the
by rewarding particular femininities. identities and reputations that set them
Women confront a double standard that apart from others (Lamont 1992). In
penalizes them for (even the suggestion some cases, boundaries have a moral
of) sexual behavior normalized for men dimension, distinguishing between the
(Crawford and Popp 2003; Hamilton and pure and the polluting (Lamont and Mol-
Armstrong 2009). We emphasize, how- nar 2002; see also Gieryn 1983; Stuber
ever, that women also sexually evaluate 2006). Individuals in distinct social loca-
and rank each other. Womens competi- tions work simultaneously to favorably
tion is oriented toward both attention differentiate their groups from others.
from men and esteem among women. We Lamonts (1992, 2000) workwhich
challenge literature in which femininities attends to how people draw class bou-
are seen as wholly derivative of masculin- ndariessuggests that both affluent
ities, where women passively accept crite- and working-class Americans construct
ria established by men. a sense of superiority in relation to each
Status competition among women is in other. She finds that working-class
part about femininity. Yet other dimen- Americans often perceive the affluent as
sions of inequalityparticularly class superficial and lacking integrity. Stuber
and raceintersect with gender to inform (2006) extends her work to American col-
sexual evaluation. For example, Patricia lege students, showing how classed mean-
Hill Collins argues that black women ings are situated constructions arising in
are often stereotyped as jezebel, whore, interaction. She notes that the class dis-
or hoochie (2004:89). Class and race course of less affluent students tends to

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104 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

be more elaborate and emotionally discourse: all actively constitute it in


charged than that of their wealthier interaction.
peers. Similarly, Gorman (2000) found In what follows, we use insights from
that middle-class and working-class indi- all three perspectives to develop a more
viduals offered negative portrayals of complex explanation of womens slut-
members of the other social class. The shaming practices. We argue that women
narratives of the more affluent revealed use sexual stigma to distance themselves
contempt, while those of the working from other women, but not primarily on
class indicated class injury. the basis of actual sexual activity. Women
Scholars focusing on class, race, and use slut discourse to maintain status dis-
intersectionality have observed that tinctions that are, in this case, linked
social differences are often partly consti- closely to social class. Both low- and
tuted in the realm of sexuality (Wilkins high-status women define their own per-
2008). Ortner claims that class differen- formances of femininity as exempt from
ces are largely represented as sexual dif- sexual stigma while labeling other groups
ferences (1991:178; quoted in Trautner as slutty. It is only high-status women,
2005:774, Trautners emphasis). Simi- though, who experience what we refer to
larly, Bourdieu (1984:102) argues as sexual privilegethe ability to define
that sexual properties are as insepara- acceptable sexuality in high-status
ble from class properties as the yellow- spaces.
ness of a lemon is from its acidity. In
Women Without Class, Bettie (2003) METHODS
shows that differences primarily about
Our awareness of womens use of slut dis-
class (and race) were interpreted as
course emerged inductively from a longi-
exclusively about gender and sexuality.
tudinal ethnographic and interview study
Teachers saw the Chica femininity per-
of a cohort of 53 women who began college
formed by low-income Latina girls as
in the 20042005 academic year at Mid-
revealing sexual promiscuity and the
west University.2 We supplement these
femininity of middle-class white girls as
data with individual and group inter-
indicating sexual restraint. Similarly,
views conducted outside the residence
women from marginalized groups often
hall sample.
emphasize sexual difference to mark
Below we describe the ethnographic
class boundaries (Skeggs 1997; Wilkins
and interview procedures, the partici-
2008).
pants, our relationships with them, and
This model suggests that womens
how we classified them into status groups
deployment of slut discourse may be
aligning closelybut not entirelywith
partly about negotiating class differen-
social class. We also address the social
ces. It may define moral boundaries
desirability issues acute in sex research,
around class that also organize sexual
most notably womens underreporting
behavior (i.e., how much and what kinds
of sexual behavior (Laumann et al.
of sexual activity women engage in
1994; Alexander and Fisher 2003). Sev-
and with whom) and performances of
eral aspects of our design allowed us
femininity. The positions women take,
access to information women often kept
and the success they experience
secret.
when definitions conflict, may be influ-
enced by prior social advantage. This
perspective suggests that no group is
2
entirely subject to, or in control of, slut We refer to the university with a pseudonym.

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Good Girls 105

Ethnography and Longitudinal affluent. The remainder grew up in work-


Interviews ing, lower-middle, or middle-class fami-
A research team of nine, including two lies; we refer to these women as less
authors, occupied a room on a residence affluent.
hall floor. When data collection com- Women were told that we were there to
menced, the first author was an assistant study the college experience, and indeed,
professor in her late thirties and the sec- we attended to all facets of their lives.
We observed throughout the academic
ond author a graduate student in her
year, interacting with participants as
early twenties. The team included
they did with each other (Corsaro 1997).
a male graduate student, an undergradu-
We let women guide conversations and
ate sorority member, and an undergradu-
tried to avoid revealing our attitudes.
ate from a working-class family. Varia-
This made it difficult for them to deter-
tion in age, approach, and self-
mine what we were studying, which
presentation facilitated different types of
behaviors interested us, and how we
relationships with women on the floor
might judge themminimizing the
(Erickson and Stull 1998).
effects of social desirability.
The floor we studied was located in one
We also conducted five waves of inter-
of several party dorms. Affluent stu-
viewsfrom womens first year of college
dents often requested this residence hall
to the year after most graduated. We
if they were interested in drinking, hook-
include data from 189 interviews with
ing up, and joining the Greek system. Few
the 44 heterosexual women (83 percent
identified as feminist and all presented as
of the floor) who participated in the final
traditionally feminine.
interview. The interviews ranged from
Floor residents were similar in many
45 minutes to 2.5 hours.
ways. They started college together, on
All waves covered a broad range of
the same floor, at the same school.3 All
topics, including partying, sexuality, rela-
were white, a result of low racial diversity tionships, friendships, classes, employ-
on campus and segregation in campus ment, religion, and relationships with
housing (see Hurtado et al. 1999). All parents. The first wave included a ques-
but two identified as heterosexual and tion about how women might view a
only one woman was not born in the girl who is known for having sex with
United States. This homogeneity, though a lot of guys. This wording reveals our
a limitation, allowed us to isolate ways early assumption that the slut label was
that social class shaped womens positions about sexual activity and generated little
on campus and moral boundaries they discussion when women stayed close to
drew with respect to sexuality and gender the prompt. Later we realized that this,
presentation. Assessment of class back- too, provided data. Aware that we were
ground was based on parental education attempting to ask about sluts, many
and occupation, student employment dur- women offered a definition of a real
ing the school year, and student loans (see slut, as if to educate us. We also draw
Table 1.2 in Armstrong and Hamilton on the frequent, unsolicited use of slut
2013). Of the sample, 54 percent came discourse emerging from discussions of
from upper-middle or upper-class back- college sexuality, peers, and partying.
grounds; we refer to these women as Women were most concerned with
the slut label during the first year of col-
3
At the start of the study, 51 women were lege, as status hierarchies were being
freshmen, and 2 were sophomores. established.

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106 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

The second author collected most of the (see Armstrong and Hamilton 2013 for
interviews, as women felt more comfort- more). Sorority membership was almost
able around her. Some even sought her a requirement for high status: only four
out for consultation about private sexual women managed to pursue alternative
issues (e.g., assistance with a pregnancy paths into the party scene. One benefited
test that needed to be done outside of from her relationship with an athlete,
a sorority). When asking about sex, she another from residence in a luxurious
always attempted to respond neutrally or apartment complex with a party reputa-
positively. A number of women commented tion, and two capitalized on dense high
that it was a relief to talk about sex without school networks.
fear of judgment. One noted, You are Status fell largely, although not
someone who I feel I can tell anything to entirely, along class lines: the 23 high-
because you have no bias or whatever. Its status women were primarily upper class
kind of nice. I always look forward to and upper middle class, in part because
when I get to talk to you, and [my freshman they had time and money to participate.
year roommate] does too (Morgan Y5). Most were from out of state, which corre-
Despite our efforts, women still seemed sponded with wealth due to the high cost
to worry about revealing too much sex- of out-of-state tuition. Some middle-class
ual activity. For example, one woman, women who successfully emulated afflu-
when asked the number of sexual part- ent social and sexual styles were also clas-
ners she had in college, was reticent to sified as high status.
disclose specifics: The remaining 21 women were
excluded from the Greek party scene.
Naomi: Roughly . . . this is so embarrass-
Fifteen lower-middle-class and working-
ing. Roughly, like, 12?
class women lacked the economic and
Second Author: Why is that so
embarrassing? cultural resources necessary for regular
Naomi: Its, its, its still a big number up participation and were low status by
there. (Y4) default. They shared this designation with
six middle-class to upper-class women
Her hesitation suggested that she who did not join sororities. These women
rounded down. had few friends on campus and expressed
attitudes critical of the Greek party scene.
They did not perform the gender style
Classification into Status Groups that would have increased their status.
We classified women according to partici- Two identified as lesbian, and the others
pation in the Greek party scene, which viewed themselves as alternative or nerdy.
was the most widely accepted signal of For these women, compliance would have
peer status on campus. We categorized 23 been challenging and uncomfortable.
women as high status and 21 as low status. We also analyzed data from four group
High-status women exhibited a particu- interviews (24 women total) and 21
lar style of femininity valued in sororities. individual interviews. The first author,
The accomplishment of cuteness usually accompanied by a research assis-
a slender but fit, blonde, tan, fashionable tant, conducted the group interviews
lookrequired class resources. Women with five to seven intimate friends in
also gained admission on the basis of their own homes. Two of these were
good personalitiesindicated by extro- among high-status women in sororities,
version, interest in high-end fashion, and two were with low-status groups
and familiarity with brand names (self-identified feminists or senior

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Good Girls 107

women living in off-campus housing). sluttiness. High- and low-status women


Supplemental individual interviews with draw moral boundaries consistent with
senior women were, in contrast, as close their own classed styles of femininity,
to anonymous as possible: the graduate effectively segregating the groups. As we
student interviewer and participants had discuss in a final section, low-status
no prior relationship, and interviews women sometimes attempt to enter the
occurred only once. Participants, who dominant social scene. There they find
were generally more sexually active than themselves classified according to high-
the residence hall sample, selected into status standards, which places them at
the interview knowing it focused on sex. risk of public sexual stigma. In contrast,
high-status women are exempt from pub-
lic slut shaming. This, we argue, is a form
Data Analysis and Presentation of sexual privilege.
We used ATLAS.ti, a qualitative data
analysis program, to organize and process Producing Slut Stigma Through
interview transcripts and ethnographic Discourse
notes. We identified patterns and looked
Years after high school, two young women
for counterexamples. Group differences,
became angry as they revisited instances
particularly by status and social class,
when abstinence failed to protect them
were subjected to a rigorous process of
from slut stigma:
comparison. We developed and tested
hypotheses by writing theoretical memos, Woman 1: I was a virgin the first time I
checking them against multiple data sour- was called a slut.
ces, and refining theories. The involve- Woman 2: I was too.
ment of the third and fourth authors Other Woman: Really?
brought new perspectives and additional Woman 1: Yeah, because no one knew [I
means for ascertaining reliability. was really a virgin].
Woman 2: They all thought I slept with
The source of each data piece is identi-
people. Thats what my volleyball
fied in the text. FN (for field note) and the
coach said to all my friends, that I
date of the observation mark ethno- was the one that was going to be caus-
graphic material. All longitudinal inter- ing trouble when I get older, and now
views are flagged with the interview every one of my friends has had sex
wave and a pseudonym assigned to the with like a hundred people!
participant (e.g., Lydia Y3). We also indi- Woman 1: Or are pregnant or have been
cate group interviews where relevant pregnant.
and use unique numbers to designate Woman 2: Yeah, exactly.
supplemental individual interviews First Author: What were they responding
to?
(e.g., S05).
Woman 1: Like, if masturbation were to
come up . . . I wouldnt be afraid to
SLUT BOUNDARY WORK talk about it. I think people got the
The results are organized in three sec- wrong idea from that.
tions. First, we discuss how women simul- Woman 2: In high school, they called
me a cocktease. I didnt do anything
taneously produce and evade slut stigma
but . . . I have always been the open
through interaction and their investment one. (Off-Campus Group)
in this cultural work. We then show that
status on campus, organized largely by As was often the case, slut stigma was
social class, shapes how women define disconnected from sexual behavior. Yet

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108 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

rather than challenge the use of this in private and was directed at targets
label, these women, like others, endorsed unaware of their stigmatization. As one
it. They argued that the accusations woman reported about her friends sexual
were problematic because they were inac- relationship,
curate. They even suggested that their
friends who had sex with like a hundred She just keeps going over there
people or have been pregnant were because she wants his attention
more appropriate targetsdeflecting because she likes him. Thats disgust-
stigma onto someone else. ing. That to me, if you want to talk
Conversations in which women dis- about slutty, that to me is whoring
cussed and demarcated the line between yourself out. And, I mean, I hate to
good and bad girlslabeling others nega- say that because she is one of my
best friends, but good God, its like
tively while positioning themselves favor-
how stupid can you be? (S06)
ablywere common. All but three
women, or 93 percent, revealed familiar-
Often the labeled were women viewed as
ity with terms like slut, whore, skank, or
sexual competition. As Becky told us,
ho. Good girl, virgin, or classy were used
to indicate sexual or moral superiority.
My boyfriend, girls hit on him all the
Women drew hierarchical distinctions
time, and during Halloween he told
within groups as well as between ingroup
me this story about a girl who was
and outgroup members. Friends were wearing practically nothing. . . . She
easy targets, as women believed that went up to him [and he asked,]
they knew more about their sexual behav- What are you supposed to be? And
ior than that of other women. As we dis- she said, Im a cherry. Do you want
cuss later, though, public slut shaming to pop my cherry? She lifts up her
was commonly directed at members of skirt and shes wearing a thong that
the opposing status group. had a cherry on it. Thats skanky.
These cases might be seen as textbook Thats so skanky. (Y1)
examples of defensive otheringa com-
mon strategy for managing stigma. Yet Whether friends, enemies, or as detailed
aspects of slut stigma differ from what below, women in the other status group,
social psychological models of stigma pre- targets served as foils for womens claims
dict. The criteria for assigning stigma of virtue.
were unclear and continually constructed The labeled woman did not even need
through interaction. Women were both to exist. Women sometimes referred to
potential recipients of sexual stigma and others who were so generic, interchange-
producers of itsimultaneously engaged able, or socially distant as to be apocry-
in both defensive and oppressive other- phalthe mythical slut. For instance,
ing. As one insightful woman put it, I sorority women in a group interview
feel like youre more likely to say [slut] if explained how serenading, a common
you maybe feel like you could potentially Greek practice, was ruined by a com-
be called that (Abby Y1). There was no plete slut who purportedly had sex
stable division between stigmatized and with a guy in front of everybody. As in
normal individuals. similar stories (Fine 1992), the connection
It was rare for the slut label to stick to to the slut was tenuous: no one actually
any given woman, a requirement for sta- knew heronly of her. Her behavior,
tus loss and persistent discrimination being particularly public in nature, was
across situations. Most labeling occurred used to delimit the acceptable.

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Good Girls 109

Defining the self as a good girl required . . . good girls dont do this. Some bar-
ongoing boundary work. An exchange gained with themselves, following self-
between Whitney and Mollie, roommates imposed rules meant to preserve good
who completed the first-year interview girl identities. Tara recalled the agony of
together, provides another example: waiting until her first serious relationship
seemed official enough to make sex okay,
Whitney: Theres like, some girls that are
noting, I need to wait 14 more days . . .
big sluts.
then that will be enough time (Y3).
Second Author: How do you know if a per-
sons a slut? What would be the Women feared public exposure as
definition? sluts. Virtually all expressed the desire
Whitney: They just go and sleep with a dif- to avoid a bad reputation. I know that I
ferent guy every night. Like this girl. wouldnt want that reputation (Olivia
Anna has sex with a different guy Y1). At times they seemed to be assuring
every single night and every single us (and themselves) of their virtue. As
weekend. Its so . . . I dont understand one anxiously reported, Im not a fast-
how someone could not have any more paced girl. Im a good girl (Naomi Y1).
respect for themselves. Its like, you
In the context of a feminist group inter-
enjoy this. Shes like whatever . . . I
view, one woman came close to positively
could never let myself do that.
Mollie: I couldnt either. claiming a slut identity: she proclaimed
Second Author: How did you know her? that she was done with her secret life of
Whitney: I met her through a friend. being promiscuous and was coming out
Shes cool, but . . . to people now. . . . Im promiscuous, dam-
Mollie: Neither of us are like that, and I mit! Yet she proceeded to admit that she
cant think of any of our high school was really only out to her friends, not-
friends that are like that either. ing, I dont tell some of my friends
Whitney and Mollie achieved a working a lot of my friends. Thats why I really
definition of the slut, applied the label to love my feminist thing. I reserve it, as
someone else, and evaded stigma by dis- people arent going to judge me. Even
tancing themselvesand their friends she feared public censure.
from her. These processes occurred simul-
taneously. They built the definition as
Class and Status Differences in Moral
they went, attributing improbable actions
Boundaries
(having sex with a different guy every
single night and every single weekend) As noted earlier, high-status women were
to a conveniently absent target. Annas largely affluent, from out of state, and
supposed transgressions defined the stig- with few exceptionssorority members.
matized trait and concurrently catego- In contrast, low-status women were
rized Whitney and Mollie as normal. mostly less affluent, local, and on the
Although this was a fluid process margins of campus life. Class differences
over which women exercised considerable in conceptions of appropriate femininity
controlthey were deeply invested in it. were at the heart of womens sexual and
Most believed in a real difference between moral boundaries.
good and bad girls and regulated their The high-status view: classy versus tra-
behavior accordingly. As a participant in shy. For affluent women, a primary risk
the feminist group stated, A lot of it is of sex in college was its potential to
socialization. . . . Theres nothing keeping derail professional advancement and/or
me from doing it. But emotionally Im like class-appropriate marriage. Hooking up,

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110 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

particularly without intercourse, was Armstrong, and Puentes 2012; Vannier


viewed as relatively low risk because it and Byers 2013).4
did not require costly commitment (Hamil- Vaginal intercourse outside of relation-
ton and Armstrong 2009). When asked ships was viewed as more problematic.
who hooked up the most on campus, Nicole Becky, for example, judged those who
responded, All . . . the people who came to engaged in extrarelational intercourse.
college to have a good time and party (Y1). When asked how often she hooked up,
Women even creatively reframed sexual Becky emphasized participation in low-
exploration as a necessary precondition to middle-range activities: I mean, I
for a successful marriage. As Alicia wasnt like a slut or anything. Thered
explained, Im glad that Ive had my one- be weekends I wouldnt want to do any-
night stands . . . because now I know thing except make out with someone,
what its supposed to feel like when Im and theres weekends I wouldnt want to
with someone that I want to be with. . . . do anything, like maybe a little bit of
I feel bad for some of my friends. . . . a kiss (Y1). When the discussion turned
Theyre still virgins (Y1). to vaginal intercourse shelike most
High-status women rejected the view womenmentioned only sex with her
that all sexual activity outside of relation- boyfriend.
ships was bad. They viewed sexual activ- Yet having vaginal intercourse in
ity along a continuum, with hooking up a hookup was sometimes permissible
falling conveniently in the middle. as long as women did not do so too
Beckys nuanced definition of hooking up many times or too easily. As Tara
is illustrative. She argued that kissing claimed, I think when people have sex
[is] excludedminimizing this favorite with a lot of guys that arent their boy-
activity of hers in seriousness. As she con- friends thats really a slut (Y1, emphasis
tinued, You have kissing over here added). She was vague about the number,
[motions to one side] and sex over here unable to articulate whether one, five, or
[motions to the other]. . . . Anything 50 hookups with intercourse made
from making out to right before you hit a woman a slut. Another woman, who
sex is hooking up. . . . I think sex is in had more sexual partners than her
its own class (Y1). friends, claimed that the number of part-
This view hinged on defining a range of ners was irrelevant. She noted, Slutty
sexual activitiessuch as hardcore mak- doesnt mean how many people [you slept
ing out, heavy petting (Becky Y1), with]. It just means how easy you are.
mutual masturbation, and oral sexas Like, if a guy wants it, are you gonna
not sex. Sex, as women defined it, give it to him? (Abby Y1).
referred only to vaginal intercourse. Han- To high-status women, looking tra-
nah described herself as a virgin to both shy was more indicative of sluttiness
researchers and her mother, despite than any amount of sexual activity.
admitting to oral sex with a hookup part- Women spent hours trying to perfect
ner. She joked with her mother about a high-status sexy look without crossing
a missed period, Must be from all the the line into sluttiness. This was often
sex Ive been having. And shes like,
uhhhh. . . . I was like, Mom, Im just kid- 4
Sex educators typically treat the defining of
ding. Im still a virgin (Y2). Hannah was
oral sex as not sex as a classification error
not alone. Research suggests that many in need of correction by better education about
young Americans do not define oral-geni- the importance of seeing sex as an entire range
tal contact as having sex (Backstrom, of behaviors (Remez 2000).

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Good Girls 111

a social exercise: women crowded in front Similarly, when asked to define her soror-
of a mirror, trying on outfits and accesso- itys reputation, one sorority woman
ries until everyone assembled approved. responded with a single word, classy,
As Blair described, A lot of the girls on which another focus group member
when we were going out . . . theyre ask- elaborated: I think we would be the girl
ing, I dont look slutty, do I? The process next door.
was designed to protect against judgment The perfect girl or girl next door
by others, although it also provided per- indexed the wholesome, demure, and
sonal affirmation. For Blair, the fact that politebut fun-lovinginteractional style
she and her sorority sisters asked these characteristic of affluent white women
critical questions signaled that they were (Bettie 2003; Trautner 2005). Alicias use
classier. . . . Thats important (Y1). of the word preppy offered another class
Blair was not the only woman to con- clue: this style originated on elite Eastern
trast a desirable, classy appearance with college campuses and was exemplified by
an undesirable, trashy appearance. For fashion designers like Ralph Lauren,
instance, Alicia noted, If my house is con- known for selling not only clothing but
sidered the trashy, slutty house and I an advantaged lifestyle (Banks and Chap-
didnt know that and someone said that elle 2011). The preppy female student dis-
[it] would hurt my feelings. [Especially] played confidence in elite social settings
when Im thinking . . . its the classy and could afford the trappings necessary
house (Y1). Classy denoted sophisticated to make a good impression.
style, while trashy suggested exclusion Accomplishing a classy presentation
from the upper rungs of society, as cap- required considerable resources. Parent-
tured in the phrase white trash (Kusen- funded credit cards allowed women to sig-
bach 2009). They rarely referred to actual nal affluent tastes in clothing and
less-affluent womenwho, by virtue of makeup. Several purchased expensive
their exclusion from social life, were invis- MAC-brand purple eye shadow that read
ible (see Fiske 2011). Instead, women as classy rather than the drugstore
used labels to mark gradations of status eye shadow worn by at least one work-
in their bounded social world. By closely ing-class woman. As Naomi told us, Im
aligning economic advantage and moral high maintenance. . . . I like nice things
purity, women who pulled off a classy [laughs]. I guess in a sense, I like things
femininity were beyond reproach. brand name (Y1). Without jobs, they
The most successful women were those had time to go tanning, get their hair
who constructed a seamless upper- done, do their nails, shop, and keep up
middle-class gender presentation. Sorori- with fashion trends. By college, these
ties actively recruited these women. As women were well versed in classed inter-
Alicia continued, actional styles and bodywork. Many had
cultivated these skills in high-school
peer cultures as cheerleaders, prom
Lets say Im president of the house or
something and I [want to] keep the queens, and dance squad members.
classy [sorority] name that weve had High-status women also knew the
from the previous year then [we nuanced rules of the party scene before
need] more people with that classy arrival. Most had previous party experi-
[sorority] look. . . . The preppy, classy, ence and brought advice from college-
good girl that likes to have fun and be savvy friends and family with them.
friendly. You know, the perfect girl. Becky described one such rule, about
(Y1) attire:

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112 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

[Halloween is] the night that girls can women, whose expectations about appro-
dress skanky. Me and my friends do it. priate relationship timelines were shaped
[And] in the summer, Im not gonna by a different social world. Many of their
lie, I wear itty bitty skirts. . . . Then friends back home were already married
there are the sluts that just dress
or had children. Amanda, a working-class
slutty, and sure they could be actual
sluts. I dont get girls that go to frater-
woman, recalled, I thought Id get mar-
nity parties in the dead of winter ried in college. . . . I wanted to have kids
wearing skirts that you can see their before I was 25 (Y4). Hooking up made
asses in. (Y1) little sense uncoupled from the desire
to postpone commitment. As one less-
As she noted, good girls do not wear short affluent woman noted,
skirts or revealing shirts without social
permission. She was aware that women Who would be interested in just meet-
who dressed provocatively were not neces- ing somebody and then doing some-
sarily actual sluts, but her language sug- thing that night? And then never talk-
gested belief in such womens existence, ing to them again? . . . Im supposed to
do this; Im supposed to get drunk
necessitating efforts to avoid being placed
every weekend. Im supposed to go to
in this category. Another woman high-
parties every weekend . . . and Im
lighted ways that dress and deportment supposed to enjoy it like everyone
could be played off each other. She noted else. But it just doesnt appeal to me.
that it was acceptable for women to (Valerie Y1)
have a short skirt on if theyre being
cool but if theyre dancing really gross Lacking access to classed beliefs support-
with a short skirt on, then like, oh slut. ing sexual exploration, less-affluent
Youve got to have the combination (Lydia women treated sexual activity outside of
Y1). Women lacking familiarity with these relationships as morally suspect. As
unstated rules started at a disadvantage. lower-middle-class Olivia explained,
In general, classy girls did not get in
trouble, draw inappropriate attention, or I have really strong feelings about the
do anything weird. For instance, one whole sex thing. . . . I know that some
supposed slut was involved with drugs, people have boyfriends and theyve
and she stole a lot of stuff, and her been with them for a long time, and I
parents sent her to boarding school (Nic- understand that. But I listen to some
ole Y1). Others were described as having people when they talk about [hooking
up]. . . . I know that personally for
problems at home with their families
me, I would rather be a virgin for as
and stuff (Nicole Y4). In one case, a slut
much as I can than go out and do
was remarkable for eat[ing] ketchup for God knows who and do whatever. (Y1)
dinner [laughter]. [First Author: Like,
only ketchup?] Right, she has some As discussed in the Methods section, not
issues (Erica and Taylor Y1). These all low-status women lacked class advan-
activities were not sexual. Instead, they tage, but even low-status women from
represented failure to successfully per- affluent families opposed hooking up. As
form an affluent femininity, with sexual upper-middle-class Madison noted, I
stigma applied as the penalty. just dont [hook up]. . . . Im not really
The low-status view: nice versus bitchy. into that kinda thing, I guess. I just
The notion that youth should participate dont like getting with random people
in hookups was foreign to less-affluent (Y1). Similarly, upper-middle-class Linda

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Good Girls 113

described herself as very sexually con- them with more information about the
servative in contrast to her liberal complexities of hooking up, although
floor, in part due to their participation they did not alter their own sexual
in hooking up (Y1). practices.
Some low-status women were confused Low-status women maintained a dis-
about hooking up, as they were excluded tinction between themselves and those
from the social networks where the prac- who hooked up. As Olivia noted,
tice made sense. When asked for a defini-
tion, Mary, a middle-class woman, My friends are similar when it comes
responded, Good question. I honestly, I to things like [sex]. We dont think of
couldnt tell you what some of their. . . I it as doing whatever with who knows
mean Ive heard them use [the word] who. . . . Im sure theres more people
that are like me, but I know there
and Im kind of like, well what does that
are people who just do it casually.
mean? Did you have sex with them or did
They dont think of it as anything
you just make out with them or . . . ? cause a lot of them have done it
(Y1). Working-class Megan had not even before. For them its different. (Y1)
heard of hooking up until we asked her
about it. She equated hooking up with an Her explanation, using us-versus-them
alleged sorority hazing ritual in which language, divided college women into
they would tie the girls up naked on two groups and implied her group was
a bed and then a guy would come in and superior.
they would have sex with them (Y1). The judgment low-status women
Without insider cultural knowledge, passed on their high-status peers was
low-status women did not make the about more than sexuality. They often
same fine-grained distinctions between derided sorority women and those who
types of sexual activity outside of relation- attended parties. As Carrie described,
ships. For these women, the relevant [My sister] who goes to [private college]
divide was whether the activity occurred is in [a sorority]. Umm, hello. All those
in a relationship or not. They assumed girls are sluts. Sorry, they were. All they
that hookups, like most committed rela- did was drink and go to parties. Shes
tionships, involved vaginal intercourse. not like that so she deactivated (Y1).
A roommate pair explained: Linda referred to women in the Greek
system as the party sluts (Y4).
Heather: A lot of the girls . . . theyre
always like oh you hooked up.
Underlying this disapproval was a rejec-
Stacey: Were not used to that. Hooking tion of their partying peers interactional
up means you guys fucked. . . . Id be style. Madison, right after she transferred
like omigod and everyone elses like to a regional college, explained what she
what? And Im like you guys hooked disliked about many women on the floor:
up? Theyd be like so?
Second Author: You thought everyone Sorority girls are kinda whorish and
was having random sex? unfriendly and very cliquey. If you
Stacey: [I felt like saying] you slut. werent Greek, then you didnt really
Heather: At first we were like, what is matter. . . . I feel like most, if not all,
this place? (Y1) the sorority girls I met at MU were
bitches and stuck up. [In response to
These two women would briefly (and the indignation of a friend from
unsuccessfully) attempt to befriend afflu- another school, who was present dur-
ent partiers on the floor. This provided ing this segment of the interview:] I

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114 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

met [Sashas sorority] sisters and excruciatingly aware of those above them,
theyre really nice. (Y3) whereas those with status attend less to
those below them. Lacking language to
Madison equated sluttiness with exclu- make sense of the class differences that
sivitybeing bitchy, stuck up, cliquey, permeated social life at Midwest Univer-
and unfriendly. She contrasted this with sity, the slut label did cultural work.
the desirable trait, niceness, which she Low-status women conflated unkindness
was obligated to attribute to Sasha and and perceived promiscuity when they
her friends. called high-status women slutty. Their
Niceness, also described as being use of the term captured both their reac-
friendly, laid back, or down home, tions to poor treatment and the unfair-
referenced a classed femininity in which ness of others getting away with sexual
social climbing, expensive consumption behavior they viewed as inappropriate
patterns, and efforts to distinguish oneself (and for which they would have been
as better than others were disparaged. penalized). Slut discourse was thus
Madison rejected high-status femininity, employed in privately waged battles of
despite her own affluence. She explained, class revenge. As we discuss below, this
animosity had few consequences for
Most of the girls . . . they seem to be high-status women.
snotty. There were a few girls that
are just like [my friends and my]
Status, Affluence, and Competing Bound-
level, where we arent gonna be, oh
we have money, were gonna live bet-
aries. Slut discourse helped establish
ter than you. But there are a few and maintain boundaries between high-
that definitely you could tell they and low-status women. Midway through
had like an unlimited income. They college there were no friendships crossing
went shopping all the time. (Y3) this line, despite the cross-group interac-
tions necessitated by living on the same
Similarly, Staceywho was from a lower- floor. Women enforced moral boundaries
middle-class familyremarked bitterly, on uneven ground. Most cases of conflict
Theres a lot of rich bitches in sororities, occurred when low-status womenlured
and they have everything that their by the promise of fun, status, and belong-
daddy gives them. . . . I mean, they prob- ingattempted to interact with high-
ably saw on TV were the number one status women, especially in the party
party school, like, four years ago and scene. There was not much movement in
theyre like, Daddy, Mommy, I wanna the other direction: high-status women
go there! (Y3/Y4). Sluttiness and wealth had little to gain by associating with
were often conflated. As Alana reported, low-status women.
Some people think [this dorm is where] Women rarely labeled others publicly.
the whores are. You know, oh those Mac- We recorded only five instances in our
slutts in MacAdams. . . . People think first-year residence hall observations.
[its] like the rich people. . . . Their stereo- None of the women carried a negative
types might be true (Y1). reputation outside the situations where
These women expressed considerable labeling occurred. These interactions,
class and status vulnerabilityeven ani- however, were among the most explosive
mosity. Their private commentary was and painful we witnessed. Targets
pointed, directed at specific high-status were low-statusand, in four cases,
women. As Fiske (2011) suggests, those at less-affluentwomen who attempted to
the bottom of a hierarchy tend to be make inroads with high-status women.

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Good Girls 115

High-status women valued a muted, way and that she was joking but Stacey
polite, and demure femininity. This con- stormed off anyway. (FN 1-13-05)
trasted with the louder, cruder, overtly
sexual femininity exhibited by Stacey Stacey attempted to apply her own defini-
and Heather, a working-class roommate tion of slut to the actions of the television
pair who, early in the year, attempted to character, calling her out for hooking up.
associate with partiers on the floor. As Chelsea rejected this, turning the label
field notes recount, back on Stacey, who was offended. Later,
a lower-middle-class woman attempted to
Whitney . . . came out into the hall as defend Stacey. She remarked, Its not
Heather and Stacey (applying finish- like Stacey sleeps around anyway. The
ing touches to her tube top) came
damage had already been done though.
out. Both were in tight pants (one
black one brown?) and tight tops.
None of the other women in the room
They had plenty of makeup on (this chimed in to confirm Staceys virtue.
was clear from far away) and tall In another instance, the wrong choice
heels. . . . They were headed for of an erotic partner landed working-class
another dorm to say hey to a guy Monica a label. As we recorded,
that Stacey had met. Whitney made
a comment about how dressed up Monicas really open flirting and sexu-
they were to just say hey. [The girls] ality with Heathers brother was
laughed it off and very loudly yelled looked down on by people on the floor.
something about going to whore Many rolled eyes and insinuate[d]
around. (FN 9-15-04) that she was being slutty or inappro-
priate. This guy (both because he
In this incident, high-status Whitney was someones brother and because
implicitly passed judgment on Heather he was clearly working-classnot in
and Stacey, whose clothing and demeanor a frat or middle-class) was the wrong
violated high-status norms of self- object. (FN 2-10-05)
presentation. The two women immedi-
ately understood that their behavior was From the perspective of high-status
being coded as sexually deviant. Ironi- women, good girls only flirted with afflu-
cally, their attempt at saving faceby ent men who had high status on campus.
joking about whoring aroundlikely This disadvantaged less-affluent women,
made Whitneys comment seem even who were often drawn to men sharing
more warranted in the eyes of their afflu- their class background. These men were
ent peers. not in fraternities or necessarily even in
Several months after the hallway inci- college.
dent, Stacey was watching a television Monicas dalliance with Heathers
show with several high-status women brother might have escaped notice had
who lived near her: she not also made brief forays into the
party scene. Monica and her middle-class
One of the characters was hooking up roommate Karenwho worked her way
with somebody new and Stacey said,
into the high-status groupended the
Slut-bag! Chelsea said, Stacey? as
year in a vicious battle, flinging the slut
if to imply jokingly that she had no
right to call this woman a slut. Stacey label back and forth behind each others
was clearly offended by this and said backs. Monica, however, was singled out
indignantly, I am NOT a slut. Chel- for judgment by shared acquaintances.
sea, seeing her take it so badly, said Prior to their dramatic split, Monica and
that she really didnt mean it that Karen often kissed each other at parties

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116 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

a form of same-sex eroticism often intended Table 1. Participation in Hookups and


to appeal to men (Hamilton 2007). Several Relationships by Status Group
floormates decided in conversation that
Status Group Low High
Monica was somewhat weird and slutty
. . . [while] Karens sexuality or sluttiness Little to no sexual or 5 0
never came up. . . . It wasnt even a ques- romantic activity
tion (FN 3-8-05). Monica lacked friends Relationships only 8 1
positioned to spread similar rumors about Relationships primary 1 3
but also hookups
Karen. Unexpectedly, Monica left shortly
Hookups and relationships 7 19
before the end of the year and did not N 21 23
return to Midwest University.
Monicas, Staceys, and Heathers expe-
riences illustrate the challenges women
from less-advantaged backgrounds faced it was not for them. Nearly two thirds of
if they attempted to break into the party this group did not hook up at all. A few
scene. They were also at risk of acquiring low-status women left college without
sexual stigma back home, where they having had vaginal intercourse, but no
were judged for associating with rich par- high-status women refrained from inter-
tiers. For instance, Monicas hometown course entirely. Most low-status women
acquaintances started a virulent rumor limited their sexual activity to relation-
that she had an abortion while at Midwest ships. Low-status women reported to us,
University. This suggests that people in on average, roughly 1.5 fewer sexual part-
her hometown shared the construction of ners (for oral sex or intercourse) during
sluttiness we described above, viewing college than high-status women. These
affluent college girls as sluts in contrast patterns underscore the disconnect
with down-to-earth, small-town girls. between vulnerability to slut stigma and
Monica had been tainted by association. sexual activity.
In contrast, the only affluent woman to From the perspective of low-status
be publicly shamed was from the low-sta- women, the sexual activities of high-status
tus group. She had angered many of her peers were riskier than their own strategy
floormates with her blatant and public of restricting sex to relationships (or avoid-
homophobia. They retaliated by writing ing it altogether)yet high-status women
derogatory comments, including the slut evaded the most damaging kind of label-
label, on the whiteboard posted on her ing. As long as they were discreet and did
door. Aside from this case, affluent not, as one put it, go bragging about the
women were virtually exempt from public guys Ive hooked up with, high-status
shaming by other women, whether at women experienced minimal threat of
school or at home, where their friends judgment by others (Lydia Y1). Upper-
definitions were roughly in sync with middle-class Rory, who with more than
their own. 60 partners was the most sexually active
This freedom from stigma is particu- woman we interviewed, explained, Im
larly remarkable considering what we the kind a girl that everybody would
ascertained about womens sexual activi- like talk shit about if they knew. . . . I
ties (see Table 1). All but one high-status have this really good image. Hah. And
woman hooked up during college in people dont think of me that way. They
between committed relationships. Some think Im like nice and smart, and Im
low-status women also hooked up, but like yeah (S07). Casual sexual activity
usually only once or twice before deciding posed little reputational risk for savvy,

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Good Girls 117

affluent women who maintained a classy (Crawford and Popp 2003). But equalizing
image. sexual standardswhile undoubtedly an
important goalwould not necessarily
DISCUSSION eliminate slut shaming, which assists
women in drawing class boundaries.
Slut discourse was ubiquitous among the
As other scholars have noted, there is
women we studied. Sexual labels were
a tendency for women to be viewed as
exchanged fluidly but rarely became sta-
without class (Bettie 2003). Women
bly attached to particular women. Stigma
may themselves interpret their differen-
was instead produced in interaction, as
ces as being about sexuality, or gender
women defined their virtue against real
style, when they are at root class differ-
or imagined bad girls. The boundaries
ences (Bettie 2003; Wilkins 2008). Yet
women drew were shaped by status on
like men, women on both sides of the
campus, which was closely linked to class
class divide actively construct a sense of
background. High-status women consid-
group superiority. Those with limited
ered the performance of a classy feminin-
resources also nurseand try to
itywhich relied on economic advan-
avengeclass injuries. In this case, slut
tageas proof that one was not trashy.
discourse conveys intense feelings about
In contrast, low-status women, mostly
a form of inequality for which there is lit-
from less-affluent backgrounds, emphasized
tle other language.
niceness and viewed partying as evidence of
The white women in this study oper-
sluttiness.
ated in racially homogeneous social
Both groups actively reconstituted
worlds, making it easier for us to see
the slut label to their advantage. Despite
class-based processes. Race is not absent
this, they were not equally situated
from their accounts, however. The notion
to enforce their moral boundaries. High-
of the girl next door and even the
status women operated within a discursive
nice down-home girl are both racialized.
system allowing greater space for sexual
Had we also studied the small nonwhite
experimentation. When low-status women
student population on campuswho,
attempted to participate in high-status
like less-affluent women, were excluded
social worlds, they risked public slut
from the predominately white Greek sys-
shaming. At the same time, their more
temit is likely that we would have rec-
restrictive definitions lacked social conse-
ognized moral boundaries drawn around
quences for higher-status women. This,
race. Indeed, Garcias (2012) Latina par-
as we argue below, is a form of sexual priv-
ticipants viewed sluttiness as primarily
ilege. Low-status women resented the
white (also see Espiritu 2001).
class and sexual advantages of their afflu-
ent peers and unsuccessfully used sexual
stigma in an attempt to level differences. Sexual Privilege
Classed resources provided affluent white
Class, Race, and Moral Boundaries women with more room to maneuver sex-
The behaviors of women and girls are ually. They drew on the notion that young
often viewed through the lens of sexual adulthood should be about exploration to
and gender inequality, particularly where justify sexual experimentation in non-
sexual practices are concerned (Bettie committed sexual contexts (Hamilton
2003; Wilkins 2008). Certainly, sexual and Armstrong 2009). Slut discourse,
double standards are real and may guide rather than constraining their sexual
mens use of the slut label against women options, ensured that they could safely

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118 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

enjoy the sexual opportunities of the Sexual privilege, however, involves the
party scene. Those without the time, ability to define acceptable sexuality in
money, and knowledge needed to effect ways that apply in high-status spaces.
a classy appearance lacked similar pro- High-status women in our study were
tections. It is thus unsurprising that deeply embedded in the dominant social
women who hook up on residential college scene on campus. Over the years,
campuses are more likely to be affluent they moved into positions of greater
and white (Owen et al. 2010; Paula Eng- influencefor instance, later selecting
land, personal communication with sec- the women who joined them in elite soror-
ond author, 2013).5 ity houses. They did not care what margin-
The definition of sluttiness offered by alized individuals thought of them as these
the low-status women in our study does, opinions were inconsequential both during
however, have a place in youth culture. college and beyond. As gatekeepers to the
See, for example, this definition of soros- party scene, however, high-status women
titute (a play on prostitute) from Urban had considerable power over low-status
Dictionary: women who wished to belong. It is in this
context that the sexual activity of advan-
You can find me on campus in the taged women becomes invisible.
SUV my daddy bought for me. . . . I This is not to downplay mens power in
never leave my sorority house without sexualized interactions or deny the gen-
my letters somewhere on me. I date dered sexual double standard faced by
a fratdaddy. I dont care that he cheats
women. Yet we differ from the classic
on me with other sorostitutes because
I cheat on him too. . . . Looks are all framework posed by Connell (1987), in
that matter to me. I spent money which no femininity holds a position of
that was supposed to be for books on power equivalent to that of hegemonic mas-
tanning and manicures. I have had culinity among men (but see Schippers
plastic surgery. Im always well 2007). We argue that women are actively
dressed. I pop my collar and all of my invested in slut shaming because they
handbagsmy Louis [Vuitton], my have something to gain. They are not simply
Kate Spade, my Pradaare real. If I unwitting victims of mens sexual domi-
look like this, frat boys will want me nance. The winnersthose whose feminin-
and other sororities will be jealous. I
ities are valuedenjoy sexual privilege.
look better than you, I act better
This is a benefit also extended to men who
than you, I AM better than you.6
display a hegemonic masculinity (DeSantis
The circulation of this term suggests that 2007; Sweeney 2013). It indicates the impor-
our participants are not alone in attempt- tance of attending to dynamics withinnot
ing to label affluent sorority women as only acrossgender.
slutty.
Stigma at the Discursive Level
5
Paula Englands Online College Social Life The questions generally answered by
Survey of 21 four-year colleges and universities social psychological research on stigma
includes maternal education as the measure of
who the labeled and labelers are, how
social class. These data indicate that women
whose mothers have either a BA or an advanced deviants are labeled and respond to
degree report significantly higher numbers of stigmaare indeed important. A focus
hookups than those whose mothers have a high
6
school degree or less. White women also report Sorostitute. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved
significantly greater numbers of hookups than December 18, 2013 (http://www.urbandictionary
women in all other racial/ethnic categories. .com/define.php?term=sorostitute).

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Good Girls 119

on the individual level does not, however, questions for future research. We might
provide a complete picture of stigma pro- ask why and when some discursive sys-
cesses. Our work, building on that of gen- temsnot othersare in play. This focus
der scholars and cultural sociologists, introduces room for multiple, competing
points to the value of examining how ways of constituting stigma. It raises
stigma is constituted and circulated. questions of power and status in the suc-
A discursive approach suggests that cessful application of stigmathat is,
the social psychological model of other- whose definitions of deviance are more
ing might be constructively reworked influential? At the level of discourse, it
(Jones et al. 1984; Crocker et al. 1998; is also easier to see variation across types
Crocker 1999). Subordinates may succeed of stigma. Why are some forms particu-
in generating alternative public classifi- larly rigid and likely to stick, while
cation systems or subtly reworking domi- otherslike the slut or fag labelsmore
nant ones. For example, the actions of fluid and able to constrain the actions of
low-status women are not exclusively all individuals, not just a recognizable
devoted to adapting to meaning systems group of deviants? Attention to the discur-
established by high-status, socially domi- sive level makes it easier to detect addi-
nant women on campus. Instead, they tional, subtler bases for stigma and better
produce their own discursive system ascertain its operation.
demarcating the line between good and These questions may be difficult to
bad girls in a way that benefits them. answer in the laboratories where much
The process of othering may thus pro- social psychological research on stigma
vide ongoing opportunities for reclassifi- is conducted (Hebl and Dovidio 2005;
cation, potentially along entirely different Trautner and Collett 2010). An expanded
dimensions than designated by oppres- focus necessitates a parallel openness to
sorseven if alternative frames are diffi- ethnography, interviews, and other quali-
cult to sustain. Othering may be not only tative methods, alongside conventional
oppressive or defensive but also confron- approaches. Qualitative techniques are
tational or challenging. Indeed, the exam- often ideal for studying interactions
ple of the sorostitute suggests cultural within and across social groups and cap-
resistance to classification systems turing the processes through which dis-
exempting affluent, high-status college course is created and circulates.
womens sexual behavior from stigma. As we noted in the introduction, some
To see this process, stigma research researchnotably Pascoes (2007) analy-
must be explicitly intersectional, looking sis of the circulation of the fag epithet
at how dominants and subordinates pushes in this direction. Yet research tra-
draw on dimensions of stratification to
ditions often develop separately, even
define within-group hierarchies. Here,
when similar concepts are explored. For
for instance, women draw on classed
example, Pascoes research neither cites
understandings of femininity and accept-
nor is cited by scholars studying stigma.
able sexuality to deflect sexual stigma
This limits production of knowledge
and define themselves as morally supe-
across subfieldsfor example, social
rior. Without a classed lens, it is easy to
psychology, cultural theory, and gender
miss the competition among women that
theorythat would benefit from greater
motivates womens participation in slut
dialogue. Our research highlights the
shaming.
potential of cross-fertilization and calls
Attention to how sets of categories are
for more work in this vein.
constructed and organized also generates

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120 Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2)

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Blinde, Elaine M. and Diane E. Taub. 1992.


Women Athletes as Falsely Accused Devi-
Thanks to the reviewers and editors of the Social ants: Managing the Lesbian Stigma. Socio-
Psychology Quarterly for insightful comments. logical Quarterly 33(4):52133.
Thanks to Pam Jackson and Pam Walters for Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social
assistance in arranging transcription of the mate- Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cam-
rial and to Katie Bradley, Teresa Cummings, Olu- bridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
watope Fashola, Jennifer Fischer, Aimee Lipkis, Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Femi-
Kat Novotny, Evelyn Perry, Jennifer Puentes, nism and the Subversion of Identity. New
Brian Sweeney, Amanda Tanner, and Reyna Uli- York: Routledge.
barri for assistance in data collection. Coleman, James S. 1961. The Adolescent Soci-
ety: The Social Life of the Teenager and
FUNDING Its Impact on Education. New York: Free
Press.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following Collins, Patricia Hill. 2004. Black Sexual Poli-
financial support for the research, authorship, tics: African Americans, Gender, and the
and/or publication of this article: The work was New Racism. New York: Routledge.
supported by a National Academy of Education/ Connell, Raewyn. 1987. Gender and Power:
Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics.
a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard Uni- Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
versity, and a Spencer Foundation Small Grant Corsaro, William A. 1997. The Sociology of
awarded to Elizabeth A. Armstrong. Childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge
Press.
Crawford, Mary and Danielle Popp. 2003.
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nine Other: Masculinity, Femininity, and
Gender Hegemony. Theory and Society Elizabeth A. Armstrong is an associate
36(1):85102. professor of sociology and organizational
Schwalbe, Michael, Daphne Holden, Douglas studies at the University of Michigan.
Schrock, Sandra Godwin, Shealy Thompson,
and Michele Wolkomir. 2000. Generic Pro-
She and Laura T. Hamilton are authors
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An Interactionist Analysis. Social Forces Maintains Inequality (2013).
79(2):41952.
Skeggs, Beverley. 1997. Formations of Class Laura T. Hamilton is an assistant pro-
and Gender: Becoming Respectable. Thou- fessor of sociology at the University of
sand Oaks, CA: Sage. California, Merced. Her recent work
Stuber, Jenny M. 2006. Talk of Class: The
Discursive Repertoires of White Working-
examines the role that parental invest-
and Upper-Middle-Class College Students. ments play in college student perfor-
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography mance and completion (More Is More or
35(3):285318. More Is Less? in American Sociological
Sweeney, Brian. Forthcoming. Sorting Review 2013).
Women Sexually: Masculine Status, Sexual
Performance, and the Sexual Stigmatiza- Elizabeth M. Armstrong is a PhD can-
tion of Women. Symbolic Interaction.
Tanenbaum, Leora. 1999. Slut! Growing up
didate in social work and sociology at
Female with a Bad Reputation. New York: the University of Michigan. Her research
Seven Stories. focuses on the relationship between the
Thoits, Peggy A. 2011. Resisting the Stigma of social service systems for intimate part-
Mental Illness. Social Psychology Quar- ner violence and substance abuse in the
terly 74(1):628.
Trautner, Mary Nell. 2005. Doing Gender,
United States since the 1960s.
Doing Class: The Performance of Sexuality
in Exotic Dance Clubs. Gender & Society
J. Lotus Seeley is a PhD candidate in
19(6):77188. womens studies and sociology at the Uni-
Trautner, Mary Nell and Jessica L. Collett. versity of Michigan. Her research focuses
2010. Students Who Strip: The Benefits of on gender and work with an emphasis on
Alternate Identities for Managing Stigma. interactive support work.
Symbolic Interaction 33(2):25779.
Vannier, Sarah A. and E. Sandra Byers. 2013.
A Qualitative Study of University

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