Ever wonder why people keep calling women who use contraception "sluts"? Apparently, shaming women who need birth control (which is 99% of sexually active women by the way) wasn't invented as a way for conservatives to belittle women. It's actually a trend rooted in socio-biologically theory. Well, sort of.
In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, scientists from Brunel University in London found that people who tend to oppose female promiscuity on moral grounds also tend to believe that women are financially dependant on men, even when researchers controlled for political and religious ideology.
The researchers, whose aim was to provide a glimpse at the "evolutionary logic of anti-promiscuity morality," found that "such opposition will more likely emerge in environments in which women are more dependent economically on a male mate." They came to this conclusion by noticing how women with lower incomes and men with higher salaries tended to be more strongly opposed to people with the sexual habits of independent women.
These findings — which are frustrating in isolation — become downright infuriating when one thinks about what that means about societal progress in America. If the research findings are true, and the vitrol so often spewed at so-called "promiscuous" women is really motivated by women's dependency, why has there been so little change in the past few decades? Despite lingering systemic problems like the wage gap, women are more financially independent today that they were 40 years ago. So why hasn't that increase correlated with a reduction in preconceptions about women's sexuality?
It's 2014. There is a record number of women more educated than their husbands, and in some cities are making significantly more money than them. So shouldn't we all be cool with women having independent lady sexy time? Shouldn't we see Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly getting off their high horse? Shouldn't we see "Beyoncé Voters" (defined as unmarried women by Fox News) humming "Independent Woman" on their way to the free birth control shop? Conversely, what explains the fact that the birth control "debate" has gotten worse in the past few years, while women have been leaning in and making great strides economically, politically and in the workplace?
Part of the problem has to be traced back to messaging. One network in particular has insisted on its mission to remind women (and men) of the dangers of female emancipation.
Image Credit: Fox News
Fox is consistent in its unflinching commitment to reinforce the very scripts that — according to this latest research — make for misogynistic segments as a recent meditation on the potential "problem" of female breadwinners. In the same vein, the conservative behemoth loves chatting with people who shame unmarried women to the point that they are calling them "Beyoncé Voters," or instructing those who are married to stop being so darn self-serving and start pleasing their husbands.
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But it's not simply cable news that's the problem. Cultural stereotyping runs much deeper than that. Not convinced? Try Googling birth control to see what the most popular auto-completes are for the search engine.
Image Credit: Google
Honestly, there are more important issues we need to be debating. Now that 1 in 3 children are growing up fatherless in this country, a better use of our debating energies would be to focus on the growing trend of absent fathers deserting their families. Where's the Rush Limbaugh segment talking about how men's promiscuity is tearing apart American values? By the same token, seeing as Bill O'Reilly has been going on and on about Beyoncé's alleged effect on teen pregnancy, it seems like an investigative report might be warranted on the way the term "Gold Digger" has contributed to young boys growing up to believe you don't have to take responsibility for their offspring. Where's the Supreme Court case debating the fact that companies pay for men's recreational sexual health medicine like Viagra or penis pumps?
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Perhaps the most depressing part of the research paper is the finding that women are more opposed to promiscuity than men. It's no surprise that women have internalized this destructive double-standard because they are reminded of it every time they are called a bitch, a slut or a whore for cutting in line at a bodega or not returning a cat-call with a smile. I challenge anyone rolling their eyes right now to think about one common insult for women that does not reference her level of promiscuity. It's no coincidence that women believe that engaging in lots of sex makes them mediocre, they are reminded of it every single day.
The silver lining is that the "perceived dependency of women" in the study had a bigger effect than a female subject's actual dependency on a man based on her income. In other words, the social norm reinforcing female dependency was a larger predictor of attitudes towards promiscuity than a woman's financial situation. This conclusion suggests that if Fox News stopped promoting the idea that women are dependants or incapable second-class citizens, we could match up social norms with reality.
Until then, we'll be enjoying the catastrophic aftermath of the conservative's "Beyoncé Voters" trend and the lovely re-appropriation of the term by online feminists with this Tumblr. At least some good came out of Fox News' latest lady hysteria, and who knows, they may have just came up with a term to define the voting block that may just swing our next presidential election.
Image Credit: beyoncevoters / Tumblr