In high schools all over the United States, girls live in fear of being labeled sluts and boys cringe at the thought of being called gay. Here is why these words are so powerful and so feared.
It isn't a stretch to say that there are fewer gender stereotypes about males and females today than there were in the past. But fewer is relative. We still hold a lot of beliefs about what is and is not appropriate for guys and for girls and day-to-day life still has plenty of gender expectations.
Take some pretty basic things, like wearing make-up and dresses, asking someone to prom, picking up the tab on a date, and crying over a break up. A lot of people still have very clear ideas about which gender is "supposed" do do which things.
Sexual Orientation Vs. Sexual Expression
What is the worst thing you can call a boy? In a lot of places, it is gay, or "faggot." And what is the worst thing a girl can be called? While "dyke" is up there, in many schools, the worst insult is to be called a slut, or a whore, or easy.
So what's up with that? The short answer is gender stereotypes.
Think about it, if a girl tells her friend she looks hot in a new outfit, or if two girls watching a movie play with each others' hair, or share a bed at a sleepover, no one thinks anything of it. Sometimes, if girls hook-up sexually with each other, it isn't even seen as a big deal, or an indication of their sexual orientation.
Now flip the script. Imagine two male friends snuggling on the couch while they watch TV. Or one guy saying to another, "Wow, that bathing suit is really sexy on you," or kissing at a party one night. It's not a stretch to say that in plenty of schools, these kinds of things would find guys being called gay, and not in a complimentary or even banal way.
Girls, on the other hand, tend to have a different set of unwritten rules to follow. If a boy asks a girl out on a date, tells her he is attracted to her, or even has sex with a number of different girls, he does not typically get branded. But girls have seen reputations "ruined" and lives negatively affected when they have been involved in similar situations.
Really, we live in a world of double standards. These can hurt any teen who dares to step out of the box in even the smallest of ways.
The Role of Insecurity
A lot of teens, both gay and straight, have a lot of insecurities about the way they are viewed by their peers. As a result, many worry that any action on their behalf will be questioned and will single them out as being different. So in order to draw attention away from what they are doing and towards someone else, some teens call others names, almost as a protective measure.
Stick and Stones, If Only...
If you ask me, being called "gay" or being labeled a "slut" aren't such bad things. But what I think doesn't really matter. What you have to live does. It would be great if every teen branded in these ways felt similarly. But the reality is, when something is said with the intention to hurt, it often does. That being said, increasing awareness of the power of such slander can ultimately help remove some of the negative power these words can hold.