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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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Can We Please Stop Calling Each Other Sluts?

Can We Please Stop Calling Each Other Sluts?

At the end of Mean Girls, when all the junior girls are gathered in the gym dissecting the insults found in the Burn Book, Tina Fey’s character says to the audience, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Who could forget that climactic moment? The message that Tina Fey is relaying is sound: when it comes to the way girls relate to one another, the things we do and say can be as bad as the misogynistic men we complain about. We call each other sluts and whores and we laugh it off like some kind of joke, thinking it’s not sexist when we say it. However, women are just as capable of perpetuating sexism against women as men are. And that’s what we’re doing.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. “But I don’t mean it in an insulting way! I’m just trying to reclaim the word slut!” That might be fine in certain context. The Slutwalk Movement, for example, was created after a Toronto Police officer told a group of college students at a campus safety session that they could avoid assault if they stopped “dressing like sluts.” This victim-blaming birthed a movement. One of the main ideas behind Slutwalks is to shed light on the hypocrisy of these words, because rape and assault predate the fashion of short skirts, and clothing choice is not an indicator of sexual consent. It’s very common for those who attend a Slutwalk to dress in clothes considered to be “slutty” in order to demonstrate they are not asking to be raped by doing so.

Image courtesy of PUBlication

The movement goes beyond an attempt to “take back” the word slut; it’s about women taking control of their own sexuality. Besides, the word slut never belonged to us in the first place.

The term slut can be dated back all the way to the Middle Ages. It was used to describe a sexually promiscuous woman in a negative way. It was an insult — a slut was portrayed as something dirty. Women in charge of their own sexuality were considered to be unclean. Today, the meaning of the word has expanded.

From the beginning, slut was a word meant to punish women for having a lot of sex; now we use it to punish women in other ways. A girl (not just adults, but younger girls as well) who wears clothes that are considered “too revealing” are also “sluts.” Female Halloween costumes, for example, tend to be “slutty” versions of whatever a woman is trying to dress as, with manufacturers shortening the hemlines and tightening the seams. Yet, despite the clothing industry making it increasingly difficult to find anything “modest,” women who choose to wear these clothes are being punished for it. We get called sluts for daring to step outside what is considered proper social behavior, even though society is simultaneously encouraging us to do so. We are being set up to fail.

This is all sending us a damaging message: that girls are objects defined by their sexuality. Society tells us to reveal more of our bodies, then chastises us for it. Words such as “dumb” or “dirty” are often used in conjunction with slut, implying that a “slutty” woman ought to be discarded, disregarded, or even loathed. It takes just one misstep for a girl, even one who chooses to abstain from sexual activity, to suddenly become a victim of slut-shaming. Any sort of “devious” behavior on a woman’s part, be it falling asleep at a male friend’s house or choosing to wear shorts and a crop top on a hot summer day, can be seen as indicators of a “slut.” There is no winning.

It’s important to note that slut is a gendered term. There isn’t a word in the English language used to punish men for having sex or showing too much skin. Men who have lots of sex will occasionally be described as pimps or man-whores (which is a whole ‘nother matter, but suffice it to say that you probably shouldn’t use the word “whore” either). However, it is commonly seen as natural, impressive, sometimes worthy of congratulation when a man sleeps with multiple partners. The music industry is filled with this double standard: male singers glorify the promiscuous lifestyle while simultaneously insulting women who act the same. Men are “supposed” to have a lot of sex, but women are not. Those who do are “sluts,” and any hint of sexuality can lead a woman to fall under this category.

The word slut tries to shun women back into the confines of a patriarchy where we were supposed to remain “pure” until our fathers married us off. It’s a very outdated way of thinking, a relic from a time when a woman’s entire value came from her virginity and when our voices were silenced.

When women call each other sluts, we become implicit in this idea that there is something wrong with a woman who expresses her sexuality — and there isn’t! Just like choosing not to express ones sexuality is also okay. We call each other sluts, and we imply that we’re okay with people seeing us and treating us as sexual objects. We let men continue their misogynist behavior, because we’re doing it, too. By calling each other sluts we let society continue to define our worth by whether or not we conform to the invisible standards of what is or is not too much sex, or what is or isn’t an appropriate expression of sexuality.

So let me tell you something, world. I am not a slut, and not because of what I wear or whether or not I have sex. I’m not a slut because I refuse to be punished by society for failing to behave the way you want me to. I am not a slut because men and women should be held by the same standards, especially when it comes to sex. What I am is a person and a woman. My defining quality is not how I dress or behave sexually. It is my mind and how I use it, even if I use it to decide to sleep with someone.

Written by Jackie Klein
Follow her on tumblr and twitter!
  • Cece

    “Even if I use it to decide to sleep with someone.” Fantastic <3

  • TPierce

    For years I’ve been asking friends, fans, and people who come onto message boards and live journals that I run not to use “slut,” “bitch,” “ho,” “whore,” “c–t” (can’t even type that one), or any of the slough of terms that may or may not have begun as non-negative terms or terms about something else, but are now used as highly negative ways to describe women. Everyone who knows me remotely well knows I don’t believe in reclaiming; I believe that when men hear women use those words about each other, they don’t get “reclaiming,” they get “it’s okay to use these.”

    As for women calling one another “sluts”–haven’t we been our own worst enemies long enough? It’s time to banish the hateful judgment tropes of the past and find new ways to talk about each other.

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  • RLHutch

    I have a lot of feelings about this issues that I am not certain how to verbalize.

    I don’t agree with or condone slut shaming and I do not surround myself with people who do.

    I am a strong advocator of healthy and safe sexual exploration and expression, which has made me the victim of some awful words, but I am older and no longer defined by what others think of me. If someone calls me a slut I just shake my head and sigh.

    I do agree that the issue of women asking for rape by how they dress is horrifying and just plain sexist.

    On the other hand there may be a tiny fraction of truth there. Dressing and behaving provocatively has the outcome you’d expect: It provokes. Provoke isn’t a word synonymous with good tidings.

    Need I remind that I under no circumstances think women should be held responsible for the actions of their rapists.

    I just wish that women would find a healthier way of expressing themselves and their sexuality.

    If a difference needs to be made, I don’t believe marching in underwear is the way to do it.

    How many men and women trapped in their gender roles were freed by that movement? I’m thinking not many.

    Instead of focusing on the objectification of women (and let’s be honest, men. women are just as guilty), maybe we could all work together and focus on bettering sexual education, breaking apart the inner workings of our gender roles placed upon us by a patriarchal society.

  • Slutty McWhoreface

    If you sleep with even one guy you’re not married to, you are a slut. Sluts are useless. They make terrible wives, and terrible mothers. If you fuck them, you get a disease. The only people who are nice to sluts are the douchebag misogynists that like to use and abuse them. Decent men prefer to STAY THE HELL AWAY which is why you have articles written by old women with titles like, “Where have all the good men gone?” If you want to be scum, be ready to get devoured by the bottom feeders.

    • TeamEdwardJace

      do us all a huge favour and keep your misogynistic, sexist (and possibly misandric) comments to yourself.

  • Jarrod East

    Unfortunately, as a bleeding-heart liberal and possibly even a “free love” hippy, I have been quite dismayed recently to find the propensity of Miley Cyrus slut-shaming to be almost solely made by my liberal femaie friends. Obviously, slut-shaming is indiscriminate amongst conservatives who loath any sex for non-procreative purposes.

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  • Gaia

    Thank you so very much for this article! Everything said in it, I agree with wholly. I absolutely hate the double standards and hypocrisy in people when I hear them call others ”slut”. Most people today have had at least one sexual experience outside of wedlock, and somehow they feel entitled to call others ”sluts” for doing the same. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve unwarrantly been slut-shamed for nothing more than just wearing eye make-up, dressing a little tighter than usual (I was a Mormon) and for simply being friendly, and a tad on the flirty side. I’ve grown sick and tired of feeling compelled to somehow justify myself to others whenever I get slut-shamed for no reason. Some people really give me the impression that they honestly believe that it is enough to just be a woman to be automatically considered a slut. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told ”Oh, you’re pretty, so, I assume that you sleep around a lot.” Umm…what?! I remember I had this guy approach me once (I wasn’t even dressed up, rather dressed boring and with loose clothes, had no make-up on, either) and he tried to sex talk to me straight up. And I was like, what the eff do you want from me? And he just grinned and was like, ”Oh, you just look very sexual to me”…Wtf is sexual about me wearing a hoodie, loose pants and no make-up? He meant my facial features and overall prettiness scale, but that’s still incredibly sexist. I particularly find it incredibly annoying and infuriating to see so many people assume things off the bat just because you’re pretty by nature. Like, as though, because of my cute looks I automatically gotta get effed ’till I drop. People need to stop sexualizing women so much, stop assuming things and stop perpetuating stupid and hurtful stereotypes. No, pretty women don’t get laid more than ”other” women; no, we aren’t forever-horny-kittens waiting to be banged; no, because we’re pretty, it doesn’t mean we’ve slept around like there was no tomorrow; no, just because we’re pretty it doesn’t mean we HAVE to get banged like there is no tomorrow; and no, if we DO choose to bang someone (or a few), that doesn’t mean we wanna bang you, too! We’re entitled to our sexuality and yes, we are entitled to enjoy being sexual with WHOMEVER we want. I don’t believe in the existence of ”sluts”, only liberated women! I get a feeling that men simply feel threatened by women who are in full control of their sexuality and who make no excuses for it; same with the women who are sexist against their own gender. And for god’s sake, I was slut-shamed more when I was a virgin than when I wasn’t. LOL I think people hate free women so much that the words ”slut”, ”whore”, ”c*nt” are used way too loosely to try and strike at their dignity and worth. The problem lies in the people who insult others’ dignity; these people lack peace within themselves, forget to look at their own shortcomings and most probably have self-worth issues that they project onto others.