Thursday, May 19, 2011

Slut: What's In a Word?

Slut.

What does this word mean? Today I found myself on a blog written by a 21-year-old woman. She was offended by the word "slut" used in the title of a Toronto-based protest march called SlutWalk. Apparently, SlutWalk started in response to a police officer who said women most at risk of sexual assaults were women who dressed like sluts. She wrote a provocative post about how she didn't want to be called slut, like ever, and, more, that she found the word offensive. She spoke about words and how words hurt; she thought the reclaiming aspect of it sounded like a sign that might be sold in Urban Outfitters.

"Don't you dare call me a slut," she wrote. "Really, I'll kick you in the heels."

I loved the post because she was adding new light to a subject I thought was zipped up, closed. Especially among college-aged women. Slut. Slut? That's an offensive word to women over 21 these days? Educated women? Feminists? Hasn't that been a take-back-the-night sort of word for some time?

She's not the only one. Kristin Powers over at the Daily Beast is moaning about SlutWalk hurting the cause.

When Andy first met me, I was the divorce slut. You know. All divorced mommies are horny and ready for sex, right? Sure, baby. Whatever. But I'd like you better if we slept together.

Slut.

What does this word mean? Today I found myself on a blog written by a 21-year-old woman. She was offended by the word "slut" used in the title of a Toronto-based protest march called SlutWalk. Apparently, SlutWalk started in response to a police officer who said women most at risk of sexual assaults were women who dressed like sluts. She wrote a provocative post about how she didn't want to be called slut, like ever, and, more, that she found the word offensive. She spoke about words and how words hurt; she thought the reclaiming aspect of it sounded like a sign that might be sold in Urban Outfitters.

"Don't you dare call me a slut," she wrote. "Really, I'll kick you in the heels."

I loved the post because she was adding new light to a subject I thought was zipped up, closed. Especially among college-aged women. Slut. Slut? That's an offensive word to women over 21 these days? Educated women? Feminists? Hasn't that been a take-back-the-night sort of word for some time?

She's not the only one. Kristin Powers over at the Daily Beast is moaning about SlutWalk hurting the cause.

When Andy first met me, I was the divorce slut. You know. All divorced mommies are horny and ready for sex, right? Sure, baby. Whatever. But I'd like you better if we slept together.


Plenty of culturally acceptable sluts have infiltrated our society. Sluts as in the chicks from Sex In the City sluttin' it up on the streets of Manhattan making it okay to sleep with multiple men each week (and then talking about it). Then there's one of my favorite authors, Diana Joseph, who wrote the book, "I'm Sorry That You Feel That Way--the Astonishing But True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man & Dog." Then there's Jezebel. Just recently, Tracie Egan Morrissey posted a sort of enlightening (albiet icky, yet helpful) story How to Know Its Time For a New Vibrator. Owning a vibrator means you're in touch with your sexuality. (Slut.) Sluts with vibrators! Sluts with brains! Sluts with Manolo Blahniks! Sluts who can write!

Sluts are girls who like sex. Isn't that what we're talking about?

Yes, I understand that the definition of slut is a "dirty slatternly woman." I know it stems from prostitution. That there's a religious culture. Degrading connotation. Yes, women, girls, are trapped in the sex industry, or are trapped by their pimps. That much younger girls and boys use it to bully and label each other.

A friend of mine with two teenagers said:

"My issue is that my daughter and pals use it to put another girl down. Now, that said, she admires the hell out girls with lady balls which, as far as I can tell, are girls who get their slut on and don't give a fuck what anyone thinks. My son and pals say slut without a trace of admiration. A girl who is a slut is often gorgeous, scary to them because [of her beauty] and has a trail of broken hearts... They say slut to warn each other and to categorize some girls as the girls you look at, but don't touch."


(Lady balls? How amazing.)

If we're talking about a damaging word, slut needs revamping. Because after all, why should one word bring a woman down?

I was mesmerized by strong, overtly sexualized women early on. Sonic Youth's video for "Kool Thing" blew my mind when I was 19. Lead singer Kim Gordon took control of that song--and the video--in a way I'd never seen a woman do before. Kim sang with a I-want-you-fuck-me-now authority. Her breathy, powerful voice, banging her body around in hard jerks. It carried a high intimidation factor that mesmerized me. Stroking her kitty? "I'll be your slave. Give you a shave." Please. I love it. That slut ain't no slave, unless she chooses to be. (See video below.)

So I sheepishly wrote the dissenting opinion on the aforementioned woman's blog. Something like, "I'm 40 and I've been called a slut and a prude. People are always going to call you names--whatcha gonna do? Being a slut is about having sexual freedom. It's about being sexually comfortable. Nothing wrong with that."

I felt a little strange being the lone one out among these 20-something-year-old posters who were all, hell yeah, slut don't fly with me. What was I missing?

So I went to Elke's babysitter. She's about 24. A feminist like me. Getting her master's in child psychology.

"Why are these girls so anti-slut?" I asked her.

"The problem with slut is when it comes to young girls," she said, echoing my friend's sentiment, and what I already knew to be true. "Once that name gets attached to you. Like to a girl of 12. Boom. It ruins your life. You're spending years getting over it."

But she said more. Slut also means that you're nothing. That any guy can have you. That you have no self-worth.

It occurred to me that the word slut is less damaging with maturity. These kinds of terms typically fall under the I-don't-give-a-shit-what-you-think-of-me category when you're 40. It also comes along with the sentiment: I am a woman and make my own choices about my body. This is the one of the many embodiments of feminism. Is it not?

Upon my sitter's suggestion, I looked up the movie Slut. And I found this comment by an IMBD poster. The woman wrote:

"Embracing language that puts us down, reduces us to our bodies and sexuality is, in my opinion, masochistic and self-destructive. But maybe I think this because I've been a therapist for over twenty years and have seen the deadliness of this language."

Soon, I uncovered an interview with my heroine, Diana Joseph; she spoke about why the word slut still inflames people. She said:

"Girls' sexuality is scary. To girls. To boys. To grownups. And putting that kind of label on a girl is a way to put her in her place."

But the language and the labeling needs to change for girls and women of all ages. Doesn't it? To slut or not to slut? I'm for slut. And I'm still all for being a 40-year-old slut. (Though these days I'm only sluttin' it up with my husband.) I love it as a word that's being taken back. The more you use this term, the less demonstrative it gets. Though it never really changes when someone is using it in anger. Then, those words always hurt.

Here's another question. What will I tell my children? I have a feeling it will sound similar to both my boy and girl. I'll say: "Make love to who you want as long as you love and respect that person, are using birth control of some kind, and that person respects you. We don't judge people on their sexuality. On their choices. On who they decide to partner with--or how many." I believe this is what my mother told me and it's done me well.

And as far as the corrolation between women getting raped if they dress "slutty" as that charming police officer said? Didn't a poor nun get raped in an airport just recently? She was on her way to a convent.

Now, I've never written about this kind of topic on my blog. Tomorrow, you'll probably see me promoting some sort of kid-friendly fish recipe that I wrote for Organic Authority. So it might be a little awkward between us. But women can be many things. Rockers. Moms. Writers. Karaoke goddesses. Sluts.

2 comments:

  1. miriam novogrodskyMay 20, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    so, to slut or not to slut. you've dealt with this incredibly sensitive topic with aplomb. a single word should not bring down a woman but our children, our girls, should be able to decide whether or not to embrace slut. when it is used to describe a girl's sexuality because, as diane joseph says, girl sexuality scares everyone and the word slut is a way of putting her in her place, then it really sucks. that's no different than the scarlet letter bullshit. kids, girls and boys need to be allowed to explore their lives without being labeled -- the multifaceted way of imagining the word slut, is something that comes with age. the ability to appreciate and embrace the slut within. when you hit that idea, you sum up the argument for me -- i'm fine with the word, i just don't want it pointed at my daughter unless she's doing the pointing.

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  2. I love this miriam. I don't want it pointed at my daughter either. But come to think of it, I don't want ANY negative connotations pointed at my daughter. But I do want her to know that if someone does the pointing that no one can label her -- and that there's nothing wrong with being comfortable with your sexuality. It's very complicated, and in the realm of young girls, I see it's more complicated than I realized. Thanks for posting.

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