It's Time for "Slut" to Take a Walk

There is a character on my news feed who posts sporadic, irrational and amusingly dramatic statuses concerning the numerous hindrances she encounters in her daily happenings. However, often reading these small ravings adds humour to my otherwise dull lectures. They also regularly make me a little bit angry. One of her most consistent complaints? Sluts. They’re texting her boyfriend, driving too slowly, wearing glasses they don’t have a prescription for (just curious – is this a thing?), eating tuna in the library, getting misspelt tattoos and making duck faces.

I guess I wonder if, in her as well as other like-minded folk’s eyes, there is some kind of stringent dichotomy within the female species. That is, we are divided and opposed, all of us, into a permanent “sluts” v “not-sluts” state. I also wonder if the deeming of “slut-dom”  – that is, the state of being a slut – is permanent or only temporary. A.k.a, should you, gosh, eat tuna in a public space, can you later redeem yourself and remove the tag?  The alternative is that it is a kind of permanent branding – obviously 200% subjective, yet very stagnant once placed.

The word slut just generally irks me. A lot.

I make this as an open statement to every girl who throws the word around, in wilful ignorance, as a kind of benign insult. You are unknowingly complicit in your own subjugation. I address you en masse, and somewhat passive-aggressively.

Slut is a term that perpetuates the idea that men have a monopoly on sexual pleasure and that a woman’s entire worth lies in her sexuality. It places a deconstructive social value on notions of female “purity,” ensuring archaic idealisations of virginity and innocence remains entrenched in society. The ubiquitous purpose of the word “slut” is to control women through shame and humiliation. It denies her right to ownership of her own sexual fulfilment and choices.

Calling a woman a slut enforces the sexual double standard of boys and men partaking in sexual behaviour freely, and with limited moral consequence. Meanwhile girls and women can only partake when it is part of a transaction that includes “true love” or marriage.

Guy’s don’t get called sluts. If they do it is preceded with the “man” affectation and is a gesture of affirmation more than anything else. Men simply aren’t judged like women when it comes to their sexuality. There is no one word, let-alone concept, which signifies a male-slut in a derogatory sense.   At its core, slut is a word that, for the same behaviours, punishes women and rewards men.

Significantly, it is also a dangerous word because of the greater social implications it can have. At societal level, women are constantly told not to dress or act like “sluts” lest they be inviting unwanted sexual advances. This perpetuates the very dangerous myth that the way a woman dresses encourages sexual assault. It also continues the practise of blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator.

In some cultures, the word slut can mean life or death. The same underlying principles of shame, control and honour can manifest themselves in violent and extreme control of girls and women. Thousands of women are killed and mutilated by family members, stilted lovers and/or admirers every year, due to the perception that their behaviour was somehow inappropriate. Women are stoned to death and doused in acid under a double standard that affords men the space to commit the same “sins” without a single eyebrow being raised. These practices often taking place under a particular understanding of a religion, or within a culture, that construes a woman’s “honour,” that is, her virginity and sexual purity, as the entirety of her worth as a human being.

“Slut-shaming” can have other ramifications still.  Most girls and women taper their actions and outfits to an extent on a daily basis to avoid accusatory glares. The consequences of slut-shaming, for many girls victimised by it, can be detrimental. On an individual level, girls who are the victims of this type of bullying can suffer ongoing effects for years: influencing both their own self-perception as well as how their peers treat them.

Mostly, slut-shaming is a blatant and socially acceptable illustration of the misogynistic impulse to control and police female sexuality. It is a very subtle and powerful social tool. One of the most effective ways to keep a group (women) under control is to divide and conquer. In a world that reliably portrays women as isolated and competitive, this is easily achieved. Our culture excels at making women the tools of their own undoing. Slut-shaming by other women is simply one of those tools readily deployed. We live in a world that sends out some incredibly confusing messages. Women are celebrated for dressing like “sluts” to sell almost everything, then shamed and humiliated for doing it within other contexts.

My point is this – when you call a girl a slut you are reinforcing ongoing gender divisions and antiquated double standards. You are undermining the autonomy she has over her own body and her own sexuality. You are denying the value she has as both a human being and an individual.

“Slut” is a powerful word. It’s more than a harmless, replaceable insult. Not even that girl texting your boyfriend deserves it. After all, he is capable of making his own choices too.