Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sluts, Fags, and Whores*

Yesterday I watched easy A. Despite all the hype surrounding it, I wasn't impressed. I planned to write a huge post on Friday to sum up my distaste of the movie and my confusion over what it was trying to say. On another note, I watched Bandslam right before I watched easy A. It's the superior movie in my opinion, and two actresses from the former star in the latter. Talk about coincidence.

*Yes, that title is meant to be sensational, in case you're wondering.

So, imagine my surprise when I check my RSS and found out that Kody Keplinger blogged about slut shaming today. Well, technically it was yesterday.

Slut shaming is a really popular topic. Ceilidh has blogged about it on the Sparkle-Project.

You can get an in-depth discussion on it here.

In YA, there's a lot of slut shaming going on. I didn't even know what the word meant until I read The Purity Myth.

So that leads me to my topic of the day. What is a slut?

Here's what Merriam Webster says:

chiefly British : a slovenly woman
2
a : a promiscuous woman; especially : prostitute b : a saucy girl : minx
slut·tish adjective
slut·tish·ly adverb
slut·tish·ness noun
slut·ty adjective
If slut means a promiscuous woman, what does promiscuous mean?
: composed of all sorts of persons or things
2
: not restricted to one class, sort, or person : indiscriminate <education … cheapened through the promiscuous distribution of diplomas — Norman Cousins>
3
: not restricted to one sexual partner
Here's the Latin if any of you are interested,
Latin promiscuus, from pro- forth + misc─ôre to mix — more at pro-, mix
Make a note that I'm not going to go into the historical definition of slut. At least not right now.

So, we have promiscuous which really only means to mix a lot of things. Somehow that got translated to meaning slut and the definition changed so that it applied to having a lot of sexual partners.

Now, the connotations are negative. Calling someone a slut means that they're dirty, skanky, and for all purposes a whore.

Do you know what whore means?

: a woman who engages in sexual acts for money : prostitute; also : a promiscuous or immoral woman
: a male who engages in sexual acts for money
: a venal or unscrupulous person
So, we've got whore being synonymous with prostitute. From my understanding, a whore is naturally a slut, but a slut doesn't have to be a prostitute. That's not my opinion--but rather the popular opinion.  A better example: If you work at McDonalds, you work in the Fast Food industry, but if you work in the Fast Food industry, you don't necessarily work at McDonalds.

Now that we've go the definitions sorted out, I want to ask why these words apply to teenage girls. In fact, why do they apply to any girl outside of an actual prostitute?

We have definitions. Kody was arguing for a complete removal of the word slut from our casual vocabulary. Why? What is a slut? How can you dress like a slut?

I think sluts exist. Oh yes, sluts exist. But not in the way that people use the word. A woman that has more than one sexual partner is not a slut. A woman that sleeps with a different guy every other day, well, that isn't exactly healthy behavior is it? A guy that sleeps around is praised, but a woman is called a slut.

I'm under the opinion that they're both sluts. It's a word with a meaning that applies here for both of them. Don't shy away from using it. It's applicable for both sexes. 

As for whore, I'm lost at why anyone who isn't a prostitute would be called a whore. Perhaps I should use the more PC term. Sex worker. It still means someone who has sex for money. If you don't, well you aren't a whore.

We have the same problem with fag. A fag is actually a bundle of sticks. In the early twentieth century, a fag was a long cigarette that well off women smoked. It was so long, it often needed something to support it's weight. When I watch old Australian tv, they actually use fag in the place of cigarette. Like, "Can you bum me a fag?"

How this got to be a negative connotation of a gay man is beyond me. Why gay is even an insult further astounds me. Gay doesn't just mean homosexual. It means happy. Why being called a homosexual would hurt a guys feelings further astounds me. Don't even ask about dyke. It's actually a trench filled with water, or something like that.

Words are just words. You shouldn't let them control you. The meaning behind the word is what's important.

Do you know what nigger* means? It's a Spanish word that means black object. The word itself can apply to any object that's black. But, because of the negative connotation surrounding it, it became associated with black people--ie, they weren't people, they were objects. Now you'll hear the word in just about any rap song. My parents use it freely.

But when a white person says it--low and behold, the world cries racism. And yes, if used with negative meaning behind it--you know, actual racism--it's not appropriate.

*I don't like comparing the Gay Rights Movement to the Civil Rights Movement. They're totally different and doing so is a disservice to both.

In all actuality, I've seen a lot of slut shaming in YA. Any girl that dresses in a provocative way is apparently a slut.

Hold up, let's define provocative. Lets put my knowledge of Latin to the test. Pro means for or many. Voca means vocally, or to speak. So in a literal sense, to dress provocatively means to dress for attention. Hmm....so let's think about this again.

If you dress in a way that attracts attention, is it your fault that you garner said attention? Remember, even a woman dresses like Beyonce--no, I don't think Beyonce is a strong symbol of feminism. The very idea of that is laughable--and walks into a shady neighborhood in the middle of the night, she isn't looking for rape. Sex maybe, but rape, no. And if she is looking for rape, well that's not really rape is it?

Is anyone really looking for negative attention when they dress in clothes that are meant to attract members of the opposite sex? Who knows. That all depends on the person. Dressing in a way that's meant to illicit a response from a member of the opposite sex certainly isn't a good thing. Remember, personality over body. But does a word as strong as slut really apply here?

I remember watching a BBC documentary on black music a couple of days ago. At the very end, it featured a concert video of Beyonce dancing with a skirt so short she might as well have not been wearing it. Yet, people call her a strong woman. Is this really strong?


I don't think so. Note that this isn't even as bad as the picture I'm talking about. She sings about strength and being her own woman, yet in her videos it's clear that she's dancing for men. She certainly isn't doing it for me. She isn't doing it for herself either. Yet she's marketed to teenage girls as something that they should aspire to be. Same with Rhianna. A few years ago, I read the most hilarious interview in the Albuquerque Journal. Rhianna actually wanted to be a positive image for teen girls. Then this album came out:


Um...Rhianna, what happened?

Do these women deserve the title of slut? It depends. What's their motive? What's the real meaning behind dressing like this and telling teen girls to look up to them?

That belongs in a strip-club.

Yet, when Erika Badu does this video, people shout cries of indecency. This is the video:


Why do we demonize this woman for nudity, but praise the Beyonces and the Rhiannas? Nudity isn't the problem. It's the way you present said nudity. Now, I don't exactly want to see naked people running down the street, but you get the point.

Teenage girls that dress for sexual attention aren't sluts. Teenage girls that have sex once or twice with different people aren't sluts. Now, women that actually dress that way and force it onto teenagers as being right...well, I don't know about them. I don't think sex should be used as a way to manipulate anyone.

In fact, slut should be redefined to mean a man or woman that uses sex as a means to manipulate members of the opposite sex. Cause right now, it doesn't really have a meaning. Dirty, ok what makes you sexually dirty? How far do you have to go, or how many partners do you have to have before you're a slut? And why do some men get positive props for being sluts? If you sleep around that much, you shouldn't be bragging. You should be getting help.

I'm going to use the word slut because it has a meaning. It's just being used wrong. I'll always call cigarettes fags because it sounds cool. I don't really get why calling a gay guy a fag is supposed to be an insult. And yes, I'll continue to listen to R&B and hip-hop that uses nigger and niggah--and I don't care if anyone has a problem with that. They're just words. They don't really mean anything. It's the emotion behind them that matters. Same for bitch. It means female dog--so technically it's not a positive word. I'm not going to call anyone a bitch because they aren't a dog. Now, if they actually act like a dog--that's entirely different.

Yeah, I rambled.

Anyway, I'm done. I only have a few questions for you.

Do you think Beyonce deserves to be called a slut?

Do you think Olive, in easy A, deserves to be called a slut?

Do you think women--and men-- should be called sluts?

18 comments:

  1. What is a slut?

    Seriously, I've never heard a solid definition for the term. Is someone a slut if they have sex on the first date? Or if they offer oral sex? Or if they wear a short skirt and make sex jokes? Jessica Valenti covered this in her book The Purity Myth and I think it definitely deserves further discussion (she also mentioned the lack of definition for losing one's virginity which I thought was interesting.)

    I was watching a documentary earlier called Killing Us Softly, where the topic was brought up regarding women in advertising. An image of women is created - one that objectifies us, one of passivity and child-like innocence but still highly sexualised. It's unattainable and just plain insulting but it's become so common-place for us to have this image that we sometimes forget about it. Same with the term slut. How easy is it to throw that word around? How easy is it to degrade a woman based solely on her sexual status? That was one of the main reasons I reacted so negatively to Becca Fitzpatrick's Crescendo. The female antagonist is mocked and derided solely on her sexuality. She's bad because she has a lot of sex, and she has a lot of sex because she's bad. There was no other form of character development given to Marcie other than her promiscuity, and it was a-okay for Nora and Vee to mock her for it and call her a slut, ho-bag, whore, etc, because she was the designated antagonist and 'deserved it' and it didn't make Nora or Vee bad to use such terms.

    And we still seldom use the term slut to apply to men. It's a badge of honour for them, they're 'players' (as they were called in Alyson Noel's Evermore, instead of sluts like women). It's 2011 and we still use these archaic stereotypes. Even worse, we deem them acceptable for young women and kids. We keep setting the status-quo for these kids to grow up with.

    No-one deserves to be called a slut. If we can't even decide what the term means, it's time to put it to bed.

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  2. I'm definitely in agreement with that. If there is no meaning, why use
    it? Either it needs to be redefined or it needs to go.

    It's still funny how innocence and sexuality are combined to create a
    pedophiles dream in advertising. We're so desensitized it's not even
    funny.

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  3. Minor correction here. Actually the word fag (when applied to a gay man) is a contraction of the word faggot, which is an old english term for a hag. So basically, they are likening the gay man to an ugly and difficult old woman. Nothing to do with cigarettes.

    So it's sort of like a double whammy for women; not only are they labeled within their own sphere but they are indirectly insulted, yet again, simply by virtue of attaching a derogatory tag to their gender and implying that a REAL man is better than a woman.

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  4. You can't ever win, can you?

    It's really disgusting that the worst thing you call a man is a woman.

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  5. Such a great post! I agree with everything you have said here. The N word is something I am a little more sensitive about. I love rap so sure I listen to it and hear the word. But I don't think it's acceptable for others to use the term, be it used in a malicious way or not. After being fully aware of the history behind that word and how awfully black people were treated when using that very word It would be ignorance in my opinion to even think it is okay to use it now in any way. Just my opinion.

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  6. Oh lord. I think it's all about how you carry yourself. Nobody needs to be called a slut. There was a lot of drama in high school concerning this. I think sex should be a private thing, whether you're a guy or a girl and going around bragging about it or at the very least not being discreet about it means that your looking for any kind of attention.

    As far as the N-word, that's a whole different story. And I agree with you that the Gay Rights Movement can't be compared to the Civil Rights movement. It's pretty much a different struggle. But nigger and nigga are two different things. I don't advocate the use of any derogatory term, but people get confused over the pronunciation and spelling.

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  7. People, and teenagers especially, tend to abuse language in some really horrible ways. I remember when I was in eight grade, there was this book that got passed around in class - there was a page for each person and everyone was supposed to write in what they thought about that person. Earlier in the year, I'd fought with a guy because he kept bullying me (I mean, grabbed him by the hair and tried to tear it out, to which he responded by punching me in the nose). Said guy wrote in that book, amongst other things, that I was a slut, and quite a few other people compared me to a nut or (my personal favorite) Merylin Manson. My point here is that a lot of these insults, in hindsight, were not insultng in essence (they referred to parts of the female anatomy, and which I, as a female, am in the possession of). Still, the intent behind it was very clear.

    I realize that people abuse language and bend it to suit their needs. That's why I agree 100% that we need to aim for a more accurate usage of terms (unless we descend into Giver-world like language, where we're not supposed to apply love to anything).

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  8. Do you think Beyonce deserves to be called a slut?

    Hmm. This is pretty difficult. I'd have to say, no she doesn't. If we're talking like this, going strictly with the meanings isn't she more of a whore? I mean, she doesn't sell herself like that but she does sell those videos and go on tour looking like, well...let's just say most of the time she isn't what I'd call "family friendly". Feminism my ass. The same for Rhianna, too. That's just gross -- keep the clothes ON, girls, that's why they're there.

    Do you think Olive, in easy A, deserves to be called a slut?

    No. Olive wasn't a real slut, or anything close to it. She had no real sexual experience. Also, the way she dressed didn't look particularly scantily clad. It was just, well, weird.

    Do you think women--and men-- should be called sluts?

    It depends. I don't really shout hip hip hooray at the idea of anyone being called a slut -- male or female -- but I don't think the term "player" should be used for men and slut for women. It's pretty insulting. If you're going to be nasty, be equal about it. In my opinion, women and men and women/men alike can qualify for the word if they honestly want to.

    But, I can't see why anyone would want to.

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  9. I think this post is particularly relevant:
    http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/words-offense/

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  10. The epithet "slut" doesn't refer to behavior, it refers to appearance. Every middle school has at least one girl called 'slut" just because she developed breasts earlier or more prominently. The proper way for a girl to respond is to enforce a stricter modesty code upon herself. The wrong response is to actually become sexually active. And if, by sexually active we mean raped, well that's her fault too, for not looking like a young and innocent girl.

    Women are not called slut for appearing with little or no clothing professionally, as on an album cover. They're called slut when they go out to a club at night with their girlfriends, regardless of what they're wearing, see the outrage of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Britney Spears. It's not their work attire that earned the criticism, it was their private behavior caught on film by paparazzi that sparked outrage.

    You are welcome to use any words you like, but you can't re-appropriate "slut" on your own. It was never anything but an insult.

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  11. That's just gross -- keep the clothes ON, girls, that's why they're there.

    Would you say this to a man? And why is it okay for a man to show his nipples, but a woman must keep hers covered?

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  12. I'd say it to a man too. I can do without gratuitous sexual nudity
    thank you. It's pretty gross for both--and worse since she thinks of
    herself as a role-model.

    Now, in a movie where nudity isn't used in a sexually manipulative
    way, like Kirikou and the Sorceress, that isn't a problem. It's the
    sex, not the body that bothers me. And us for that matter--since the
    Severus is my sister.

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  13. Yes, I have always hated that men put down other men by calling them a girl. You throw like a girl! What are you, some whiny girl? He screamed like a little girl. In man-world, the worst thing you can be is a female.

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  14. I wouldn't call the Beyonces and Rhiannas (and GaGas and Madonnas and Katy Perrys) of the entertainment world sluts, but I would call them hypocrites. To want respect for their talents, hard work and intelligence but then to market themselves using their mostly-naked bodies is ridiculous. It completely negates everything about these women that speaks of power and equality because it reduces them to sex symbols, and being a sex symbol requires nothing but a nice body. They've sold out to the absolute lowest common denominator - the male sex drive. How sad. Certainly nothing to be proud of and certainly not a role model for young women and girls.

    I once asked my husband if he wasn't insulted by all of the advertisements for things like beer and cars that used scantily clad women as sales tools. Didn't it bother him that rather than appealing to his brain and intelligence, these ads went straight to his d*** to try to make the sale. To me, this is like waving a dog biscuit in front of a dog to make it do a trick. My husband just shrugged.

    As for the word slut, I do think there are people (both men and women) in the world who deserve that word based on their behaviour. However, I think that young girls use it as a weapon against each other, employing it out of context but to no less of an effect. A girl can be morally upstanding, a nice person, heck, a virgin even. But if she makes the wrong girl or guy angry, she can be labeled a slut for simply smiling at a boy. The word has almost been co-opted as a generic insult that only implies something nasty.

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  15. Nicely said Lynn. I'm liking the analogy in the second paragraph.

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  16. I think, in the case of Beyonce and others, it's about taking control of their sexuality rather than letting it be determined for them. It's a very fuzzy line and can not be judged simply by watching them in a video with the sound turned off. Some women reject shame as a relevant concept. They see their bodies as a source of enjoyment rather than a liability, which I think is the approach taken by other women.

    The thing is, female bodies are pretty. I'm pretty straight and I still find dancing girls as at least as attractive to watch as dancing boys.

    Additionally, many men ARE threatened by attractive women revealing their bodies in ways they can't control. Maybe it makes them feel a little funny?

    So... yeah. I won't ask a question about double standards but I will ask: is shame itself relevant today, or just an archaic tool used to enforce limitations on otherwise threatening behavior?

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  17. Who knows. That is an interesting question that I was contemplating while I
    was writing this post. But I have to disagree with Beyonce and co. using
    their sex appeal for their positive advantage. IMO, they're not really
    controlling their sexuality, they're still letting others control it for
    them. Of course, then that goes into the argument of what's respectable vs.
    what's not. It's an interesting topic to say the least.

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  18. Well, obviously the difference is that Rihanna and Beyonce are technically wearing, uh, clothes, and also that Erika Badu is on the street (!) and not clearly on a set before a green screen--not to mention the lack of airbrushing. Therefore, she seems more 'real' than the other two. And women, being essentially sexual objects, should not actually try to be real. Duh.

    That sounded a lot more bitter than I meant it to--it just came to me while reading.

    But actually, I agree with you regarding the meaning of words and the 'vagueness' of supposed insults. Know that the person using such terms has no idea what they mean and they lose a lot of power.

    A group of boys once barked at me as I passed in middle school. I just thought they were weird and continued on my way. (This may not work for everyone, and it's bothered me after the fact. But I pity them more.)

    Note: I believe "dyke" (spelled dike) may also refer to "a subvertical sheet-like intrusion of magma or sediment". There's a local example I've driven by many times, it's an impressive landscape feature. Isn't geology interesting?

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