Slut. The word is like one of those neon billboards, blinking tastelessly back you. It’s hard not to just gape at it as it burns the letters into your mind so that even after you’ve left it behind, it’s still there when you close your eyes, blaring on the backs of your eyelids. It sticks with you.
My mind started buzzing about the term after I came across this article from Sociological Images titled “Resistance, Language, and the Toronto SlutWalk” (click here). According to Lisa Wade, the women and men of Toronto formed the “SlutWalk” event “in an effort to bring attention to word and its use as a mechanism of control[ing] girls” a couple of weeks ago. The “SlutWalk” was apparently trigger by an unfounded comment made by a local police officer essentially blaming women for the way they dress–“dressing like sluts”–for being victimized.
Of course, there is the whole issue of the fact that the way one dresses is no excuse for inexcusable treatment of them. When people see business suits, suitcases, and well put-together men, should they link these business men with Madoff and take their angry out on them? No, that would be stupid and uncalled for. Yet obviously some think that is completely and uneqivically acceptable, at least in certain situations (such as a woman dressing in a way they consider “slutty”). But today I’m more curious about the term than the stupidity.
What does “slut” mean in today’s society?
It’s become too common in today’s society, much like fast-food chains and advertisements. It echoes through the halls at schools and has been smeared all over the internet like some kind of black plague on sites. Just check out these statistics on the usage frequency of slurs against women on some notorious game sites brought to our attention by Go Make Me a Sandwich (Google Results-misogynist language used on major game sites).
Whether or not everyone knows the precise definition of the word, I think we all understand the meaning and how it is commonly used. Most of us probably know it as a put down, a nasty label that degrades a girl or woman to something less than others, something dirty, cheap, and easy that deserves no respect. I use the word “something” on purpose; the term “slut” is just another way to dehumanize someone and take their power away. Take female politicians for example. If someone doesn’t like a female politician, what better way to take away her dignity and power than to label her a “slut.” Some buried deep in the depths of their man caves even add the extra touch of taking the time to photoshop pictures to add to the point.
But aside from the ugly usage of it, did you know there is a movement by some women to try to “reclaim” the term “slut?” This does not mean it would be ok for a woman to use it against another woman, but instead reinvent the meaning of the term. Some have cast away the meaning of “a dirty woman” or “immoral woman” for a modern revamp of, basically, a person who is at ease with sex and feels it is nothing to be ashamed of. Here are some I came across:
“in the pursuit of their own pleasure”–The Sluts & Goddesses Video Workshop (sex info video)
“a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you” —The Ethical Slut (sex and lifestyle book)
(On the other hand, there are other women and girls that are trying to adopt “slut” on as a joke term that would be ok to use on each other, much like the word “bitch” is used by some nowadays. Honestly though, does it make a person feel good to hear that from her friends, even as a joke?)
While it is an interesting and worthy endeavor to change the usage, I struggle with the concept of wiping clean the repulsive term “slut” into something good. It is certainly not out of humankind’s reach to completely reinvent the idea of a commonly used word, just look at what we’ve done to the term “gay.” But can we flip a word from a stinging slap into a pat on the back instead of the other way around for once? I have to wonder if the reinvented term of “slut” will be wholly embraced or if it will simply become a poor cover up on the black stain that is the history of the term.
What do you think?