slut-shaming

Who’s a slut? Probably you.

Posted in doin' it wrong, slut-shaming, sluts on November 15th, 2010 by steph – 11 Comments

So there has been a lot of heated debate lately about looking like a slut, dressing like a slut, acting like a slut, and being a slut. And all of it got me thinking about the word slut, and why it’s such a nasty word to use against a woman. Part of it is just that: it’s being used against a woman. Slut is a gendered insult; oh sure, people might say “oh, I know a guy who sleep around and he’s a total man-slut!” and think that this somehow makes an acceptable, gender-neutral term. It doesn’t, because “man-slut” being used to describe male behaviour reinforces the idea that slut without a qualifier means a woman by default. And, aside from that, male and female sexual behaviour is viewed very differently by society, and so a man who has a lot of sexual partners is never going to be treated the way a women with lots of partners is: men don’t tend to be slut-shamed, while it seems to be a socially acceptable hobby to slut shame women.

Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.”

It bears repeating: you don’t have to say “she is a slut and a bad person because she’s a slut” for it to be slut-shaming. Slut-shaming can occur without the word slut ever being mentioned (as in this letter to the Dom Post), or it can be even more indirect.

This aside, I thought about why I loathe slut being thrown about as an insult so much. And it’s this: slut is this vague, ill-defined concept that can be applicable to anything or anyone. People say in blog comments ‘oh, but just google the word ‘slut’ and it’ll be pretty clear what   slut is”, or “I know one when I see one”. But in reality, every person who uses this word as a derogatory term has their own idea of what a slut is and where the line is. Some people think you’re a slut if you fuck on the first date; some if you have sex before you’re married. Some people think you’re a slut based on the number of sexual partners; others think it isn’t the number but whether the partners were casual or you were in serious monogamous relationships. Other people base it on clothing, with certain items acting as ‘slut signifiers’: Miniskirt? Slut. Miniskirt and low-cut top? Double slut. Miniskirt, low cut top and stilettos? Double slut burger with cheese. But for some people the “slutty clothing line” is crossed if you wear anything vaguely form-fitting, or bare your shoulders in public, or things like that. Basically, everyone who uses slut as an insult and who thinks that you can tell a slut by her behaviour or appearance has a different idea of what constitutes “sluttiness”. A women could walk down the street in a knee-length skirt and have one person think “slut” but the next person think that the skirt is perfectly fine. And this means that women can’t win. Because no matter what they do, even if they think they’re being modest or doing what’s acceptable, there’s going to be someone who judges them.

Slut is  an always-applicable word based on an ill-defined concept that people can dish out whenever the hell they feel like it, whenever a women does something that you personally feel is contrary to your own standards of acceptability. Slut is a word you can throw out there at any occasion and for any poorly conceived reason or with very little basis just to put this naughty, deviant woman in her place. Because that’s what the word slut is intended to do: it’s intended to put a women in her place, and shame her for something she’s done in the hopes that she will stop it and conform, or at least know she is a horrible person who deserves all the judgment you’re handing out or whatever horrible thing she has coming to her.

So that’s why “slut” (as it is commonly used; reclaiming the word, on the other hand, is a whole other post) is a word that I passionately hate. It’s always hanging there on the tips of people’s tongues, ready to be dished out when you do something they don’t like. There is no single defined indicator of being a slut in the eyes of every single person, and this is handily used against women because it means that at any time the s-bomb can be dropped in response to something they do that might be displeasing to you. Bust out the word slut when any women does something that you feel goes against what acceptable sexuality, and put that woman in her place.

So yeah, once again the message seems to be “Women: you can never win this one”. That’s why the word slut is so nasty and insidious. It’s a word used to judge and shame women, and one we can’t escape no matter what we do.