Archive for November, 2010

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.

Short skirts and sluttiness

Posted in change the record, New Zealand, sluts on November 12th, 2010 by steph – 22 Comments

Like Brian Edwards, I hadn’t planned to write about the “you look like a slut” story; mostly because some kick-ass bloggers I adore have already tackled it. But then I read Brian’s post, and just about lost my shit. Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with Brian. Specifically, this is what I take issue with

My own view is that no apology of any sort was necessary. I know about teenage daughters. I know that they can dress and behave inappropriately, often provocatively. I’ve had calls from the headmaster. And if one of my daughters had come home and said to me that a woman teacher had told her to pull down her skirt because she ‘looked like a slut’, I would have said, ‘Well, she was perfectly right, wasn’t she? Don’t expect me to stick up for you.’

So if Amethyst did indeed ‘look like a slut’ when her skirt was riding up around her thighs, the proper thing, the responsible thing, the thing that was in her best interests, was to tell her so. To be upset by the word, she had to know its meaning. Is she such a sensitive plant that her ears would be offended by hearing it spoken?

(Bolding is my own).

I’m not going to tackle the rule breaking, and whether the skirt length rule is good or bad (QoT does this better than me); what I can’t believe is that a sensible and intelligent man would actually agree, and say to his daughter “Yeah, teacher said you look like a slut? Well, in that short skirt you do”. I genuinely cannot believe that a parent would agree, and say that his child looked like a slut. If you really don’t like the short skirt, could you not at least say “I don’t think that’s appropriate”? (I am not going to tell parents what they should allow/disallow as parents…) But the issue of words and phrasing aside; more importantly, what message are you reinforcing if you agreed and told your daughter that she does look like a slut? You’re saying a short skirt=looking slutty. Does it? I wear short skirts frequently; do I look like a slut most days of the week? Is that what people – my parents included – are thinking? Maybe I’m at an age where I can wear a short skirt and not look like a slut; I don’t really know how it works because none of it makes any sense to me, really.

So what you’re saying is wearing a short skirt means looking slutty. You are reinforcing the idea that certain items of clothing or certain outfits make one look like a slut; the term for someone who has a lot of sex. Having a lot of sex is a problem because lots of people still think it’s some sort of indicator of character. Society hates sluts; it hates women who have sex a lot, or with lots of different people, or casually, or outside of marriage, or some other arbitrary standard that varies form person to person. We call someone a slut when their sex life differs from what we personally consider acceptable or when it differs from ours. So we don’t want people we know to be sluts, or even look like sluts; and we especially don’t want our daughters to look like sluts. Because then what would people think of them? People would see them at school, or on the street, and think to themselves “that girl looks like a big ol’ slut, like a girl who fucks a lot”. And that would make them think your child is a bad person.

But the real problem with agreeing with a teacher and saying yes, you do look like a slut, becomes apparent if you even give rape culture a cursory thought. Maybe Brian didn’t do this because as a man he has more privilege than many women do to ignore or be unaware of rape culture. But it brings up the big problem with saying a girl in a short skirt looks like a slut. See, short skirt=looks like a slut. And a lot of people wouldn’t say “looks like a slut”, they would say “wearing a short skirt is slutty”; we hear message reinforced often: sluts are depicted as wearing short and/or revealing clothes, and women who are raped are judged if their outfit is “provocative” or “revealing”, or “slutty”. And there are people out there who believe this; people who would say “look at that chick in that outfit…damn…. I bet she’s up for it”. Because sluts love sex, and if you look like our idea of what a slut looks like….amirite? And there are people who would then be angry if that woman turned them down, or refused to fuck them. And not all of those people will be decent enough human beings to accept a no and move in. This is why it’s still ok to ask what a rape victim was wearing: short skirt? Slut. She was asking for it. Stilettos? Skimpy dress? We have lots of “slut identifiers”, and as a woman it is terrifying to know that I (a frequent short skirt wearer)  could be blamed for being victimized because of an outfit choice. When a woman is raped, there are still people out there (maybe only a few, or maybe they know better than to voice this opinion out loud) who think that her outfit somehow makes her to blame (even if the rapist is blamed too). This is why telling a girl in a short skirt that she looks like a slut is awful in a way that maybe Brian Edwards has not considered. Because if we reinforce that certain clothing choices make women look like sluts, we are reinforcing the idea of certain things being slutty, and these things are then associated with sluts; women who fuck a lot and in ways we don’t like. And if this kind of clothing looks like something a slut would wear, then maybe that woman is a slut; why else would she wear it, because surely nobody would intentionally want to look like a a big dirty slut except someone who actually is one? And if something look likes a duck, maybe it is a duck. So maybe this women who looks like a slut actually is a slut, and behaves like one. Maybe she loves sex, and would do it with anyone, so you think you must be a sure thing with someone who would do it with any and everybody. And why would someone who would do that say no to you? Surely she means yes (because women are meant to be coy, and act hard to get), or maybe you just think her appearance is making a promise she should follow through with or it would be false advertising. And so you rape her. And then say “well in that outfit she was asking for it”.

Maybe Brian has never thought about these things; possibly because he probably isn’t ever going to be that person who gets blamed for inciting their own victimization because of something they wore.

I realise that the original comment was “you look like a slut”, not “you are a slut”; and I realise that Brian said he would agree with “look like a slut” and did not say he would call his short-skirted daughter  slut. But not everyone thinks “looks like a slut” and “is a slut” are different, and for some it can be an easy path of rationalization from “looks like” to “is”. And this is where the danger lies, because society’s shitty and backward ideas about women and sex come into play. Ideas about sluts – who they are, what they do, the idea that sluts are something nobody should be – come into it, and ideas about sluts can be damaging and dangerous; not only because they control and shame women for their behaviour, but also because they can play a role in actual crimes.

So I don’t think it’s ok to tell your child that yes, she does look like a slut. Not because being a “slut” is bad (because what’s wrong with sex?) but because it is buying into societal conceptualizations of what women are meant to dress like and behave like, and how women are meant to have sex. Not only that, but it makes no sense: what does a slut (if we take this as women who self-identify as sluts) look like anyway? I’m sure that there is no uniform, or item of clothing they all wear. A self-confessed slut could wear absolutely anything. It’s like saying “you look like someone who likes cats” or something equally as silly. Unless the person has a t-shirt on that proclaims their identity or love of a certain thing, in which case it’s a fairly safe observation to make. Although given how often people wear t-shirts “ironically”, maybe not…