Who’s a slut? Probably you.

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.


  1. Amanda says:

    “Double Slut With Cheese” Buahahaha! Awesome sauce.

    After the whole Slut discussion began last week, I went out Friday night and had a good look at all the women around me in town. Some of the them were wearing short skirts, high heels, strapless, tight etc however they bloody well felt like. And I got to thinking what an ageist issue this is. A school girl’s uniform skirt hiked up (like they have been for god knows how many generations) = sluttish. Adult women wearing sexy clothes for a night on the town = acceptable to the men (and/or women) they are on display for (or Sluttish, depending on how you want to drunkenly abuse those women).

    So yes, ladies and gentlemen. Slut is for when you want them to conform, hot n sexy when you want to bang ’em. And then they’ll be a slut because you banged ’em, and they realized with a Slutter-Thrower-Rounder you were, and dropped you like the cold little jerk you are.

    • steph says:

      Exactly: slut is a tool used to make you conform to someone else’s idea of what’s ok! And often a way to insult you if you reject them (i.e. their attempts to pick you up). Or it’s something to call a woman who DID accept your advances and actually had sex with you in way you might consider too easily (e.g on the first date).

      The age thing is something I thought about in regards to the school uniform thing; is the unacceptability of the skirt length related to the girl’s age? Because I can imagine plenty of the “oh she looks like slut”-ers rushing to defend that skirt length on an adult.

  2. QoT says:

    Awesome, clear post, steph. Of course the joy of it is that it’s designed to be a no-win situation in so many wonderful ways: the subjectivity of what “slut” means, the fact that of course if you’re the one woman in a thousand who people can’t label as a “slut” it means you’re “frigid”, the fact that whether you’re a “slut” or “just” a “fun chick” entirely depends on whether you’ve just turned down the person doing the labelling.

    • steph says:

      Thanks 🙂 I tried to actually edit instead of word-vomiting, haha…

      I had actually meant to remember to include the if you’re not a slut you’re a frigid prude thing, thanks for that comment! yeah, if you displease them but for some reason calling you a slut is too far-fetched, then prude or frigid is the go-to term to shame you.

  3. Boganette says:

    I don’t like the word slut. And I think this whole debate is about people wanting to shame women and make sure they behave the ‘right’ way. And if they don’t behave well they deserve everything they get – and rape, sexual assault, unwanted sexual attention etc all falls under that. What shits me is these people who would happily call another woman a slut – or a 14-year-old girl one for that matter – won’t be open with their opinions. They hide behind “concern” for women. When it’s not about concern. It’s about control.

    Great post Steph. I’m going to try and work “Double-Slut Burger with Cheese” into a conversation today.

  4. tigtog says:

    Another vote for Awesome Coinage of the Day for “Double-Slut Burger with Cheese”. It even gets the undertone of objectification in there.

    • steph says:

      Haha, I guess it’s a bit weird to say thank you, but thank you! I hashed most of this out in my head on a very brisk angry walk; possibly I should try it more often to get my blogging juices flowing.

  5. singlejafa says:

    Christine Rankin anyone? I wore the big earrings on Christine Rankin day (but I was living in Wellington). Love her or hate her, that 2001 court case resonates with this kind of commentary. It’s not just short skirts and big earrings though… it extends to your number of marriages.

    How do I loathe thee, let me count the ways (to rudely rephrase Elizabeth Barret Browning’s famous work). For more insight see here… http://tvnz.co.nz/close-up/christine-rankin-responds-2731782

    To be fussing over school uniforms in a year where women are earning even less compared with men, hold fewer directorships and board memberships, and fewer high profile roles (not PM, Chief Justice, Governor General etc…), doesn’t bode well for the future. Come on women, we can do better!

    None of the girls at my school wore regulation length uniforms after first form.

    • steph says:

      Thanks for the link, it really reminds me of how society loves to police what women wear; and once again, how probably nothing a woman wears would be “right”: skirt too short= slutty, skirt too long=frumpy, and so on. Sigh.

  6. singlejafa says:

    My typo. Please change “passed”, to “past” or “after”. Otherwise it adds to the slut angle.