In a never-ending quest to define my personal feminist beliefs, I sometimes feel like a total flaming hypocrite. For instance, in my last piece, I bemoaned my annual Halloween charade: donning a “sexy”, often clichéd, trying-too-hard-to-catch-male-attention costume. I wanted to convey how the rise of raunchy sexuality as a supposed tool of female liberation could be detrimental to Feminism.
However, I came very close to doing something that could be equally devastating to the cause: slut-shaming.
Slut-shaming is the act of putting down a female for being too sexual in order to make her feel inferior or guilty. “Too sexual” could mean a whole range of things, but I think author Jessica Valenti’s slut definition says it best: “women engaged in any activity besides knitting, praying, or sitting perfectly still lest any sudden movements be deemed whorish.”
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a virgin or a whore. Even if the word “slut” isn’t used per se, anyone with a clitoris is vulnerable to slut-shaming. The most obvious example is the rape victim who “was probably asking for it” when it surfaces that she was drinking or wearing a miniskirt on the night of the assault.
Other occurrences may seem a lot more innocent. Part of Taylor Swift’s shtick is to slut-shame in her lyrics. In “Better Than Revenge”, she takes a swipe at a girl who apparently stole her boyfriend, “She’s an actress/But she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” The Queen of Wholesome often employs guilt-mongering tactics to put down the mean girl/cheerleader types who, she assures us, are more sexual than her.
Just a few weeks ago, The Today Show’s Kathie Lee Gifford slut-shamed Snooki during an interview by telling the Jersey Shore star to value herself more. Anyone remotely familiar with Snooki, who has written a book and essentially turned herself into a brand, would know that she values herself very highly. Gifford’s backhanded advice implied that Snooki’s hook-up history was embarrassing and shameful.
But TayTay and KLG are not the only ones at fault; almost all of us are culpable. The heart-wrenching thing about this everyday epidemic is that it often manifests as a woman-on-woman crime. How many times have you said “Ugh, I hate that slut!” or the seemingly kinder greeting, “Hey slut!”?
Those who have re-purposed “slut” as a fun nickname for their gal pals may have positive intentions, but it is doubtful that the gendered slur will lose its stigma anytime soon. It must be noted that the increasing popularity of “man-slut” is slightly promising. Some argue that this means that the word “slut” is not inherently female, yet the “man-” in “man-slut” is almost always there as a qualifier, so clearly we still have a long way to go.
Everyone knows that this sexual double standard is just another tick on the male privilege checklist. In a North American English linguistics study, researchers could only identify 20 words for a promiscuous male, but found a whopping 220 words for a promiscuous female. Ouch.
Moreover, the tone of name-calling differs entirely for the two sexes. When a guy hooks up frequently, he is a Don Juan, Romeo, stud, gigolo, Casanova, Sugar Daddy or Ladies’ Man. But what about a girl? She gets called less flattering and less literary-inspired names: skank, hussy, tramp, streetwalker, cum dumpster or ho bag, just to name a few.
Urban Dictionary might not be the most reputable of sources, but the site’s most prominent definition of “slut” is very telling: “A woman with the morals of a man.” Obviously, the backward mindset of gender-specific morality must be put to death. Maybe, just maybe, once we stop calling our fellow women sluts, the whole “having a vagina” thing might become a little less problematic.