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Why The Word Slut Is Problematic

The word slut is meant to shame women who don’t conform to the constraints of being feminine. Therefore, the ultimate goal of slut shaming is to make sure women adhere to the gender norms of society, and the easiest way to do that is to police their bodies. After researching the actual definition of the word slut, I came across a few different interpretations of the word:

 

This sort of control over women’s sexuality even extends into our judicial system. Victims of sexual assault are usually berated with questions about their sexual relationships, the way they dress, if they were drinking or how late they were out. In 1991, the sensationalized story of a woman who was raped by a Kennedy at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Florida. The most frequent question asked of Patricia Bowman in the courtroom was “what was she doing in a bar at three o’clock in the morning?” William Kennedy Smith was found not guilty of rape, despite three other women testifying at the trial that Smith also raped them. This pattern has continued in many sexual assault trials today, deterring many women from even reporting their sexual assaults for fear of being shamed for their sexuality or their perpetrator going free. This sort of unequal treatment in the courtroom stems from the idea in our society that a woman who has sex, even if it was not consensual, should be shamed while for men, their sexuality is seen as a natural part of their nature.

Recently, women have been taking steps to try and reclaim the word slut to change its meaning, to reclaim their sexuality and to hold society accountable for shaming women. Events like SlutWalk and Slute Pride aim to end rape culture, victim blaming and slut shaming of sexual assault victims. According to Wagatwe Wanjuki, a social justice activist who was sexually assaulted at Tufts University, says, “I still worry that I can’t get away with doing ‘slutty’ things because they would be used as justification to not believe that I was assaulted and to invalidate me.”

So, while efforts to reclaim the word slut can be positive and make strides in ending rape culture the word itself is deeply tied in a system which aims to suppress women and their sexuality. This in turn creates a society where women who are sexual are seen as less than and therefore it is excusable when they are assaulted or raped. The next time you call someone a slut, jokingly or not, it’s important to think about the ways in which the word has been used to devalue and dehumanize women and how you may be contributing to that system. Words carry meaning, sometimes even more than we realize.