Slut shaming isn’t just about bullying: Why we should stop using the word “slut” completely

We need to stop using the word “slut”. You probably know this already, as slut shaming has been topical since the SlutWalks in 2011, and recently there was an article ‘Slut Shaming Shames us All’, about slut shaming and other forms of bullying in a broadsheet I can’t remember the name of.

However it seems like most of the discussion centres around men using the term, and around the existence of the double standard – which is great. We need to talk about both of these issues. But when I remember back to my high school days, it seems like it was girls, not boys, who used the term “slut” to bully each other and enforce other girls’ compliance with the double standard. This is collusion with the patriarchy and a betrayal of one’s gender.

And calling someone a “slut” isn’t the only problem. It’s easy enough to refrain from doing that, and easy enough to label a slut shamer a bully for doing so. But gossiping about other women, talking about our favourite TV shows or even just having a laugh are all situations which carry a risk of the word “slut” being dropped. And that in itself reinforces the double standard to your listeners. The word slut is always harmful when it’s used as an accepted, noncontroversuial term – even if you’re not directly calling someone a slut.

Phrases like “acting like a slut” “slutty dress” or “she looks like a slut” are equally harmful to society – especially if children or young teenagers overhear you. Teens – even young teens barely out of childhood- are way more intelligent and capable of critical thought than we give them credit for, but if it’s Mum and Dad who are providing a bad example, it’s a bit much of adults to expect the kids to behave. The kids simply won’t see anything wrong with slut shaming or anything unnatural or unethical about the double standard. The best parent in the world can’t stop friends and classmates being a bad influence on their children, but we can all modify our own behaviour around our own and others’ children. In fact, we already do – would you tell a dirty joke or swear around kids, especially younger children? Yet actually the damage caused by hearing a dirty joke or the F-word is minimal compared to the damage done to child’s sense of morality through being indoctrinated to believe that the double standard is real and to follow it by slut shaming women. If the child or teen is female (or identifies as female) this can impact their self-esteem and the way they see themselves as a girl or young woman. It can create problems in later life when the girl feels that she is a “slut” for having “too much” sex – instead of proud to be having so much sex. (Or even indifferent). No, the destiny of a woman is shame; she can’t be too inexperienced or she’s frigid or lesbian or ‘can’t get a man’ but if she’s too successful with the lads then she’s a slut, cheap, or a whore.

The double standard in itself is illogical and self-defeating. If men should be experienced and women inexperienced, it means that men need some women to be available. So there need to be some sluts. So the double standard actually forces women to be sluts, then punishes them for it. LGBTQ people don’t seem to fit in the system, either.

Stopping yourself using the term ‘slut’ (except in a positive or empowering way) has been a bit hard for me. But although I still slip up occasionally, I just apologise for saying it. The best way to avoid saying it, I’ve found, is not to stop making the comments you would’ve made, but instead substitute other words: for example, “a revealing top” “she’s really sex positive”, “she acts like she’s up for it” or “she’s very successful with the boys”. Or, “she’s a stud”.

But I don’t think all uses of “slut” are bad; yes, the use of the word in jokes is bad, because it bolsters the double standard. But if the joke portrays sluthood in a ;positive way, it can’t be bad. So saying “go get your slut on, girl!” or calling a friend a slut as a compliment would be fine. Likewise, words like tart, whore, cheap, easy, been around the block, bimbo, strumpet, tramp, etc are just as harmful as “slut”; they are just Americanized, obsolete or regional versions of the word “slut”.

Slut shaming isn’t confined to bullying. It’s in adverts, jokes, TV, magazines, our language and even our own homes.Together we can stop using these words (except as compliments) and be sex positive.

 

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One thought on “Slut shaming isn’t just about bullying: Why we should stop using the word “slut” completely

  1. Pervertically Virtuous June 28, 2013 at 6:13 am Reply

    so you’re not advocating stopping the use of ‘slut’ completely – you seem to be advocating stopping using it as a negative word and reclaiming it as a positive word..?

    I’m on board with reclaiming, I’ve been doing that for years one friend and lover at a time. and now, hopefully with my blog, more than just one person at a time..

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