A word tossed around quite frequently and, rather stupidly so, is the lovely word many women know very, very well: slut.
Truthfully, it would be exhaustive and nearly impossible to recount all of the many, many times I have heard the word used, in a multitude of very different settings. The phrase has become woven into our everyday conversing, it has become such a colloquial and shamelessly utilized word that it seems to have lost any meaning behind it. I am here to investigate just precisely what this word means and why- why, oh why– we use it.
Human sexuality is a rather complicated, messy, and limitless thing. To force ourselves, and those surrounding us, into neat, pretty binary boxes is both illogical and ridiculous. To simplify our very complex identities into the black and white is, admittedly, easier than having an honest discussion about sexuality and what it truly entails. But, as we are all humans, we are by nature complex, and have to allow ourselves to be so. And, of course, we must respect the complexity of others so that they are able to do the same.
Even more detrimental is to limit this incredibly derogatory word to solely women. Slut-shaming is perpetrated most prominently at women, demeaning us for each possessing our own (very unique) sexualities and being unafraid to act on them. The word forces away our sense of independence, which, as a systemically oppressed group in this society, is already quite difficult to own in the first place.
The word “slut” has lost most of its original meaning. Now, instead of only being used to describe a woman who has sexual relationships with multiple people, it is now used in relation to things such as clothing choices, attitudes, personalities, body types, and many more ridiculous aspects of women.
Why do we, as humans in this specific society, have such intense and definitive feelings about women’s sexuality? The question is a difficult one to answer, because of the fact that this judgmental nature we all seem to implicitly possess is often not a direct representation of who we are. The fact is, this tendency to judge women is one long internalized into our culture and, subsequently, into ourselves, as a norm. And it is entirely up to our generation to break this norm. The word is just that- a silly little word- but powerful nonetheless. We all know, as humans, that words often inflict the most brutality one can ever suffer through.
I could truthfully go on for ages about the many problematic connotations with this word, but I’ll start with the very obvious: why does anyone else have a say on the sexuality of another person? What right do we have to shame other women for having sexual relationships, or simply owning their sexuality? What right do we have to judge women on these things, things that in no way have anything to do with who that woman is as a person or what values matter to her?
Engaging in consensual sex does not lessen your value as a human being, ever, in any way. And it is certainly not a very good thing to dehumanize people for doing. Sex, for many (but not all!!) is part of the human experience. And so if a woman chooses to have sex with one person or a hundred (hyperbole), how on earth does that dictate who she is as a human being? How on earth does that have anything to do with her being a morally “good” or “bad” person?
There are no specific behaviors or attitudes that are inherently “slutty”. Choosing to dress a certain way does not define what sexual behaviors you engage in, if any, and it certainly does not dictate your personality, or, your worth. People who choose to dress in a manner which is societally seen as “provocative” are not– despite many of men’s beliefs– dressing this way in order to receive unsolicited comments, catcalling, or any other form of harassment. Much to the disbelief of many men, women do not dress a certain way for your pleasure. Women can do whatever they would like to do with their bodies, and it is absolutely never an invitation for anyone to immediately label them or harass them. Respect is a virtue that must be valued more in this society. Not solely for women, of course, but for all genders, and there are many. Respecting bodily autonomy, understanding that women- and people, in general- can and will do whatever they desire with themselves, and you, as an outsider, have not a hint of say in this.
If the entire concept and purpose of slut-shaming does now not make any sense to you, either, I am very glad. I encourage you to actively call people out on it, including yourself. This is critical, because such an act reduces women to solely their sexuality and promotes the double standard which has long prevailed through our society: that women are not permitted to be openly sexual, and are immediately mocked, invalidated, and dehumanized, while, if men are sexual, they are given high fives and congratulated.
It is so easy to lose ourselves to the easiest option; to absentmindedly accept our tendency to conform, when, in fact, it is so much more effective and just as easy not to. There is always a choice in your response to conformity. Do not allow yourself to make the wrong one.
There is still a very long list of discussions to be had and issues to be dealt with, regarding not only feminism, but the whole systemic oppression we face in general. What I would like to say, once more, is that everyone’s sexuality is unique and valid and, most importantly, no one else’s business. You are not defined by your sexuality, for sexuality never dictates your many different traits.
A woman owns herself, you do not own her choices or autonomy or decisions. And, of course, a person owns themselves. Bodily autonomy. Autonomy of mind.
“Last time I checked, how much sex a girl has doesn’t justify a label slapped on her like a soup can”. – meggie royer