I don’t think there’s a word in the English language at the moment that can piss me off more than ‘slut’. Not just because it’s nasty, not just because it’s a tool for shaming and disarming women, but because it is not always used by the people you would expect.
I’m not talking about obvious sexists. I’m not talking about the guys who yell at you from cars or try to grope you in clubs and then call you a slut when you calmly and considerately reject their advances. For people like that, I tend to think it’s just a sort of auditory ‘stupid sexist wanker’ badge that they’re choosing to wear so we can all keep a safe distance. It’s like a public health warning.
The people I am talking about are the clever, interesting, self-possessed and well informed men and women of my own acquaintance. They know about sexism. They know it exists. They would never in a million years wish to contribute it. But they can, and they will label someone a slut without blinking.
This is an argument I have had too many times. I never, ever, ever want to have to have it again. So here is the guide to the ‘slut talk’ as I like to call it. Read it well and employ it when needed.
(It’s probably worth saying here that I am talking about the word slut being leveled as an insult. Read: “she’s dressed like a total slut”, “have you seen my ex is seeing this total slut now”, “well she’s hot but I wouldn't fuck a slut” (all statements I have heard within the last year). For the most hilarious, positive and acceptable way of using ‘slut’ see 0.55 of this: )
So, your friend, colleague, casual acquaintance or employer has dropped the ‘S’ bomb, and you've called them out on it. They’re looking defensive and annoyed. No one likes being told they've done something unacceptable. Perhaps an awed hush has fallen over the room at your audacity. Perhaps there is some weak, nervous laughter. DO NOT BE ALARMED. This is what you’re likely to come up against, and how you respond:
1. ‘But she’s had sex with loads of people’
There is every possibility she has. The amount of sex that this person has had may be, to your eyes, inadvisable, unnecessary or even unsafe. But just to clarify, that is absolutely none of your business. I’m sorry but this girl could spend 22 hours a day getting laid if she wanted and it would still have nothing to do with you. Honestly, if you are that offended by the idea that someone is having more sex than you would rate as optimum, you are thinking about it too much. Go focus on your own genitalia instead and we might all be a lot happier.
2.‘Well I would call a guy a slut’
Oh my god. This person’s solved it all! You took a word invented to judge and shame half of the population and now you’re using it for everybody! That’s real equality right there. Making everybody feel like total shit, instead of just the ladies. Except that’s not true. Because honestly, guys don’t really get called sluts, and if they do it’s never carrying the same stigma, shame and embarrassment as it does with a girl. Being called a man- slut is still the same badge of pride as being called a ‘player’. A double standard is a lot more than the words that communicate it, and you’re not going to break it down by applying negative, misogynistic and outdated standards to men as well as women. Cut it out altogether.
3. ‘She’s having the wrong kind of sex. Like bad sex. She’s doing the sex badly’
This is where the real argument starts. A lot of people think this is the right application of the word ‘slut’: if a girl is cheating on someone, sleeping round in a way that is ‘disregardful of other people’s feelings’, having sex with the guy her best friend likes, just generally using her vagina like a weapon of war. That’s ‘bad sex’. And that’s when it’s acceptable, apparently, to call a girl a slut. This is where it gets tricky because this use of slut is an emotional thing. It can come from anger, from feeling righteous and hard done by, for having no grounds to defend someone‘s sexual freedom: if someone’s feelings are getting hurt, then it is no longer ‘none of our business’.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that girls can’t be total arseholes. We can. We have. I have. But I’m going to apply the good old fashioned sexism test to this one, and ask, what would you say about a guy who was acting in that way?
Bastard, dick, arsehole, good-old-fashioned cunt, wanker, twat, scumbag, piece of shit.
These are not nice words. But they also do not mean ‘loose, sex-crazed, Messalina-reincarnated whore-bag who can’t keep her legs shut for more than two seconds”. They pass judgement on someone because of their actions, they don't deflect it into a comment about their sexuality.
I’ve been called a slut (almost every girl has), and it sucks. It’s not just the word, it is absolutely everything that comes with it. When you level that at someone, it comes with this crushing judgement that is unfair and embarrassing and painful. It is a weapon, reeking of double standards and false expectations and just the general idea that if you are woman and you like having sex, then you are doing something wrong. It comes from a place of oppression and shaming that we should have moved on from a long long time ago, and it’s lagging three feet behind every other awesome step forward we have ever had feminism to thank for. And fuck that.