On the Use of the Word ‘Slut’

Off late, the term ‘slut’ has grown to be heavily politicized. What are the popular opinions on the matter and what side does our writer propose we choose?

Disclaimer: Do not read if you are easily offended. This post is meant only to incite a conversation that will allow us to explore a grey area in our understanding of sexuality.

    The term ‘slut’ began as a slur meaning “a dirty, slovenly woman”, and evolved to become an insult that meant “a promiscuous woman”. However, in the age of feminism and political correctness, the atmosphere surrounding this word has grown heated. There are two popular opinions on this word (besides the ignorant one). Those are:

  1. The word is incredibly sexist, because it is used only to insult women, and it assumes that women who have sexual relations with multiple men are worthy of derogation. Additionally, it is rarely used to derogate a man, and when it is used for this purpose, it changes form to ‘man slut’, implying that the term is inherently gendered. Therefore, it should be discarded by our culture and vocabulary as soon as possible.
  2. While it is true that the term has a bad history and has been used to derogate women who exercise their right to make decisions about their own bodies, it is also true that women have been told to feel dirty when they’re called this, and that’s why it’s offensive. The word itself is banal. It is the fact that promiscuity is considered wrong that causes the term to be so problematic and offensive to women. So, what if we were to change that – take ownership of the fact that we are promiscuous, and we’re not ashamed of it? Instead, we embrace the right to be promiscuous, and take ownership of the term that denoted promiscuity. It will only be a slur if we consider it a slur. Nobody can use it as a weapon against us if we can’t be hurt by it!

While both of these sides have value, and you should decide which one you agree with more, I believe that neither of them is really fixing the problem – they’re each simply in denial of a different part of the problem. The problem is two-fold: on one hand you have the issue of the term being a slur directed only at women, and on the other hand, the word means ‘a promiscuous woman’. Perhaps neither of these problems would be problems themselves, but are only explosive when tied together. However, they are tied together – we have the word because it denotes a specific amalgamation of two ideas: derogation and promiscuity in women.

So, the first option of leaving the word in the past is a fair choice. However, it is idealistic because we can’t expect everyone to just forget the word and all the literature it’s been used in historically! So we look at the second option: The problem with this is that you can’t really have a conversation with every single person who uses the word to find out whether they mean it in a derogatory way or not. Let me illustrate why with the help of a different example: the reclaiming of the N-word by the black community in the US. While it was taken back as a word one black person could use to address another (without it being racially derogatory), the moment someone from a different community uses it, it reverts to its original state – that of it being a derogatory term used to insult black people. So there are conditions to the take-back.

For the term ‘slut’, having conditions such as ‘only women can call each other sluts’ doesn’t work as well. Why? Because while the N-word was used on all black people, simply because they were black, they were united in the fact that they were each a victim of the slur. Therefore, when they say it to one another, even if they are using it as a slur, they are equals in the dynamic. Whereas, if a white person says it, they are simply in the wrong because that word cannot be used to return the feeling, i.e., a white person can’t be insulted by the term, because they’re simply not black. This creates the underlying power dynamic that the whole debate about the N-word was centered around.

But when you apply this to ‘slut’, you can’t really be sure of which community is allowed to use it. You’d think ‘women’, but all women are not united in their sufferance due to the term. There are women who are not promiscuous, there are women who believe promiscuity is wrong for women, and there are women who frequently use the term to insult those that go against this ideal. So if you just allow all women to use it, you could be allowing an epidemic of slut-shaming.

While you can still go on with a mix of the first two methods, i.e., not using the word normally and accepting it as a matter of pride instead of shame if it is used on you — that doesn’t solve the larger problem, which is that you can’t always explain to people that you consider it a matter of pride. You may find yourself returning the slur with a smile, because you’re proud to take ownership of the word, but the person insulting you still thinks they insulted you, and will go on to do that to other, more vulnerable women.

So, what can we do?

Well, I propose changing the meaning of the term. Not the emotion associated with it, but the meaning itself. What if it was the same in every way, but instead of meaning ‘promiscuous,’ it simply meant ‘overwhelmingly promiscuous,’ which would imply the usage of one’s body to manipulate someone else that is already clearly unavailable/uninterested. It would look something like this:

A woman approaches a man she is interested in and touches him in a somewhat ‘gentle’ manner, or attempts to flirt with him. He is uninterested. He makes this clear by not reciprocating. She still continues to tease him or flirt with him, with increasing aggression, and he becomes clearly uncomfortable with the contact.

Eventually, either he has to tell her to stop, or he has to leave, either of which will work if the woman allows. However, she may not. This kind of woman could be called ‘a creep’, or ‘desperate’, but neither of those terms really deliver the feeling that ‘slut’ does. Also, they mean slightly different things.

The slut I’m describing is a cold, manipulative woman who uses her sexual prowess to make gains from emotionally-stunted, vulnerable men. We’ve been saying, for a while, that men are also adversely affected by the patriarchy – this is a prime example. Due to their lower level of experience understanding the advances of women, and their own desires, men tend to be more vulnerable to conniving women. I must clarify that I don’t mean that all men or women fit into this narrative. I simply mean to say that this is one of the possible outcomes of a patriarchal structure – it lends the privileged gender not only greater power, but also fewer responsibilities (it was the job of women to understand how to please men, not the other way around).

For this reason, we should also introduce a word that is aimed to shame women who are against equal rights, just as we shame men.

Why do we need a term for it though?

Because it’s a prevalent kind of behavior in this ethos. Of course there are men who do these things, but they’ve been called out for it quite a bit. Isn’t it time we started calling women out too?

In the age of social media and digital delights like memes, it’s very easy to give meaning to nonsense words and even change the meaning of some words. Take for example how, over just the last two or three years, we have developed a whole vocabulary for dog memes that consists of warped versions of regular English words, like ‘chimken’ instead of ‘chicken’, to be the way in which we imagine dogs would say these words. It’s clearly not difficult to infuse words with meaning in an age like this, but even before, the English language has witnessed the change of the popular perception of many words, including ‘slut’ itself, which went from meaning ‘dirty woman’ to ‘promiscuous woman’.

For this reason, I really think we can bring the word slut back and take a good step forward in the direction of a truly egalitarian idea of feminism, by allying with what’s logical and right instead of simply going against every action we know oppressors have taken.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.