Slut: A Myth

This article will be featured in Wom*news 9: Myths

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault.

You are fifteen and dislike your crush’s girlfriend. You call her a slut. You are eighteen and about to go out clubbing for the first time. Your mother looks you up and down and says she didn’t raise a slut. You are twenty and the boy you are fucking calls you a slut the one night you refuse to have sex.

Everyone knows that the word “slut” has power, whether we agree with it or not.
It is used to shame and degrade women and, more importantly, to put them in a box with a label that says “you’re not human here” and to make sure they stay there. Whilst there are many different variables in the slut-shaming game, the objective remains the same: to ensure women’s behaviour is deemed “acceptable” by societal terms, and to make sex a source of shame and not power. In a culture that is so concerned with labels and definitions, one has to pose the question: what is a slut? After years of being called a slut, of hearing my friends being called sluts I can only assume that a slut is a woman who doesn’t adhere to every societal expectation heaped upon her. Continue reading

SlutWalking

SlutWalking
by Johanna Qualmann 

Last weekend I marched in Brisbane’s SlutWalk – a rally and march aimed at stopping sexual violence and victim blaming. I’ll have to admit that it was the first rally I’ve actually been able to make since moving to the city, so it was a very exciting thing to be part of. There weren’t as many people as I was expecting (well, what was I expecting for an event run by those dreaded feminazis?), but there was still a nice group of different people – from a dominatrix in leather or latex or whatever it was to men holding signs saying “consent is sexy” to a woman in jeans and a shirt holding a sign saying “this is what I wore when I asked for it.” And of course, our contingent from the UQ Women’s Collective!

People with awesome signs! (Photo by Emma)

I know that SlutWalk is a controversial topic – just last week Noni on the NUS women’s blog wrote about loathing SlutWalk and the blind reclamation fo the word “slut.” And apparently there was a lot of debate about whether it was appropriate to have a dominatrix as one of the speakers at the Brisbane event.

I have to admit that I’m still not totally comfortable with the name SlutWalk, and I don’t like the idea of reclaiming “slut.” It’s not something I feel fits into my identity in any way, and it’s not something I think can ever really be reclaimed positively. There were a few moments where the speakers said things like “make sure you don’t leave any rubbish lying around – good sluts are clean sluts” which made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and I felt a couple of the signs (such as “honk if you like sluts”) weren’t really helping the cause. But overall, I was happy with the way the event was conceptualised – it didn’t seem to degenerate into continuous shouts of “I’m a slut” like other marches I’ve heard about. The emphasis really seemed to be on stopping sexual violence against all sorts of women and ending victim blaming and slut-shaming. I really appreciated the way that the speakers before the march conceptualised the event and were inclusive of women of diverse backgrounds and sexualities, even mentioning asexual people – yay!

It was a pretty awesome experience, and I think the organisers did a pretty good job. The atmosphere was one of solidarity and support. It felt great to be surrounded by people who shared the same passionate stance on sexual violence and victim blaming, who were willing to march through the CBD with signs and posters. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there are other people out there who will not stand for the kind of hurtful bullshit that society dishes out, rather than feeling like you’re constantly waging a war on your own. While I might not particularly like the name or the word slut, events like this (with the right emphasis) are needed, if only to help one person realise that sexual violence is not ok.

Me, happily marching – banner courtesy of Charlotte (Photo by Emma)

~ Johanna Qualmann
Cross-posted to A Life Unexamined

There’s No Such Thing As A Slut

There’s No Such Thing as a Slut, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Having As Much Sex as I Want
by Joanna Horton

“I felt that if I wrote “slut” or “whore” or “incest victim” on my stomach, then I wouldn’t just be silent … a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they look at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking.” – Kathleen Hanna

(Riot Grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna, of the band Bikini Kill)

We can all agree that the word ‘slut’ is thrown around a lot these days, even sometimes used as a casual term of endearment between friends. Some feminists have even used it as a ‘reclaimed’ term, much like the non-straight community has adopted the term ‘queer’ and re-constituted its meaning into a positive one.

And yes, I am the first to argue that a fundamental part of feminism is the recognition of female sexuality in all its forms. Some women like to have sex a lot, some not so much. Some like sex with other women. Some like bondage, some like anal, and so on. You get the idea. The important point is to debunk the various myths surrounding feminine sexuality; to understand that all women do not fit into one of the two categories prescribed for our sexuality – virtuous virgin or nymphomaniac whore. (In recent decades a new category has been introduced – that of the frigid bitch.) Of course, all of these myths have been conceptualised and circulated by men, not women. And of course, they’re not truly representative of the diversity of female sexuality.

These ongoing efforts have made some progress in portraying women’s sex lives as nothing groundbreaking or terrifying, but just a normal part of life. However, the fight continues. One of the most contentious myths remains that of the Slut. This woman has many sexual partners, sometimes recurring and sometimes one-night-stands. She doesn’t establish a romantic connection with any of them, and she doesn’t want a monogamous relationship. Her partners presumably are of the same mindset as her, and if they want anything more serious, she kindly but firmly sets them straight.

In other words, she exhibits exactly the kind of behaviour that is considered normal and healthy (if observed with a wry grin and a ‘boys will be boys’ truism) if it ever occurs in young men.

Perhaps her behaviour is not ‘emotionally fulfilling’. Perhaps she is ‘acting out’ against some unhappiness in her life. Perhaps sleeping around does not, in fact, make her happy. These may all be true, but they’re not the point and they’re none of our business anyway. Society seems unable to accept the phenomenon of a woman sleeping with multiple men without labelling her a slut. And that wouldn’t even be so bad, if not for all the connotations accompanying that label.

Here are a few assumptions that come with the word Slut:

–       She is desperate
–       She’s a ‘nympho’ or has some other kind of disorder
–       Men don’t respect her
–       She can’t form close friendships with women due to jealousy
–       She can’t possess maternal instincts or want children
–       If she does have children, she can’t be a good mother to them
–       She has no morals
–       She seduces men (who are positioned as basically good people lured in by her feminine wiles, rather than equal partners in an exchange)
–       She has no other characteristics or features other than her promiscuity
–       She wants to get into the pants of every man she encounters
–       She is largely heterosexual, unless she fits the idea of a ‘lesbian nympho’ (a fantasy conceived almost overwhelmingly for a hetero male audience)

I know many women who enjoy casual sex with multiple partners. I don’t know anyone who fits the above descriptions. Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest that sex – such an integral and formative part of the human experience – can be decoupled from the rest of a person’s life. But it’s not ridiculous to suggest that a woman can practise a certain kind of sexual behaviour without subscribing to everything that apparently ‘goes along’ with that kind of behaviour. To return to my original point, nobody fits a sexual stereotype. Sexual stereotypes do not exist. They were constructed to sustain and perpetuate a certain kind of power structure called patriarchy. It’s no secret that this structure – rigid in its very nature – makes no room for diverse realities. So yes, I can be a ‘slut’ and a good friend. I can be a ‘slut’ and a good mother. I can be a ‘slut’ who makes a valuable contribution to society, or I can be a ‘slut’ who doesn’t.

Why?

Because there’s no such thing as a slut.

~ Joanna Horton