Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What's In a Name?

     As I had mentioned in my previous post, one of the objectives of SlutWalk is to redefine the word slut. This point, along with the portion of SlutWalk where some participants wore bustiers and fishnets, has been a hard pill to swallow for those who have become critics of Slutwalk. In the article I linked in my introductory post for example, the authors made the point that it is a grievous insult to be labelled as a slut. In her blog "Dear Feminists, Will You Also Be Marching In N***erwalk? Because I Won't", Keli Goff heavily criticized both participants and organizers of SlutWalk for "play[ing] into the stereotype of women being intellectually inferior"(Goff: 2011). She also claims that the SlutWalks do nothing for the actual victims of sexual assault, and thus are doing nothing to reach their goals. While neither article opposes the main goal of SlutWalk, they do take issue to its execution.

     Before we can redefine a word we first have to know what it means now. Slut is a hard word to define as everyone who uses it thinks of a slut in a different way. Even those who are burdened with the label of slut are different, and may have not done more than wear low cut tops or flirted with a couple of guys to earn it. So I went looking for a definition for slut, and the best ones I could find were on Urban Dictionary, which is by no means from a scholarly source but gives a good indication of the common usage.

One of the definitions I found was:

"a girl thats fucked so many guys she cant close her legs anymore"
- by erik (May 17 2003)

 Not all were as crude as that one.

" A female who enjoys performing sexual acts with multiple partners"
- by Pimpkid (June 29 2003)

"1. a girl who has sex but does not enjoy it, who is used by guys and lets them do it. She does not have the self respect to make them stop. 
2. a girl who likes sex, so she does it. She probably is not in a relationship, and she equalizes herself to guys by treating sex the same way they do. 
- by Laura ( April 30 2003)
     The first definition clearly supports that slut is a derogatory term, the other two are less obvious about this point. In response to the second definition: is there really anything bad about being a female who enjoys sex? Even if this female had multiple partners, it does not specify that all the partners are there at once, or the nature of the relationship between female and her partners. It could even be attributed to a woman who has been married multiple times, which some people may find more acceptable.

      The third definition is both more and less ambiguous as it has both negative and neutral/positive connotations It specified sluts to be women, which I will follow along with for the sake of ease. The first half defines a slut not as some one who simply has sex, but one who does not say no. There exists a reluctance to stop the partner, allowing herself to be used, which be not a lack of self respect, but a difference in how the woman views sex. In the article "Human Sexuality: How Do Men and Women Differ?" Letitia Anne Peplau compares the many differences between the way men and women look at sex. Typically, men think of sex more than women, and want to have it more often, because of this, "in heterosexual couples, it is fairly common for a partner to engage in sex when he or she is no really interested or 'in the mood.' Although both men and women sometimes consent to unwanted sexual activity, women are more often the compliant partner." (Peplau 2003: 39). Is a woman a slut if she has sex with her partner even if she does not really want to?  Even if as the definition is correct in that there is a lack of self respect we should not be using derogatory terms to bring such a woman down even further.

       Other definitions mentioned the type of clothing or the amount of skin showing as a part of slutishiness. In her observations of the Goth scene Amy C. Wilkins finds  when going to the club "The typical Goth woman's ensemble fetishizes the whore, combining corsets with short skirts and fishnet stockings" (2004: 337). She goes on to explain that though these women dress too sexily they are not doing it to have sex. Instead they claim to be dressing up for themselves, and the rules of the Goth scene allow them to so without being harassed. The second half of the third definition also relates to these Goth women. They use sex to create a gender equality within their subculture.

     This message of women wearing what they want without worrying about being taken for a slut, or asking for it, is basically what the SlutWalk is asking for.  Even I have to admit, it is fun to dress up, to look good and have people, men even, notice the effort I have put into my appearance. So when the Goth woman wear corsets and make themselves look incredibly sexy maybe they are doing it for themselves as they claim; but part of that is probably looking good, and to get reactions that drive home how good they look, because people may feel a bit of a rush when they know that they look desirable, empowered even.

Courtesy of Christina Page

    Back to the articles from the beginning of this post. I understand that being a slut has always been seen as a negative thing, a "social death" (Dines: 2011).  Many of the comments against this action revolve around not wanting to demand to be called a slut, because slut is an insult. But the whole point of redefining slut is to stop it from being an insult. Which is why SlutWalk wants to take back the word, redefine it. If they take away its derogatory meaning and change it to embody something positive, or at least neutral, they are taking away a weapon from those who oppose sexual autonomy for women. So when the women declare, yes I am a slut, they are accepting the meaning society attributes to it and what it implies about private lives. Instead of letting this be an insult they decide that yes, I have sex because I enjoy it and if that makes me a slut then so be it. In this way slut can be an acknowledgement of being sexually active, a positive or at least neutral definition.

Courtesy of SlutWalk Toronto

For more on this debate:




References Cited:

Dines, Gail and Wendy J. Murphy. 8 May 2011. "SlutWalk is not sexual liberation".
       Consulted 10 March 2012.

Goff, Keli. 10 March 2011.
      "Dear Feminists, Will You Also Be Marching In N***erwalk? Because I Won't."
      Consulted 10 March 2012

Peplau, Letitia Anne.
      2003. Human Sexuality: How Do Men and Women Differ?. Current Directions in Psychological
      Science 12(2): 37-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20182831 Consulted 11 March 2012.

Wilkins,Amy C.
    2004. "So Full of Myself as a Chick": Goth Women, Sexual Independence, and Gender Egalitarianism
      Gender and Society 18(3): 328-349. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149405 Consulted 11 March 2012.

Urban Dictionary.
Slut Definition. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=slut Consulted 9 March 2012

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