Feminism | Posted by A. on 03/23/2011

What Exactly Are We Saying? An Analysis of Today’s Derogatory Slang for Girls

the three words that will make her cry

the three words that will make her cry

There are lots of dirty words reserved for females, particularly those of high school age. But there are three words that, arguably, epitomize them all. Some are considered to be profane; others are not. As has been shouted down many a junior high hallway: “You are just a fat, slutty, lesbian.” This is enough to make some girls cry, others defiant. Still, they have an immeasurably notable effect on girls of this generation as a whole.

“Being” one of these words is, essentially, one of the worst things a teen girl could be branded as. Many of these words are used also as terms of endearment amongst certain clans of females; others find them dreadfully offensive. The words’ meanings fluctuate extremely based on by and to whom it is said. Still, the fact that these specific words have such a significant effect on so many really makes a point about the values of the next generation of young adults.

It appears that the worst things for a female young adult to be are overweight, sexually promiscuous, and homosexual.

Huh.

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How could “fat” be an insult? How? The only reason for someone to remark upon someone else’s weight, arguably, is for health reasons, and for that you would really have to care about him or her. Because of the stigma of obesity in our society, though, it’s almost impossible to make this statement without being utterly offensive. And even if it is for health reasons- if you possessed an acquaintance that never ate any fruit or vegetables, would you yell down the hallway after she did something awful, “You lousy non-fruit eater!”

This is essentially the same thing, but the consequences of calling somebody fat are far more damaging. The non-fruit eater, to eliminate association with this label, would most likely increase her fruit intake, which will probably improve her health. Similarly, someone called “fat” would try, in most cases, to change her weight. With teenagers, often unaware and impulsive about such issues, the seemingly easiest way to lose weight is to engage in behaviors of eating disorders. Despite if the person who felt this way was overweight or not, it is likely that anorexic or bulimic behaviors would be far more damaging to their health than their weight would. Anorexia is the mental disorder that has led to the most deaths, and one of the leading killers of teenage girls. The (coughcough bullshit coughcough) beauty standards shown everywhere- television, the internet, magazines, you name it- already torture tons of girls about their self-image, causing many girls to think that they are fat when they are actually at a perfectly healthy weight. And if they were overweight to the fact that it negatively impacted their health, there shouldn’t be societal condemnation; there should be support. It certainly doesn’t impact who someone is as a person.

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Slut, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is, “a slovenly woman”, “a promiscuous woman; especially: prostitute”, or “a saucy girl.” Though some aspects relate, today a slut is often just someone who is sexually promiscuous (or, by some standards, at all sexually active.) Sluttish behavior relates somewhat to the behaviors of a sloven from way back when: someone who is “habitually negligent of neatness or cleanliness especially personal appearance.” Many girls who are branded as sluts wear things that are more revealing and sexually implicating than other girls, but is that cleanliness? These girls still appear to maintain proper hygiene. Slut today does pertain to promiscuity, but when this term originated it was a synonym for prostitute. Although some girls called sluts could be sexually active, it’s unlikely that when used among the vast majority of American teens there are large sums of money changing hands.

And a saucy girl? Really? Saucy can mean simply intelligent, but, less flatteringly, it means “amusingly forward and flippant.” In this day in age, girls who share their opinions are merely entertaining? Being forward and assertive is simply meant to entertain those around us, with complete permission to disregard every word we utter? Are “forward” boys called any term that has been degrading since 1500? No. This term exemplifies not only the sexual double standard but also the intellectual sexism that still persists. Now, sexual promiscuity does not define the goodness of a person either; unless peoples’ feelings are being hurt or health being damaged, is this truly a judge of one’s character?

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In the immortal, YouTube-sanctioned words of John Green: “So, I thought this was pretty widely known, but I guess I have to explain what gay means. Being gay means that you’re attracted to people of the same gender. So, a video can’t be gay because it doesn’t have a gender… Gay will never be as an insult because it’s not bad.” Why and how has our society managed to marginalize yet another minority and turned a simple word for identity into a volatile slur, at least for the ignorant? What is wrong with this? Although evidence points very, very strongly to sexual orientation being genetic, even if it isn’t, how is how someone lives her life anyone else’s business? What is more offensive about two women kissing each other than a man and a woman kissing each other? Why is the suicide rate for homosexual teenagers 33% higher than for heterosexual ones? As Green pointed out, how is any object that is considered bad called “gay”? Because teenagers are horrifically misinformed about these “controversial” (more bullshit) issues. It’s basic human rights that are being violated each time the words gay or lesbian are misused.

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The values of this generation of young women, apparently, are weight, promiscuity, and sexual orientation. Every person who uses these insults, whether aware or not, is affirming society’s definitions of the correct type of these things. The problem is that these things are not clean-cut. There is no “right” body type. There is no “right” sexual activity. There is no “right” sexual orientation. This generation is blindly succumbing to the adult-constructed media; we are not even thinking for ourselves. If we want to fix the problems of recent generations and have a progressive society, we’re going to have to make quite a few changes within our own generation first.

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  • Katherine C. @ at 3:32 pm, March 23rd, 2011

    Nice post.

    This kinda reminds me of Jessica Valenti: “What’s the worst thing you can call a girl? A girl! What’s the worst thing you can call a guy? A girl!”

  • Maria @ at 5:49 pm, March 23rd, 2011

    I always try to get people to properly analysed the words they insult others with. I’ve either opened their eyes to how ridiculous they’re being, or they’ve just stopped it around me :/
    Anyway, I enjoyed the random John Green quote.
    DFTBA <3

  • Rosemary @ at 6:44 pm, March 23rd, 2011

    Evidence suggests that your genes may have SOME influence over your sexual orientation, but being gay is not “genetic”

  • A. Stovall @ at 7:58 pm, March 23rd, 2011

    I have to agree with Rosemary. If there was a gene that controlled whether or not you were gay, we would have weeded it a long time ago thanks to social stigma and natural selection.

  • A @ at 8:09 pm, March 23rd, 2011

    @Rosemary: thank you for the correction. What is the accurate term for how sexual orientation is believed go be determined? I apologize for the error.

  • Liz @ at 12:50 am, March 24th, 2011

    Watch the music video for U.N.I.T.Y. by Queen Latifah. I wish that attitude was more prevalent!

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 4:46 pm, March 24th, 2011

    Beautiful article. Thank you for this.

  • Ryan @ at 7:56 am, March 25th, 2011

    These insults are meant to convey a lack of value she has to the opposite sex. All of us want to be of value to the opposite sex…well 95% of us do. Anyway, boys don’t like lesbians, fat girls or girls who sleep around with a lot of guys. I don’t think there is much we can do to change this.

  • jULIET @ at 12:38 pm, March 27th, 2011

    ^ speak for yourself dude

  • A Teen Analyzes Today’s Derogatory Teen Slang : Ms Magazine Blog @ at 2:49 pm, March 29th, 2011

    [...] Alexa Salvato is 15 years old. This post originally appeared at the fbomb. [...]

  • A. @ at 6:04 pm, March 30th, 2011

    @Liz, Talia, & Juliet- thank you!

  • Autumn @ at 1:11 pm, May 2nd, 2011

    Love this! So interesting that at one time cleanliness was considered a part of “sluttiness.” Hell, who am I kidding–we still say “dirty whore” and the like. (Well, we don’t. But others do.)

  • Autumn @ at 9:30 am, May 5th, 2011

    Just wanted to say I’ve included this in my weekly links roundup–thank you for the material!

    http://www.the-beheld.com/2011/05/beauty-blogsophere-5511.html

  • Alexa @ at 4:41 pm, May 5th, 2011

    @Autumn- thank you so much! :)

  • Renee @ at 1:29 am, May 31st, 2011

    I hate when people use insults and don’t even know the etemolgy of them,it simply amazizes me. Like the word “fag” is used as an insult when it’s really an old school unit of measurements everytime I hear that it gets unde my skin and annoys me to no end. And obviously by calling somebody a slute or whore you are calling them dirty mostley because prostitutes where dirty in every sense of the word.

  • Alexa @ at 4:31 pm, June 20th, 2011

    Renee- thanks for your comment. I agree that the general lack of knowledge of etymology is pitiful. However, I disagree about prostitutes being dirty way back when. In a book I read for school, it discusses how prostitutes were the cleanest people in the Middle Ages. (The book was A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester, if you’re interested ;) )

  • Holly Vance @ at 10:58 am, September 9th, 2012

    Great post. Glad I stumbled on this site. Hopefully, you’ll give mine a visit!

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