Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Sarah M on 10/14/2011

Sluts and Whores

Ms. Norbury gets it

Ms. Norbury gets it

You know that scene in Mean Girls where Tina Fey’s character tells all the girls that they need to stop calling each other sluts and whores because it only makes it okay for guys to call them sluts and whores?

I wish Fey would tell that to girls everywhere.

There’s pretty much two types of that sort of name-calling and they both piss me off.

First, there’s the casual, “Hey, slut, what’s up?” or “Hey there, ho!” that friends say to each other. Now, this would be one thing if they were trying to reclaim the word, if this was some sort of movement or statement – but in the vast majority of cases, it’s not. These girls are just trying to fit in with the patriarchal bullshit that tells them they have to say that in order to tear other girls down to build themselves up. And what better way is there to keep those other girls in line than to admonish them about their sex lives?

I just don’t understand why you would so casually use a word that has been used to repress women for centuries and even today? Do you have any idea how many rape and sexual assault cases that have been dropped because the woman was declared a slut, or a whore, or some other equivalent?

And then there’s the other, arguably much worse kind of name-calling: “What are you doing with her? She’s such a slut.” “Did you hear about what she did at that party? Can you say whore?”

Why, why, why do girls think that this is okay? I’ll even ask my friends point-blank sometimes, “Well, what’s wrong with being a ‘slut’?” And virtually every time I get the same answer: a nose wrinkled with disgust and a “Being a slut is just…bad.”

I’ve never met anyone who could actually articulate what was wrong with being a so-called whore – and that’s because there is nothing. I wish girls and guys would get it through their heads that there is nothing wrong with sex! There is nothing wrong with liking sex, with wanting sex, with having sex – as long as it is consensual and safe.

The thing about “slut” and “whore” is that there are no male equivalents. And before someone comes after me for that, I am not saying we should make male equivalents. That would not fix anything. I’m saying we should get rid of the words altogether because they’re rooted in misogyny.

Those words, if you really take the time to sit down and think about them, are words that are designed to keep women in their place – the kitchen, with the babies. They obviously shouldn’t be having sex if they’re not creating new lives. What other reason would they have, right? It’s not like girls can get pleasure out of sex. They’re just vessels for the almighty fetus. So people make them feel ashamed if they ever do have sex for pleasure, and “slut” and “whore” are the weapons of choice.

We need to stop calling each other these names because it just reinforces the idea that’s it’s okay to attack women based solely on their sex lives. And that’s something that’s been going on for far too long. Most of us are aware of the virgin/whore dichotomy, and this is just an unfortunate perpetuation of that.

Just ridding “slut” and “whore” from our vocabularies can really make a huge difference.

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  • Emma E @ at 4:10 pm, October 14th, 2011

    The worst one, in my opinion, is the snarky ‘hey, I’m not a slut, so I’m a minority, so can I go to college free?’ or something along those lines, and internet comments on sites like Dear Blank Please Blank that are like ‘Hey slut, i have that underwear…ohwait that’s your shorts’ or something else like that. I just think, how is making them feel bad about themselves helping you or anybody?

    And I agree that we should get rid of the word. ‘Slut’ is actually the most degrading, misognystic word I can imagine. Even ‘bitch’ has been relclaimed a little bit and is less insulting. And it goes back to the whole ‘women should be in the kitchen and women should only have sex to make babies, therefore babies are more important, therefore abortion is bad, therefore women should devote their lives to having children…’ In other words, every single attitude that frustrates me. I agree with the SlutWalk-type attempts to reclaim the word, but honestly? I don’t think we ever will.

    Sorry for the really long comment. :/

  • Alexa @ at 9:11 pm, October 14th, 2011

    This is a great post! The first time I saw Mean Girls, and that portion specifically, I was like, “This is one of the most popular movies for teenage girls!?!?” Because Tina Fey articulates something that I think frequently, but is so seldom articulated in popular culture. I think every girl I know HAS seen Mean Girls, but they don’t really listen to what’s being said.

    Also– I sort of feel similarly about reclaiming “slut.” I get the idea and all, but I think it would be so much more effective to just eliminate it all together. As you said, it’s so “rooted in misogyny” it will be extremely difficult to redeem.

  • Erin Locke @ at 9:24 pm, October 14th, 2011

    Great post! Totally agree! This is just another double standard in society; girls should be “pure” and virginal and guys should have lots of sex and be players. We need to realize that by calling other girls sluts/whores we are just exacerbating the problem!

  • The K. @ at 4:25 pm, October 15th, 2011

    Alexa: I agree whole heartedly. A word so offensive as “slut” can never be truly redeemed.

  • Cheryl Knapp @ at 7:25 pm, October 15th, 2011

    Dear young feminists, I was truly delighted to listen to the founder of this Blog on CSPAN today. And I am equally certain Gloria Steinham was just as thrilled. Now to the 2 words being discussed. They are both demeaning and are weapons that have been used for centuries to contol and depower women. When you use them in talking to each other you do the same. Instead of being taught to unite as a group(team) women are tradionally cast into 2 categories: good(Powerless)or Sluts,Bitches, Ho’s etc.(those who challenge men at taking control of their own lives. The “rule of thumb” you hear commonly used in our day to day lives comes from the SIZE of CANE a MAN was legally allowed to use in Europe to BEAT his wife(Property)to PUNISH her. WORDS count. Find kinder ways to address people you care about, your friends, teammates. Once spoken they live for eternity, use them carefully and for good not evil. And I am a 65 year old Proud Feminist who encourages all of you to be as loud as you want. Just don’t degrade one another. Fondly, Grandma

  • Ellen @ at 1:57 am, October 16th, 2011

    Well, I agree that ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ are problematic words and definitely know they’re rooted in misogyny, saying ‘just get rid of them’ won’t work. At all.

    In fact, giving words like that taboo status and making them SO BAD that NO ONE can ever say them adds to their power and makes them more insulting. This point is a little contradictory – if being a slut isn’t a bad thing then the word should follow that pattern and become less powerful as a result.

    Besides, eliminating a word from the collective vocabulary – especially one so widely used as ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ – is so impractical as to actually be comical.

    If trying to reclaim words like ‘slut’ lessens the overall impact and harm associated with those words, you can’t really blame girls who do it for trying.

  • Amy CT @ at 2:58 am, October 16th, 2011

    My university’s women’s collective has a list of things we want to reclaim on our wall. The word “slut” is right there with “bitch” and “The Night” (as in “Reclaim the night”)…

  • Elaine Romaine @ at 10:33 am, October 16th, 2011

    At 73, I thought the fire that led me and others to march and organize in the seventies -for abortion rights,change in rape laws, and Title Nine – had vanished. But reading the F-Bomb, I can see the fire isn’t out. I might just go out and dance in the streets.

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