Sluts Vote

(Image from

STRONG LANGUAGE ALERT!!! Mom, you may want to skip this 🙂

Back in the early to mid-90s, when I was coming of age, there were two main topics which dominated discussions about women’s rights. Now, this may be due to where I lived and where I went to school (California, a fairly liberal college) but the two main gender-related topics on the table were:

1) AIDS and the need for everyone to protect themselves from it (via safe sex)
2) Date rape

There was a campus event called “Take Back The Night”: a candlelight vigil where women and men marched through the university in the dark. The event was meant to illuminate the dangers women face at night, most specifically sexual assault, from fellow students or anonymous attackers. Our college had quite the reputation as a “fun place”, and it even won the Playboy title for “Biggest Party School” a few times. I think the designation was mostly true, and was due to an irresistible combination of the location (directly on a beach), the fact that the entire student community is a closely knit town where students can bike or walk everywhere and the weather, which is rarely below a balmy 70%. Anyway, the statistics at the college at the time claimed 1 in 4 women would be sexually assaulted. 1 in 4. This was a message that was frequently discussed: at parties, in the college newspaper, on banners around campus, in class. You couldn’t avoid that message if you tried.

It seems to me as if in the last year the agenda had shifted, pretty dramatically. Suddenly, we are talking about whether women should use birth control AT ALL and whether women in short skirts are “asking for it” and of course there is the growing movement for personhood (which undermines IVF treatments completely) and the restrictions on abortion and more and more….

I came across this article yesterday, which was incredibly upsetting. And I found myself wondering, is this the direction that society as a whole is going?

Then I thought, you know what? Women vote. We matter. We count. We have economic power, as Justine pointed out.

Esperanza wrote a post which has been percolating in my head all day.

The word I am most concerned about is the word SLUT. It is an ugly, ugly word. And it may be the word underlining most of the political debate about gender right now. It’s not spoken, but it’s implied. She’s a SLUT, so she got what she had coming. She’s a SLUT, she should deal with the consequences of a rape. (Including parenting a child, even if she’s 11, even if her father is the father.) She’s a SLUT, I shouldn’t have to pay for her birth control: she needs to be in the kitchen barefoot with her five children.

Aside: why aren’t we discussing why VIAGRA should be covered by public health plans?

Words are powerful, but what if we could remake a word so it wasn’t a slur? What if we could reclaim the word slut, make it our own?

Or maybe we shouldn’t. I don’t know. But I did see someone post a photo of the banner “Sluts Vote” on Twitter and it made my heart glad.

What do you think? Should we try to reclaim the word “slut?” Would that work?



Filed under Infertility

19 responses to “Sluts Vote

  1. Esperanza

    Right after I read your comment on my post, one of my ELD students started talking about how she didn’t like Mi.ley Cy.rus because she is “so slutty”. I asked the student why she thought MC was slutty and then had to explain was a slut was to two other English language students in the class. We then talked about how when a man sleeps with many women he is considered desirable and is even revered but when a woman sleeps with many men, or uses her physical attractiveness to acquire power, she is a slut. You could see the wheels turning in the head of the girl who had originally branded MC a slut. It was a powerful conversation for all the students in that small class, a conversation I wish I could have with students in my other classes.

    Women are held to a different standard than men and all the pejorative words we have for women or that are based in the feminine mystique, are symptoms of that. It’s really unfair and will require systematic cultural change to remedy. I don’t know if it’s ultimately possible but we absolutely have to try.

  2. I live in the Boston area and this morning, on the radio, I heard an AMAZING anti-Rush ad. They edited all his comments together and called for a boycott of his show and of the radio station that broadcasts him.

  3. Have you heard of “Slutwalk?” Along the lines of “Take Back the Night.” It started here in Toronto when a local cop made the comment to the effect that women should stop dressing “like sluts” if they didn’t want to be assaulted. Women wear their “sluttiest” outfits for the event.

    i have very mixed feelings about the name. The organizers say they are reclaiming the word. I would much prefer to eliminate it from our vocabularies altogether. In the same vein, I hear young girls calling each other “bitches” — supposedly in fun or as a term of endearment. I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m showing my age. ; )

  4. SRB

    Slut. It’s a word I don’t like and won’t tolerate. I don’t like how it sounds. I don’t like what it means. It makes me curl my lip a little when I think about it. But I have a different reactions when I hear men say it about a woman, versus when I hear a woman say it about a woman. To my mind, when men say it, it basically means she’s a ‘whore’, but when women say it… the meaning is so much more insidious. And when it’s usage by men goes unchecked, unchallenged, even applauded by other woman…@%#*!

    I read this article many, many years ago and thought of it again immediately when I read your post tonight:

    I don’t know how we take it back. But when we say it to each other, and worse, when we allow men or policy makers or the media to say it about us it is so much worse. I just shake with anger inside when I hear this on the ‘news’. Is this okay? Is this how we talk about women, as a group, in our culture? IT IS NOT OKAY.

    I would like to be on your SLUTS VOTE team, is what I’m saying.

    • Oh, I am a fan of Sars from way back when (her essay of 9/11 is my touchpoint of the event, and I reread it every year) and somehow I had missed this! THANK YOU for sharing it!!

  5. Yeah, most politicians won’t say the word out loud, but whacked-out radio hosts, who, for some crazy reason, people actually listen to, say it as a way to justify not having to cover birth control. Sad.

  6. Mel

    I don’t have a problem with the word but the way its used, and I don’t know if reclaiming it would actually do anything — if reclaiming a word ever does anything. Meaning; the word itself isn’t terrible. It’s the judgment-filled, hate-saturated, or demeaning usage of the word that is the problem. And I don’t know if that will go away just because people start using it in a different manner. The people who used it in a judgment-filled, hate-saturated, or demeaning way will still continue to be j-f, h-s, or d (sorry, I couldn’t type that a third time 🙂 It doesn’t matter if you take away all their toys; they’ll still find ways to do destruction.

    • Yes, the way a word is used is the key, right?

      Although I don’t know if I have ever heard the word slut used non-derogatively, now that I think of it. Even on SATC…there was that episode where Carrie asked “Are We Sluts?” And she typed the sentence with her eyes closed, as if she was afraid of writing the word…

  7. EmHart

    I started writing a comment to this but it was getting too long, I am now off to blog using this as a stimulus. I will link back here. Thank you for this post, it is SO important this is talked about, we must not let all the work our fabulous female ancestors, and our mothers, did or the struggles they went though go to waste.

  8. I just heard yesterday about the “Slutwalks,” and I don’t know if this means that I’m becoming an old fart, or what, but I can’t help but feel kind of appalled. My memories of college are kind of like yours, and it seems to me that we have actually regressed, in that when I was in college, a woman who was comfortable with her sexuality was considered normal, not a “slut,” whereas the college women that I talk to these days give me the sense that things are viewed differently now. Somehow I just don’t think that women dressing provocatively and walking down the street in small, conservative towns will change many minds, and in larger, more diverse and open-minded communities, well, I’m not sure what positive good will come out of it either. I guess I just don’t see what the positive meaning of the word “slut” would be. A woman who isn’t judged because of how she chooses to use or express her sexuality should just be called a “woman,” right? So in this new world where the word “slut” is reclaimed, what would it actually mean?

  9. Reclaiming words is interesting … I know of a few cases in which it’s been done successfully. But I don’t know how the transition happened. Chicano is one of them, right? I wrote this over at Esperanza’s blog, too … but that’s the word that Mexicans used to unite themselves during the civil rights movement, and I can’t think of many instances where it’s used in a derogatory way now, even though it used to be associated with poverty and squalor.

    I don’t like the word slut, really, because I’m not sure what it would mean, either. And it has a LONG pejoritave etymological history: … (gotta love that Chaucer used it for a man, tho’)

    I think it might work better to reclaim a words that could potentially have a positive or neutral etymology, like bitch (which is really just a female dog, right? And aren’t there dog lovers in the world?). I also like bitch because it turns the idea of being complaining on its head, into being outspoken. Yes, LET’s bitch about what we don’t like!

  10. Justine recommended I read your blog, fantastic!

  11. Mel

    Just read another post on the word “slut” and thought of this one: Interesting take on how we’re focusing on the wrong fight — that it’s not about men calling women sluts, but women trying to put down and hold back other women. Food for thought.

  12. It's a great word.

    Slut is such a loaded word… and I love it. Do I use it to demean other women? Sometimes. “She’s such a slut.” Sometimes I’m kidding around. Sometimes I think it’s apt (Snooki). But I also use it to describe myself, in those very private moments in the bedroom. In that sense, I’ve reclaimed the word for myself.

    Like any loaded term (insert racial/sexual/religious/ethnic epithet here), there is the meaning that’s intended and the meaning that lands. You might be kidding around and call your best gf a slut, in jest. You intend it to be funny. It lands on her as offensive.

    I think slut-shaming is the same thing. If someone intends the word to be shameful, to shame another with it, it will be. It’s up to the receiving end to do the reclaimation.

    That doesn’t change the fact that the cultural discourse needs to change. I’m looking at you, Limbaugh and Maher. I don’t care whether you were talking about Sarah Palin or just another Georgetown grad – what does it say to the media discourse when this word is granted entry as public mediated commentary?

  13. It’s interesting how the etymology of slut evolved from dirty and slovenly to loose & dubious morals. So it appears that appearance and behavior/character have always been tied in terms of the word (a dirty outward appearance denotes a dirty character).

    I don’t want to reclaim the word. I think we should use the word as an opportunity to find solidarity with all women.

  14. Really great post…I wish I thought reclaiming the word would make a difference but I have a feeling they would just move on to another word. I love the political activism I see springing from all this though.

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