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Should we stop saying 'slut'?

SlutWalks have been ways for people of all genders to resist sexism and rape culture, which are perpetuated under a patriarchal society.  – Photo by Wikimedia

While many of us may think of the word "slut" as a modern term, its roots are quite archaic.

The word "slut" was first used in the 15th century as a derogatory term to describe a promiscuous woman, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. To this day, the word has endured as an offensive term used to describe women.

There is great hypocrisy with the use of this term. Where is the equivalent word for men? Are there not men who enjoy sex on a regular basis, who may not be overly concerned with who they are sleeping with and would be considered promiscuous as well?

But these men have earned themselves the title of "player," a word which is far from offensive, possibly even impressive instead. And for the men who are deemed worthy of a negative connotation in relation to their sexual activity, they are called "man-whores" and "man-sluts" — a male version of an offensive word which at its core is reserved for women.

What's scary is not the word "slut" itself, but rather the way in which the word is heavily rooted in sexism with the intention to control women. Even worse than controlling women’s actions and attire, the slut-shaming culture has led to an acceptance of victim blaming and sexual violence against women.

There is never an excuse for sexual harassment or assault. And yet, society has taken away women’s freedom to express themselves through dress and action, and instead placed women's sexual expression into a male’s perspective: If a woman is wearing low-cut tops, dark makeup, has many sexual partners, etc., she must be asking for sex.

This is the disturbing, slut-shaming mentality which has been used to incite and justify centuries of rape, assault and harassment against women. 

It's time to change that narrative, and many people agree. In recent years, all genders have fought to change the culture which normalizes the slut-shaming of women. But there has been a divergence when it comes to how we tackle this issue: Do we remove the word from our vocabulary or do we reclaim the word in a new context? 

While we work toward a society with gender equality, many people have advocated for the removal of the term slut from our vocabulary. The term is offensive, and the implications are negative, so why should we use it? 

“Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like 'slut' and 'skank,' we all act as the carriers … It’s simple: The word slut is a decidedly female insult, and using it enhances gender discrimination,” said Danica Johnson, according to Everyday Feminism.

She advocates for the removal of this damaging term and replacing it, instead, with more esteemed terms that advocate for sex positivity and gender equality.

As an alternative to those looking to eradicate slut from our vocabulary, many people are looking to reclaim the word by removing its negative connotations in order to change the narrative that has used slut shaming to make room for sexual violence and victim blaming.

SlutWalks began initially in reaction to a police officer who made the statement " ... women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” in response to a series of sexual assaults on York University campus in Canada.

In the group of students he was addressing, there were those who recognized the dangerous implication of his words and decided to respond by showing the world that the way a woman dressed does not equate to her sexuality and certainly not an initiation to sexual assault. 

This model is used in SlutWalk protests intended to redefine the narrative of slut shaming, which began approximately a decade ago in Toronto, Canada, and have been taking place on a global scale since.

Often these protests involve women who come wearing revealing clothing and have individuals speak out about their personal experiences and how to fight for the end of slut shaming and rape culture. 

These protests can empower people to claim a so-called “slutty” persona, without there being any negative connotations. It seeks not to erase the term "slut" but to redesign the mentality around it.  

Though the effectiveness of one approach over the other is unproven, both movements are rooted in a change of mentality that will improve our society. The mindset of each individual who stands up against slut-shaming, regardless of the action they choose to take, is propelling change for the same goal. Both stem from an awareness of a specific issue and are working toward the same vision. 

We are constantly being faced with an overwhelming number of social issues and injustices, which many of us are looking to repair in our society. This conversation on slut shaming brings up a much larger discussion. Our past and present are riddled with injustices that need to be addressed and dismantled.

How we do this is not always clear. There must be a focus on understanding different approaches as well as creating room for individual expression. 

There are often many paths that work toward the same goal. Though it is so important to find people who are passionate to work toward shared ideals, sometimes we will see different paths to get to the same place.

For example, both the people who are advocating for the removal of using the word "slut" and the people who are fighting for its revision into society, are giving the clear message that the slut-shaming culture must be ended. When the message speaks louder than the actions themselves, we can unite under one intention rather than one approach. 


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