You are a slut. You walk like a slut. You talk like a slut. You act like a slut. You look like a slut. You seem like a slut. You dress like a slut. Slut.
-all of us
The aforementioned statements need no citations. You and I have come across them quite often in our daily dialogue. It is common custom amongst the historians, analysts and researchers to move chronologically from past to present and thereby conjecture upon the future. That would be the most optimal way of setting the stage for your opinion and proving a particular point by providing a cohesive account. But I am neither a historian nor a researcher. So I can literally say whatever the fuck I want and get away with it.
Let’s begin by going back to the above mentioned statements and understanding what they really entail in the 21st century. Not much you’d say, since it’s been adopted into the common verbal usage of our generation. We could take an etymological perspective of the word and trace it back to 14th century in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Where, in the prologue to Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale the author says, “Why is thy lord so sluttish…”. And I urge you to read the prologue as it will be clear that the author wasn’t doing two things; referring to a woman and attaching a sexual connotation to the word ‘sluttish’. And if I am to go by the general interpretation of those lines then he was referring to the man’s disreputable appearance which was at odds with his rank.
Coming back to 2017, the go to dictionary of all things pop-culture, i.e. the urban dictionary, defines the word as “a woman with the morals of a man”. When left to its own device, that line without a context doesn’t mean anything. It is an open-ended statement that could be interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. So when we look at that definition independent of word slut we are faced with two questions, namely; what are the morals of a man and do these morals transmute to something immoral when possessed by an individual of the opposite gender?
Each of those questions brings with them their own subsets of sexist arguments that need to be countered separately. So it is very easy to deviate from the subject matter at hand. Nonetheless we can’t undermine any of the subsidiary issues arising out of the primary one. Now, statements like “morals of a man” are a massive generalization that to some extent are sexist performative statements. Their meaning differs with communities and cultures but with a singular widely held misconception that the morals of a man are questionable as the men are more prone to sleeping around than women. This generalisation isn’t a 21st century creation. Some of the most prominent philosophers in the past have held that men would sleep with multiple women while the women would refrain from doing so. Hence, the power structure within the family would hold the women more sacred and chaste as the lineage of future generations would be drawn from the women and not the men. At this stage it is pointless to say that such generalisation harm both genders. But it is safe to presume and as is evident, that due to the prevailing patriarchal structure these generalisations harm the women more than they harm men.
Unlike the beliefs of the philosophers who died ages ago; in the 21st century the men are venerated for their ‘scoring skills’. The number of women you sleep with, the duration for which you last in bed, the inches on your penis, the hair on your chest, the condemnation of condoms and the dominating sex positions are all reflective of your masculinity. So the end goal isn’t as much as the satisfaction of your sexuality as much as it is about feeding your own ego and to constantly subject and subdue yourself to the societal standard of masculinity. These standards have transformed themselves into a trend and that trend has created certain premises that are blindly followed in our society. It’s due to the promulgation of such standards that people perceive men as more promiscuous and women as chaste. And from that arises the taboo associated with the sexuality and once that taboo is associated with women, they are deemed as sluts. So if I were to summarize the causal chain in order, it would be as follows; unreal standards, real trends, false premises/beliefs, misconception of men, sex viewed as a taboo, women associated with the taboo and ultimately tagged as sluts.
So the issue lies in the origin of the word slut within the 21st century. Unlike etymologists I would propose that we need to focus more on the current proverbial usage of ‘slut’ than providing insights into its historical meaning. The verbal dichotomy of ‘slut’ in separate cultural settings would hold far more substantial value than looking at Oxford’s citations from 1402 that described slut as a woman of untidy appearance and dirty habits. Dirty here meaning unclean and not sexually kinky of course. Most of the historical appearances of the word ‘slut’ refer to someone unsanitary or unpleasant and have nothing to do with sexuality. It would require a special expertise in the field of language to assess how the word has travelled from an insult on appearance to an insult on character.
Nonetheless we can’t lose sight of what the word belies today. It is a character defining remark that does the worst type of damage. And the worst type of damage is the damage that isn’t perceived as damage. We are witnessing a social media revolution in the field of mental health activism. Posts that highlight the importance of addressing the slightest of issues as they can have long-term detrimental effects. To me ‘slut’ is like depression. It has been used as a joke, an insult, a sympathizing agent and a pop culture activism gimmick. If it isn’t brought back to its roots, the word shall only be adopted further into our informal dictionaries to cause further damage. There’s a separate venture by some of the learned feminists to reclaim the world ‘slut’. What that essentially means is that the word shall be sustained and along with it the pop-culture connotation attached to it. But the women will embrace the word rather than shying away from it. This I believe is an excellent way to deal with the massive contamination of slut-shaming in our society. But the only critique I have for it is that this is a short-term solution to a long term problem. Also, this embracing hinges upon the mental perceptibility of young minds to a highly complex idea. A 16-year-old might not be able to embrace the word while continually being shamed on a physical and mental level by her peers. Therefore, such a reclaiming would require a lot of mature minds when in reality the direct brunt of this shaming is being faced by young and inexperienced minds.
Both men and women face different forms of shaming. And to say that the shaming of one gender is independent of the other is absolutely ludicrous. The slut-shaming of women has its genesis in the proverbial perception of males. And the shaming of men has to do with the years of virtual conditioning of women into something they’re not meant to be. The women we see today aren’t the women as they were and the same plies to the men. The structures we live in define us and we define the structures. To let the structure take hold of our independent thoughts would mean succumbing to a mental incapacitation of progressiveness. Hence, the need to question the mainstream arises. And challenging the callous usage of ‘slut’ is one of those many questions.