Thursday, 28 June 2012

Why Slut-Shaming Matters.

For the purposes of this post I am going to focus on insults and pejorative language and for the purposes of simplicity 'slut' will represent a range of insults including whore, slag, tramp, hussy, tart and any other commonly thrown aspersion, though you do get points if you can come up with any interesting, inventive or historical synonyms. My current favourite is the rhyming slang 'Brass Flute'.

1. 'Why does it matter?'
The language we use when choosing to insult someone is important because insults fall under two categories; general insults such as 'arsehole' 'cockspanker' and 'cunt' and insults that identify the insultee as a member of a group that the insulter thinks makes them fair game for ridicule and humiliation. Examples include 'spazz' 'nigger' and 'gay'.

'Slut' is a particularly problematic example as it degrades women who are promiscuous, dress provocatively or who are flirtatious in their behaviour. Calling someone a slut indicates that you think that their behaviour places them outside the social safe space we reserve for Ladies and into the risky hinterland reserved for Prostitutes and Loose Women (another thorny topic for another time) and if anything happens, well it was your fault for dressing like a slag or 'putting it about'.

2. 'But we have free speech, surely I can use whatever language I want?'
I'm not saying you can't use these words, I'm just saying you shouldn't. Giving up these words costs you nothing and it does much to reduce tolerance of the attitude that some women (sluts) deserve to be raped and some women (ladies) don't.

This attitude contributes to some pretty horrific statistics. The most recent study shows that one in four women experience rape or attempted rape during their lifetime. Think of twenty women you know. The chances are, five of those women will be victims of sexual assault. Hurling derogatory and pejorative terms around contributes to the cultural attitude that says 'Don't Get Raped' rather than saying 'Don't Rape'.

3. 'Feminism is about equality, placing some insults off limits seems pretty unequal'
I would like nothing better than for everyone to be able to insult each other however they want. I have a dream where black people and white, male, female and other can all throw whatever insults they like.

The problem is power. The power differential is stacked hugely in the favor of straight, white, western men. It's not their fault, it was handed to them at birth by a fluke of geography, history and biology. Feminism is the new kid on the block, comparatively speaking. Votes for women have been around just under 100 years and marital rape was only recognised as a crime in the UK in 1991. Practical feminism as we would recognise it has only been a visible force in public life for around sixty years. A lot has been done, but we are not there yet. Until everyone is equal, the age old rule of comedy applies; Attacking people in power is funny, attacking those without is not. Which is why Marcus Brigstocke is funny and Jim Davidson is not.

4. 'But I didn't mean anything by it'

Just because you didn't mean it, doesn't mean you aren't still casually perpetrating misogynistic attitudes. Slut, hussy and whore are insults that are aimed specifically at women. There is no similar pejorative for men, as society doesn't deem it necessary to demonise male sexuality. Let's all aim for the day when we can all be sluts, whores, studs and players together, without undermining the safety and respect due to 50% of the population.

Think of this as an opportunity to be more inventive with your insults; why call someone a slut when you can call them a 'fetid pool of donkey semen'? Just Sayin'.

This post turned out way more serious than I intended, turns out rape-permissive-attitudes are a solemn subject. Who knew?

If anyone has a minute, I'd love some eccentric synonyms for 'slut' ( was depressingly limited) and imaginative alternate insults. Answers on a postcard/in the comments section.