"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Monday, July 01, 2013

speak now #12: sexuality & society part III - the slut monster

Now Playing: Terrible Love by Birdy (it's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders, it's a terrible love and I'm walking in, it's quiet company)

The word 'slut' used to refer to a person who had questionable hygiene. Then it became a slur of shame and stigma on women who have sex like men.

Go patriarchy!

What is a slut?

The current generic discourse of the word 'slut' is a sexually aggressive, promiscuous woman who can freely be accused of being riddled with STIs, a boyfriend-stealer, a maneater, a cocktease, etc. etc. etc. Synonyms include whore, tramp, cunt, bitch, slag, etc.

THERE IS NO MALE EQUIVALENT OF A SLUT. Slut is used almost exclusively to refer to women, and terms like man-whore are almost compliments.

What is the slut monster? 

The slut monster is a mythical creature that exists in the fevered imaginations of the darlings of patriarchy as a reincarnation of the beasts who led our classical heroes astray, a monster that becomes all the more monstrous with every man she emasculates, every boy she ruins, every marriage she destroys and every hard working, upstanding citizen she robs of alimony and child support. Anyone who attempts to be kind to the slut monster is bound to be struck down, cast aside, pushed away in favour of someone who can give her what she wants and not what she needs. Lust is the slut monster's insatiable hunger and formidable weapon; she attacks men at their weakest and reduces them to their most vulnerable, and rules the world with the mystical power of her pornstar body and irresistible sex appeal. The slut monster is the foe of all men, and all women worthy of condescending patriarchal many strings attached "respect". 

There's a reason why I'm talking like a pretentious slightly-high fantasy writer. The slut monster does not exist.

Why has slut become the No.1 derogatory term for women?

Insulting expressions of female sexuality and women who do not conform to societal expectations of correct female sexual behaviour is a reflection of the ongoing fear and disgust of female sexuality, and patriarchy's desire to remove women from their sexualities. The idea that there is something 'dirty' about women having sex reinforces the cult of purity's virginity myth, which perpetuates this idea that the only way women can get the moral highground is through chastity, and that women who don't buy that bullshit aren't worthy of our respect. The widespread use of the insult 'slut' has reinforced this idea that a woman's sex life is a topic that is open for discussion and criticism, and that having lots of sex is a bad or morally questionable thing to do.

Things you hear about 'sluts':

Sluts don't respect themselves.

This idea that a woman 'gives herself' to a man when she has sex, and that a slut is someone who has 'given herself' to lots of people, reinforces this very archaic, Freudian attitude towards sexual pleasure, in that pleasure is within a woman and is taken by a man, and that a woman can maintain some kind of wholesomeness by withholding permission for a man to 'take' this pleasure (and I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is what we are taught in university English so bear with me). The idea that promiscuous women don't respect themselves runs on this totally false assumption that women don't enjoy sex, and so only use sex to feel loved or respected, or to get money or the status symbol of a relationship; this idea that sex is some heartless, soulless transaction of using sex to buy things to help curb a woman's desperate insecurity. People have to wrap their heads around the idea that women enjoy sex, there's nothing wrong with women enjoying sex, and 'sluts' respect themselves so much that they think that they are worthy of orgasms and intimacy. There. I said it.

Sluts are untrustworthy/incapable of relationships/morally questionable/greedy/sinful/any other word you can throw in:

YOU. CANNOT. TELL. ANYTHING. ABOUT. ANYONE. BASED. ON. THEIR. SEXUAL. BEHAVIOUR. The number of people you've slept with is not an indicator of how many friends you will betray or how many hearts you will break or how many houses you will rob or how many poor innocent grandmas you will murder. True story.

The real problem people have with sluts:

1. People refuse to accept that women can enjoy sex. 

The creation of the slut monster comes from the same poisonous, sex-negative worldview that stigmatised lesbianism, bisexuality, masturbation, sex toys and any other expressions of female sexuality. Our religions and our society has taught us that women don't enjoy sex, there's something wrong with women who enjoy sex, and that women procure sexual relations for ulterior motives. This thinking is perpetuated by widespread misconceptions that 'losing virginity' for women is a painful, bloody, uncomfortable experience, a widespread cultural fear of pregnancy and childbirth, the myth that women don't masturbate and shouldn't actively facilitate sexual relations, and the overemphasis on the fact that the majority of women can't climax on vaginal intercourse alone (this is true, but there are a million other ways - most of them taboo - that wome ncan climax, and people of all genders and sexes enjoy sex regardless of the presence or absence of orgasms).

2. There is something wrong with women who do enjoy sex.

A big part of the cult of purity and the virginity myth is that becoming sexually active, for women, is more of a loss than a gain, which leads to the idea that women are cheap or desperate or insecure and feel like they need to 'sell themselves' to gain material goods or the illusion of emotional connection. It also leads to the stigmatisation of female sexual pleasure, and women who openly enjoy sex; it also leads to a stigmatisation of lesbian sex, because there's no man in the picture, and the growing and disturbing attitude that lesbian sex is qualified or for the sole purpose of giving straight men pleasure through voyeurism.

3. The slut monster is the product of a misunderstanding of female sexuality.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that men are horny, sexual beings and it is inevitable that they will go to great lengths to satisfy their sexual urges. This same attitude is not applied to women, and so a woman who is proactive about satisfying her own sexual requirements is viewed as dirty, or of dubious intent. In an attempt to reduce women to sexual objects and fundamentally sexless creatures, female sexuality is sometimes obsessively connected to childbirth, or a need for material goods and emotional connection, financial security or the need to have a man in ones life; female sexuality is even sometimes redefined as the 'desire to please a man'. These connotations are not made about male sexuality, which leads to a better understanding in society about male sexual urgers and total confusion about female sexual urges. Obviously, attempts to reduce women into something that they're not results in a lot of women failing to conform to social standards, and these women are ostracised and stigmatised through slurs and insults and social branding like the slut monster. This idea that sex makes a woman immoral - or that you can judge anything about anyone based on their sexual history - has its roots in societies incapability of comprehending that women, like men, seek sex for sexual pleasure and THAT. IS. OKAY.

4. Reducing women to sexual objects or sexless creatures reinforces patriarchal gender roles and the slut monster exists outside of the laws of patriarchy. 

Socially acceptable women and socially acceptable expressions of female sexuality are obsessed with connecting female sexuality to male pleasure, or procreation, or the use of virginity as proof of moral integrity or true love or all that other crap. The word 'slut' is sometimes - correctly - defined as 'a woman with the morals of a man'; and it's so true. The slut monster is a projection of patriarchy's fear and contempt of women who do not conform to the confines of patriarchal gender roles and that, my friend, is sexism.

My experiences with the slut monster.

Surprise surprise, I am one of the majority of women who has been called out as a 'slut'. Part of that was because I have done things that people have objected to because I wasn't in a relationship, part of that is because I'm just very open about sexuality and people somehow find that weird or creepy in a woman, especially an unattached woman, but mostly it was because people didn't like me, for a variety of reasons, but because it was too complicated for them to pin down what exactly it was about me that was so offensive they decided to go for the low-hanging fruit; feminism and sexuality. At the time of my most recent labelling as a slut monster I was a virgin and identified very strongly as a virgin; I also had something of a reputation for being a late bloomer and not having much experience with men. This reaffirmed to me that the slut monster isn't as connected with the specifics of a woman's sex life as apologists like to think; the slut monster encompasses undesirable women, women who express sexuality even when men expressly tell them not to.

Now that I'm at uni a lot of my friends are older than me, and a lot of them are sexually active. Sexually active women, contrary to the slut monster fantasy, are usually very well informed about sex - contraception, safety, consent; all this stuff is common knowledge to them, and is a refreshing change to the sometimes dangerous ignorance of some other circles I have been in. Women who are more comfortable with their sexualities are much less likely to contract STIs and have an unwanted pregnancy, which busts this myth that sluts are riddled with STIs and book in at an abortion clinic every other week. And it's just such a nice change to be around women who actually like sex, who aren't horrified - or pretend to be horrified - at the prospect of an orgasm, women who don't look at you like you're crazy when it becomes apparent that hey, I've been through puberty and I have nerve endings too. I know a lot of my more sheltered acquaintences are dying to know what it's like to break bread with sluts, but in all honesty - they're the nicest, sweetest, most understanding and nonjudgemental people I have ever met.

Of course, some of them are fuckwits, because as I said, MORAL CHARACTER AND SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR ARE NOT IN ANY WAY CORRELATED.

This concludes my three part series on sexuality & society - I am starting a new three part series on shame that will discuss slut shaming, virgin shaming and fat shaming. Stay tuned and stay beautiful!


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