The failure to reclaim the word "slut"
January 20, 2015 12:05 PM   Subscribe

"For them it was an amazing feminist experience, but it didn’t last." Feminist blogger Jessica Valenti questions the attempt to turn "slut" into something positive:
Tanenbaum told me that, when women are in closed circle or close-knit community – like a protest with like-minded people, or among friends who understand the cheeky appropriation of the word – identifying as a “slut” can be empowering. But what inevitably happens, especially in today’s digital culture where revenge porn, stolen pictures and cyber harassment is the norm, is that “it always spills outwards.”

She also describes how attempts to reclaim the word "slut" may be a result of white privilege:
A group of black female academics, activists, and writers wrote an open letter explaining that “as Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is.”
More about SlutWalks and white privilege.

Even more about SlutWalks and white privilege:
There is no indication that SlutWalk will even strip the word “slut” from its hateful meaning. The n-word, for example, is still used to dehumanize black folks, regardless of how many black folks use it among themselves. Just moments before BART officer James Mehserle shot Oscar Grant to death in Oakland in 2009, video footage captured officers calling Grant a “bitch ass nigger.” It didn’t matter how many people claimed the n-word as theirs – it still marked the last hateful words Grant heard before a white officer violently killed him. Words are powerful – the connection between speech and thought is a strong one, and cannot be marched away to automatically give words new meaning. If I can’t trust SlutWalk’s white leadership to even reach out to women of color, how am I to trust that “reclaiming” the word will somehow benefit women?
Previously.
posted by Librarypt (56 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sympathize with her concern that "slut," with a predominately white history, is not something black women (for instance) would associate themselves with that type of abuse or harassment. On the other hand, it seems like the black women's alternative ("ho" or "bitch") is similar in many fundamental ways, and I feel like siloing the movements against the terms rather than generalizing them may be counterproductive. I can't say I know exactly how core the term "slut" is to the SlutWalk & associated movements is, though. At any rate it seems like they're fighting the same fight under different banners, and fighting over the banners seems to me far less important at the moment.

That said, it's not like discussion is zero-sum — she thinks this is a very important thing to talk about, so she should express herself fully on that and I welcome it gladly even as I can't help but think it's tangential rather than parallel to the larger battle being fought.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2015


I guess my immediate response to that is that somehow the concerns of black women always seem to wind up being tangential rather than parallel, which makes me wonder how much a part of the larger battle actually benefits or includes them.
posted by maxsparber at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


In 1990 I wouldn't have guessed how thoroughly the word "queer" would become reclaimed, for example, so I wouldn't see the early resistance and frictions around the word "slut" as proof that the activism will never work.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:36 PM on January 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


I've read The Ethical Slut and support its authors' definition of the word, but I can say that when I mention the book to some of my friends -- and these are friends I consider open minded enough to discuss the book with, mind -- that word causes a visceral reaction. I wouldn't say that reclaiming the word won't work, but I can see people I know are utterly sympathetic to the ideal still struggling to get past that one word.
posted by Gelatin at 12:44 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to be a fan of reclaiming language, but as time goes on I've really shifted against it. The idea of reclaiming is that if we use it ourselves as a positive thing and embrace the characteristics as positive things, then we can shift ourselves and by extension the world. In practice, some people stick to using it only positively, other people rapidly devolve to using it negatively but claiming it is different because "they aren't [whatever]", and it becomes a new "edgy" way to indicate one is NOT [whatever]ist without actually changing much substantively.

I'm thinking specifically of bitch, which a lot of women have tried to reclaim as a representation of women who are powerful, but in an era where we are beginning to be able to measure how women are treated differently not due to conscious beliefs but due to unconscious biases, and how this plays out with women in power being less accepted if they are assertive or aggressive getting fired more readily or not hired to begin with, it remains as insulting and commonly used to degrade women as ever. Removing "bitch" and "bitchy" from my language has ended up being a meditation on when I am dismissing myself or others, and when I am judging how or when anger shows up within women and within communities of women.

I don't have a similar relationship with racist language - being white I have internalized that I am better / more rational / can know everything but nothing associated with slurs - but refusing to use any slurs has become an exercise in setting and maintaining a taboo that I think dovetails nicely with my values.

I spent a long while in my teens thinking nothing should be taboo! Everything should be said! Taboos mean we are limiting ourselves! Taboos are stupid and prejudiced! As I've grown, though, I've begun to see taboos as a way of indicating what is unacceptable to me - and embracing the reality that there will always be something that is unacceptable to me, and trying to pretend otherwise just results in me being passive-aggressive about it and causes its own host of problems. One of the issues I found within my own liberalism was exacerbated by my inherent post-modernism - a difficulty in identifying what was unacceptable (usually represented by the words "wrong" or "bad" or "evil"). Not taking a stand was inherently a coward's game for me, a way to pretend I was above the fray on another level instead of a human being with weaknesses, foibles and who fundamentally cared on multiple levels but nevertheless could and did fail people and ideals.

#IAmJada approaches the issue of women being blamed for rapists' behavior but from a direction not of embracing the language of those who would blame us, but rather of identifying with a young woman who could have been - and in some cases was - us, and that seems like it carries a very different energy and set of cognitive constructs. I've been struggling with what to call "Slut Walks" in the wake of my changing opinions - I think the critiques from multiple sides are valuable, but I also thing that being out and visible and unashamed of what others did to us is valuable, and there has to be a way to keep that part of it while shedding the language of self-blame.

Emma Sulkowicz's art project of carrying her mattress until the man who raped her is expelled is another perspective/approach that seems really valuable - especially since one of the practical things it has caused is other people literally helping her carry the mattress; there is something powerful in the image of people rallying around and supporting her that seems really important right now.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:51 PM on January 20, 2015 [41 favorites]


The Ethical Slut doesn't come off as an earnest title, anyway, despite its content. You could call a book The Ethical Jerk or The Ethical 1%er and people would read it and be more okay with brusquenes or wealth, but it wouldn't do anything to increase affinity for the terms.
posted by michaelh at 12:51 PM on January 20, 2015


it makes sense to me that slut would be fine in group and wouldn't work for out group (or ho/bitch, i agree that i find those to be parallel, although different in ways that a lot of things with intersectional feminism are different). this is often how reclamation works - you reclaim it for yourself, but it can still be weaponized by outsiders wanting to use it in that way - seems pretty similar to how fag/queer/n-word/etc still work.
posted by nadawi at 12:51 PM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


...especially a word that impacts different women differently...

I think this is definitely a factor. As a slang term, it has so many different meanings that it's hard to pin it down long enough to reclaim it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:00 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Ethical Slut doesn't come off as an earnest title, anyway, despite its content.

Well I think it's earnest, but it doesn't try to "reclaim" the word 'slut': it uses 'slut' in the very conventional (negative) sense, counterweighted with 'ethical' so as to be somewhat oxymoronic.

Constructing the title that way seems to imply that the author (or, at least, whoever chose the title; likely not the author) thinks that most people think of a 'slut' as someone who is unethical, or that there is some sort of tension between being a 'slut' and being ethical. That's actually a pretty strong position on the opposite end of the spectrum from a sex-positive/reclaimed definition.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2015


"...so many different meanings..."

This. I was listening to to the "Sluts" episode of Why Are People Into That? yesterday, and as Reid Mihalko clarified what he means by "slut", and how I can probably accept his definition but that's something different from just "a promiscuous woman", I kind of thought about how "gay" has been "reclaimed".

I think part of the acceptance of that has been that "gay" in mainstream culture has been redefined to well dressed slightly greying men embracing monogamous coupledom through marriage (yes, I realize that marriage can be redefined and often is). Gone are the images of bears in bath houses. Drag queens have been replaced by Ru Paul, a little more sanitized and less transgressive than some of the other options.

So it's a mixed bag. Upper middle class white college girls calling themselves "slut" is a very different image from a particular male friend of mine with a "sunsets, long walks on the beach, and taking it up the ass" T-shirt and a pink Tutu which matches the one on his dog. He's a great guy, and I think his appropriation of slut is useful for moving the overall discussion, but if we make progress in a decade or two, he's not going to be the poster child.

However, he may have to be the vanguard. I may have to be the vanguard. Because I think the underlying thread in these articles is that despite the attempts to reclaim, slut has become too dangerous for white women to use, let alone black women.

I recently installed Yik Yak to see how the kids these days are communicating with their peers, and was shocked and amazed at the level of slut shaming flying around that platform.

I'm a middle aged monogamous het white guy. I'm not going to ask women to reclaim the word. I'm not going to change my sexual behaviors. But I am going to troll the teenagers on Yik Yak a bit and, where it doesn't confuse discussions of attraction with my promiscuous friends (whom I love dearly, but not in that way), I'm going to continue to toss "slut" out there in non-perjorative ways
posted by straw at 1:19 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am not a huge fan of word reclamation, especially with a word with a long linear history as a slur (queer is a great counter-example, as it has moved around quite a bit in the past 100 years - though at my age (40s) I still feel weird self-identifying with it, but it appears to be the popular term now).

It seems like the most successful reclamations somehow flip the zeitgeist so that people still using it as a slur suddenly sound like either accidental allies or an "uncool" faction (usually by class or age), making the joke on them. "Fag" never really lost it's bite as a term of disparagement, it just became one that gay men used to put down themselves or each other, and it did become clunky in the mouths of harassers. (And part of that was because of Westboro Baptist Church and the desire for most people to distance themselves, even if they hated gay people, from those people.)

I don't think slut is reclaimable right now. The intersectionality is a huge issue, but also the misogyny that drives "slut" as a slur is so all-encompassing (and popular across all kinds of dividing lines).

In my encounters with people who use the word as reclaimed (either in the "ethical" context or other nontraditional-sexual-engagement way, and though I admire some of the spirit of the slutwalk people, them too), it always comes off with that try-too-hard thing that you get from people who need to tell you how weird they are all the time. And yeah, they are pretty much universally white. I acknowledge that this is my personal problem with the word that maybe I'm obligated to fix, but I think it's one I share with a lot of people.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:23 PM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Constructing the title that way seems to imply that the author (or, at least, whoever chose the title; likely not the author) thinks that most people think of a 'slut' as someone who is unethical, or that there is some sort of tension between being a 'slut' and being ethical.

I don't have the book with me, but if memory serves me correctly, the authors did choose the title, and specifically intend to reclaim the word "slut." "Slut" is the go-to term they use throughout the book to reference someone who is sex positive, as they go to some lengths explaining.
posted by Gelatin at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2015


If The Eye of Argon didn't reclaim the word "slut," nothing can.
posted by delfin at 1:26 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I guess my immediate response to that is that somehow the concerns of black women always seem to wind up being tangential rather than parallel, which makes me wonder how much a part of the larger battle actually benefits or includes them.

I hear that. And of course I haven't been on the sharp side of that stick at all. I didn't mean that the concerns of black women are secondary — I'm just afraid siloing these movements will render them less effective.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am going to be blunt here. "Slut" is like "nigger." It is a term a degradation imposed from without. No woman should ever be called a "slut," just as no free woman or man should accept "nigger." It's disgusting. Don't try to "reclaim" this word. Leave it behind and live!
posted by SPrintF at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


> In 1990 I wouldn't have guessed how thoroughly the word "queer" would become reclaimed, for example, so I wouldn't see the early resistance and frictions around the word "slut" as proof that the activism will never work.

I think the reclamation of "queer" is a particularly interesting case and not really analogous to "slut."The older meaning of "queer" is just "odd," which was considered negative because of greater pressure to conform to outward standards of respectability. Sure, it was hurled with enough vitriol to be a pretty nasty slur for awhile, but reclaiming it really was reclaiming -- yes, we're odd, no, that's not bad, you aren't the decider. Besides, by the time it was reclaimed for general usage, it was already dated as a slur. "Faggot" carried an implicit threat of violence, "queer" was more a threat of a lorgnette-sighting.

"Slut" requires a bigger shift, it's requiring someone to change their opinion of promiscuity AND convert a current, intentionally pejorative slur into a neutral or positive term. That's a tall order.

Also, "queer" filled a really handy niche as a more open-ended and inclusive alternative to the initialisms (e.g. LBGTQI), which can be awfully jargon-y and hierarchical and contentious. I'm not sure that there is as much of an unfulfilled mainstream, general usage niche for a sex-positive-reclamation of "slut."
posted by desuetude at 1:51 PM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Valenti's piece didn't really address how it even makes sense to reclaim the word slut. "Nigger" and "queer" relate to more comprehensive identities that it makes sense to proudly proclaim. (You may argue that homosexuality wasn't until recently ... but as an analogue to heterosexuality, it is acceptable to share that you prefer same gender partners.)

But with "slut" ... to whom exactly were you planning on proclaiming this identity to? Telling people at work "I proudly sleep around"? Not appropriate, I'm afraid. Posting it on Facebook? Too much information, and why do you feel the need to broadcast it?

It just seems very unclear to me what the purpose of reclaiming it would be. I understand the value of being resilient in the face of people trying to shame you for your promiscuity, but it just doesn't make sense that one would adopt this as a positive identity because it doesn't seem appropriate to share your sluttiness widely as an identity, in the same way that race and sexual orientation are shared. It just seems weird that anyone would think there could be a comparable reclamation of a word that comes down to how many people you've let feel the inside of your private parts.
posted by jayder at 1:51 PM on January 20, 2015


And also, in a time when women are striving to be recognized as more than sexual objects, that mission seems to work at cross purposes with a campaign to identify proudly as sluts.
posted by jayder at 1:54 PM on January 20, 2015


Besides, by the time it was reclaimed for general usage, it was already dated as a slur.

I can't speak with real authority to the US context, but that's not true in the UK or Australasia; nor, I think, in Canada. "Fuckin' queers" was very much the sort of thing you'd expect to hear some mouth-breathing homophobe to mutter in the 1970s/80s, which was the time when "queer" as "queer-theory" and "we're here, we're queer, get used to it!" and so on started getting real traction.
posted by yoink at 2:15 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Faggot" carried an implicit threat of violence, "queer" was more a threat of a lorgnette-sighting.

this was certainly not the case in arkansas in the 90s.
posted by nadawi at 2:17 PM on January 20, 2015


And also, in a time when women are striving to be recognized as more than sexual objects, that mission seems to work at cross purposes with a campaign to identify proudly as sluts.

Women are also striving to be recognized as sexual subjects, which is I think what this reclamation project attends to. Identifying, proudly, as a slut says, "I like sex and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:19 PM on January 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


I really wish this thread could be something better than "as someone outside that group, no one should ever reclaim this" and "well in my day this word meant THAT, it was/wasn't that bad".

These are both pretty embarrassingly myopic and frankly boring tiresome ways to approach this kind of conversation. Do better.
posted by emptythought at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


The bar is always ready to be raised, emptythought. Not sure you're helping, though.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:29 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Women are also striving to be recognized as sexual subjects, which is I think what this reclamation project attends to. Identifying, proudly, as a slut says, "I like sex and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

So you think "enjoying sex" is the meaning that is to be given to the reclaimed word "slut"? It seems to me that proponents of reclaiming the word wanted it to mean something more than that.

But anyway, does anyone know how reclaiming the word would actually work? Where would women announce themselves as sluts? I mean that as a serious question.

To me, it would be kind of like men reclaiming the word "pervert." I would find that funny, actually, but I can't imagine how much mileage it would get because where, exactly, would it be appropriate to say it?
posted by jayder at 2:34 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Glad to see this here, so much love for J. Valenti!

Slut is not a word that I really want to reclaim, for many of the reasons elucidated above and more. The only time in my life I've ever punched someone in the face was when a dude I was dating jokingly called me a slut -- I'm a pacifist to the teeth, but it happened before I even realized what I was doing. It's a word that feels awful in my mouth, a gutteral thing, a poison-tipped spear. I can't really put my finger on it, maybe I just have too many bad feels about being called a slut by my parents and peers when I was still as pure as the newly driven snow. It's a term that's still wielded with violence against me and my sisters, so it just isn't something that can make me feel good or powerful in any way.

It just seems weird that anyone would think there could be a comparable reclamation of a word that comes down to how many people you've let feel the inside of your private parts.

Well, here's the deal with SlutWalk, at least. Not so much about "how many people you've let feel the inside of your private parts" (ew) but rather a cop in Toronto telling a bunch of students, "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised." Which is just... well. You know.

More than anything, though, slut is an ultimately empty term. You couldn't pin down a set of precise circumstances that would reliably inspire its usage if you tried. It varies for everyone. The closest thing to a definition that I can think of is "a person who I'm pretty sure has gotten busy with more people than I have, whom I dislike at least in part due to that fact."

And also, in a time when women are striving to be recognized as more than sexual objects, that mission seems to work at cross purposes with a campaign to identify proudly as sluts.

Oh, it's not that we're striving to be recognized as more than sexual objects, and indeed, I would take exception to the idea that we want to be recognized as sexual objects in any circumstances at all; as wemayfreeze helpfully points out, it's more about allowing women to be seen as sexual subjects. And to me, I feel we're all striving to be recognized as whole people with agency, up to and including sexual agency, whatever that entails, even if it entails sleeping with "a lot" of other people. Or no people at all!

TBH, by many folks' definition, I'm a slut even though I've been celibate for *mumble* years. But my "number" is still significantly higher than most, and sometimes it makes dudes blanch (NB to dudes: don't ask women how many people we've slept with if you don't want an honest answer). It's not my goal to have women recognized as sexless hu-bots, as many dudes will frequently claim is the ultimate goal of feminism, but to have women recognized as regular human beings who are inherently deserving of decency and respect no matter how many people we get busy with... or how often police officers want to blame us for our own rapes.
posted by divined by radio at 2:36 PM on January 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Women being loud about their sexuality can be a way of expressing how they've grasped the fact that a life with a lack of fear of rape is something every woman should have, but few if any do. Rape is seen as an acceptable response to our clothes, location, recreational activities, choices in men, and on and on. Rape is seen as an acceptable response to being perceived as a slut. Having slut pride is a way of saying fuck that.

I always thought the word reclamation in SlutWalk was not about pride, but a way of saying, whether I am a slut or not, stop perpetuating the fucked-up idea that rape is an acceptable reaction to have towards me.
posted by JLovebomb at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


Slut will always be one of my favorite words in the English language, and I don't care who disagrees with me.

And, yes, I am one.

And, yes, Nthing that the Slutwalk movement is about rape culture, not about reclaiming words.
posted by Sara C. at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


Also, I gotta say, Leora Tanenbaum has always seemed so fucking backlashy to me. I always pause when I come across her name in a piece like this, especially one where she's stating a contrarian opinion or something that seems vaguely non-feminist. Not that you have to reclaim "slut" or you're not a feminist, but if Leora Tanenbaum is telling me not to reclaim "slut", I'm gonna be sure double down on my slut pride.
posted by Sara C. at 3:12 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


i was told that my cunt was created solely to give my eventual husband comfort and to birth children. i was told when i was molested that my virtue had been lost - better that it was stolen rather than given - but lost all the same and that my eventual husband would have to be ok with damaged goods. i was given books to read that made it clear that if i didn't physically fight my attacker that it would be better to be dead than defiled, because then at least i'd meet my maker still pure. as i left that behind i was told that it was good to enjoy sex, but not too much and not with too many people. i was told that my repeated rapes were my fault and the reason i had to too much sex, as a way of acting out.

i understand why some have no urge to reclaim the word slut. i understand that there are questions to answer about how it fits into the larger picture of equality. i respect the women that have shared their views here and elsewhere on this matter. all the same, for me, it was very important to really embrace that it was ok to be the type of person that most describe as a slut, that being slutty didn't make me any less valuable as a person, that sleeping with 40+ people wasn't because something was defective or unpure about me. no matter how short my skirt, no matter how many people i've fucked, i still have virtue, i'm still worth love. i will gladly call myself a slut until the day i die.
posted by nadawi at 3:27 PM on January 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


Slut, smilng, a great word,
One's inner slut a treasure,
A promise of pleasure over one's time.
Only those who may not have
You, or sense interest,
Use this word with derision, with
Poisonous intent, and of course
Those who do not shine
As brightly, or well as you.
posted by Oyéah at 4:05 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a slang term, it has so many different meanings that it's hard to pin it down long enough to reclaim it.

That's because what it ultimatelymeans as a slur is that the person saying it claims the right to judge a woman's sex life. I can see why some women have the desire to reclaim the word as a middle-finger to the haters and judges while others oppose that kind of activism as insensitive to intersectionality (at a minimum).
posted by immlass at 4:19 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reclaim? It never belonged to women in the first place. It belongs to people who cannot handle women and they can keep it for identification purposes so we know who is deficient. I am not carrying a load that has nothing to do with being a woman. You have issues, you deal with it....
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:30 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The second link fills in context nicely:

But for those who have been shamed, and disciplined, and violently abused on the basis of its usage, they have the prerogative to determine whether to reclaim or not to. As a word used to shame white women who do not conform to morally conservative norms about chaste sexuality, the term very much reflects white women’s specific struggles around sexuality and abuse. Although plenty of Black women have been called “slut,” I believe Black women’s histories are different, in that Black female sexuality has always been understood from without to be deviant, hyper, and excessive. Therefore, the word slut has not been used to discipline (shame) us into chaste moral categories, as we have largely been understood to be unable to practice “normal” and “chaste” sexuality anyway.

What becomes an issue is those white women and liberal feminist women of color who argue that “slut” is a universal category of female experience, irrespective of race. I recognize that there are many women of color who are participating in the SW movement, and I support those sisters who do, particularly women who are doing it in solidarity and coalition. But rather than forcing white women to get on the diversity train with regard to the inclusivity of SlutWalk, perhaps we need to redirect our racial vigilance. By that I mean, I’d prefer that white women acknowledge that they are in fact organizing around a problematic use of terminology endemic to white communities and cultures.

In doing so, this would force an acknowledgement that the experience of womanhood being defended here–that of white women– is not universal, but is under attack and worthy of being defended, all the same.

Perhaps, also, if white women could recognize SlutWalk as being rooted in white female experience, it would provide an opportunity for them to participate in coalition and solidarity with similar movements that are inclusive and reflective of the experiences of women of color.


For me personally, I've always resented the world that tries to define me by my sexuality.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:37 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's hard to pin it down long enough to reclaim it

Although there's a "bug or feature" argument there. Ultimately the political payoff over these word-fights comes from the fight, not from resolving the fight. That is, if "slut" ever comes to be just an unmarked word for "woman" then at that point it ceases being a "useful" word (much in the way "colored" and "negro" and "black" and "African American" and "person of color" and so forth have all taken their turn as being the term you must use until everyone did use them, at which point they became basically irrelevant). The political value is in the contestation; it's making the word a little landmine of consciousness-raising, such that every time someone uses it, even if derisively or under protest, they're forced to consider the issues surrounding the fight over the word.

Personally, I suspect that the ultimate effectiveness of these word-fights as a strategy is lower than the Western left have wanted to believe for the last half century or so (I think, for example, that the massive change in attitudes to gay people in the last, say, five decades in the US is due far more to the courageous work of activists getting out there and directly confronting issues of policy, on AIDS, on gay marriage and so forth, than it is to do with "reclaiming" words like "gay" and "queer" and so forth. Although how could one "prove" such a case?) But then again I read something like nadawi's beautifully eloquent comment above, a comment which unpacking the ideological framework that supports the typical use of a word like "slut" makes possible, and I can't think that such struggles are entirely meaningless.
posted by yoink at 4:39 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW all the links that bring up intersectionality seem to assume that the SlutWalk is a protest march about reclaiming the word "slut". Which it's not.

Or they don't actually oppose the idea of any of this, they just have complicated thoughts about it/more to add/things to discuss.

I don't think it's a super great idea to condemn things happening over on one end of feminism because people over on another end of feminism have further thoughts. Especially when the people doing the condemning don't belong to either group, and the whole thing is happening in the service of discouraging women from owning the discourse surrounding our own bodies.

I don't think "but intersectionality though" is a particularly good criticism of the dialogue around slut.
posted by Sara C. at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jessica Valenti is obviously in the feminist group though. I mean, I'm a feminist, and I'm white, and I try to be intersectional even though I don't feel like I'll ever be good at it, and I am way more careful about using the word "slut" in an attempt-to-reclaim type of way because I know that, to an extent, the ability to do that is a function of my white privilege. And anyway, when there's a feminist concept that gets widely embraced by a lot of white people and a lot of Black women (or agender/bigender/genderqueer/other non-binary) folks come along and say "hey, actually, maybe that's not such a great idea because it really only helps white folks and/or hurts Black folks or POC", usually it's because they know what they're talking about, and it's worth listening to them. The idea that listening to them is "in the service of discouraging women from owning the discourse surrounding our own bodies" is pretty offensive, since they are told that they don't own their bodies way more than white women are and have way more experience with that kind of dehumanizing bullshit coming from all sides (including from ostensibly feminist white women).
posted by NoraReed at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Women are great, many faceted beings worthy of any calling, any way of expressing identity they wish. Our unfortunate species is sort of half born often cruel, and then fine and full of the divine. I hope women can keep their gains, stride forward and enjoy every aspect of their power, joy and freedom. Being full in one's beauty and strength, is a right of birth.
posted by Oyéah at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's not worth listening, I just think that listening and having a dialogue and thinking differently and unpacking your privilege is not really the same thing as unilaterally making rules about what one can or cannot say/do/contemplate/organize around. I know it's easier to see feminism as a list of things you can't do for fear of offending someone, but, I don't know, my feminism is a lot more nuanced than that.
posted by Sara C. at 4:59 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm on mobile, so my Search and link capabilities are more limited than usual, but I seem to remember the Blue having a very similar conversation a decade or so back about the word "cunt". (Which I may have set off by my casual use of the word, but I may be misremembering.)

I think it's fantastic to try and de-power the word slut. I wouldn't go so far as to reclaim it, but I've never owned it in the first place. I will proudly own bitch, and cunt however, and fully support anyone who feels empowered by owning slut.
posted by dejah420 at 5:35 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know it's easier to see feminism as a list of things you can't do for fear of offending someone, but, I don't know, my feminism is a lot more nuanced than that.

I'm just trying not to hurt people who already have enough shit on their plate with the marginalization that they get because of their race, especially when it doesn't cost me much to do so.
posted by NoraReed at 5:57 PM on January 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I fail to see how me refusing to be part of rape culture or the madonna/whore complex makes life worse for women of color. I mean am I supposed to be ashamed about my sexuality? Is that going to help?
posted by Sara C. at 6:52 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can be unashamed of your sexuality and still not use the word "slut."
posted by Lyn Never at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]




How does me referring to myself as a slut in a proud and unashamed way hurt women of color?

I don't think other women have to use that word, or even have any feelings about how other women should feel about their sexuality.

But I really don't think there's an argument to be made that white women can't do feminism on any level -- even a small, individual level that occurs mostly in one's own mind -- without somehow hurting women of color.
posted by Sara C. at 7:07 PM on January 20, 2015


unilaterally making rules about what one can or cannot say/do/contemplate/organize around.

Nobody's making any rules. Nobody's dictating your behavior. But you don't get to demand that nobody ever criticize your choices.
posted by KathrynT at 7:31 PM on January 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm a stripper, which has all the traditional stigma of "slut." And without making any recommendations for others, I will provide some anecdata about why I try to reclaim the word.

I had this conversation with a fellow dancer in the dressing room. I referred to myself as a slut in a casual, joking way.

"Why would you call yourself that?" she asked. She was not offended by the word, but rather concerned that I was degrading myself, that I had low self-esteem.

I was genuinely surprised. I knew that us dancers could be afraid of "slut" stigma in the outside world, and maybe even on the main floor of the club. But this is the dressing room, a dimly lit den filled with lockers and girls in various stages of undress. On the counter, a champagne bottle acts as a sort-of paperweight to a messy heap of $1 bills. I'm teetering in 6-inch heels, leaning over the counter towards a mirror so that I can reapply eyeliner that smudged while I was grinding naked in the lap of a stranger. What could scream "slut" more than this?

I told her truth: I spent a long time being afraid of that word. I'm not anymore.

I grew up afraid of the word, as teenage girls are conditioned to be. Fear is exhausting. And when I casually refer to myself as a slut, I feel like I'm whittling away at the stigma that the word holds in my head, one use at a time.

As I explained this to my friend, I saw that she was considering my argument. She smiled. I hope that maybe now she is less afraid of the word than she was prior to our conversation. Maybe I'll ask next time I see her.

Ironically, I've been called a slut a few times outside the club. I imagine most college-aged women in America have heard it at least once.

But in my time stripping, I have never had anyone call me a slut in the club. Not that word, not similar words, not insinuations. Not customers, not coworkers. Never.

I'm not a newbie. I've lasted longer than most girls in the industry. ("You earn your wings at the one-year mark," a DJ once told me.) I figured if I stripped long enough, I would encounter that word. I still believe I will encounter that word someday from a nasty customer. I hope that when it happens, I still shake off the stigma without missing a beat.

Sometimes I casually refer to myself as a "slut" while talking to a new customer. It almost always gets a shocked laugh and smile from the guy—I suppose he isn't used to hearing a girl use that word for herself. And then when I go for a lap dance with him and I set my boundaries, what's he going to do? Call me a slut? Slut or not, this is my body and I call the shots.

I'm a good student, good coworker, good friend, good sister, good daughter, good writer, good girlfriend.

If "slut" is the worst thing you can peg me for? I sleep just fine at night.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 8:22 PM on January 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've always been skeptical of reclaiming words. It doesn't matter who else is saying it to you or how friendly they mean it those times. When the racist sneers "nigger" at you, or the homophobic spits "faggot," the message is clear. It doesn't matter what the word is. You can't ever be puzzled or amused like if someone called you a fucking floogledegorp.

That said, where I come from, 'slut' is pretty mild as far as insults go.
posted by ctmf at 10:40 PM on January 20, 2015


I came out in the 90s, when reclaiming "queer" and "slut" were fun things to do. It was wonderfully empowering to go around with my queer buddies saying and doing provocative things, proudly wearing a "SLUT" badge, etc. I thought confronting people with their own stereotypes and unconsidered assumptions was the best way to get them to see things differently. In fact, I think it was more about self-empowerment and making me feel more confident in the identity I was embracing.

I kept growing up and stayed active in the queer community. I learned that sometimes, rather than getting people's backs up by shocking them, it can be more effective to actually engage people in a thoughtful, curious discussion. Sure, this is more time-consuming and only affects a few people at once, and not everyone is interested in having that discussion. But increasingly, I found it much more satisfying to have those discussions than seeing people visibly close down to what you're trying to say they way they can when you've shocked them. I think this approach is more open to other people, interested in listening as well as talking, and requires a self-confidence with your identity that I didn't have when I was younger.

It's obviously good to have confidence in yourself and to feel empowered. You need confidence and a sense of self-worth and empowerment to be able to have the discussions with people that are less confrontational, less shouty and more of a dialogue.

It seems to me that the Slutwalks were about claiming self-confidence and people got quite caught up in the momentum of that. It's a fantastic energy, and obviously gets headlines much more effectively than a nuanced discussion of sexuality, feminism, race and their intersectionality. But it also seems to me that there were other people wanting to have those discussions who got shut down by those just wanting to shout about how proud they were to be sexual, to be female, to dress however they wanted, to be whatever they interpreted "slut" to mean.

I think that there is room for both. And I think that although it is wonderful to claim shocking terms in the name of a greater good, we also need to listen when there are people who tell us that doing so does not actually make anything better for them. It may actually make things worse. That there are much more helpful things we could be doing in the name of a greater good that would make much more of a difference to many more people. We don't all have to join in that cause - we can't all fight every battle - but the least we can do is listen rather than try to shut them down because we are so enamoured of our own cause.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:59 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that the Slutwalks were about claiming self-confidence and people got quite caught up in the momentum of that. [...] those just wanting to shout about how proud they were to be sexual

this has not been my experience. to me slutwalks are explicitly about saying "how i am dressed is unrelated to whether or not i am raped. my outfit cannot be used as a weapon against me by my rapist or the society that supports him. " in my experience, how slut is used in slutwalks is pretty different from when it's used to be out and proud about being overtly sexual.
posted by nadawi at 6:53 AM on January 21, 2015


I'm not interested in reclaiming the word slut on behalf of black women, or blondes, or Jessica Valenti.

"Reclaiming" is a personal act. It can't be a macro-political move, because nobody can just decree "This word is no longer offensive but empowering" and have everybody, slurrer and slurree, agree that it no longer has offensive power. All I can hope to do is change its meaning to me, subvert its power in my own life.

Slut is what my partner and I call each other, incidently. It's our most loving of pet names, the one we whisper when we're closest, the one that brings us together as a team and celebrates our shared generous attitude towards sex. Plus it's fun to say, a secret little snake slipping on your tongue. I'm sorry that it still bites other people, but we all have to develop our own resistance to its poison.
posted by Freyja at 7:16 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


>>"Faggot" carried an implicit threat of violence, "queer" was more a threat of a lorgnette-sighting.

this was certainly not the case in arkansas in the 90s.


Oh, fair enough, nadawi. I'm on the east coast. And I didn't mean to imply that I thought "queer" had lost it's pejorative meaning or that it wasn't still used as an insult, just that it had slipped down a few notches in the hierarchy of homophobic insults.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 AM on January 21, 2015


yeah, i can see that. i agree that in my area it's mostly slipped down now, but as late as the late 90s it was often paired with violence in my area. when my friends and i proudly called ourselves that it was in the face of shit kickers picking up bricks. it was very much a "fuck yes i'm queer, come at me."
posted by nadawi at 9:36 AM on January 21, 2015


How does me referring to myself as a slut in a proud and unashamed way hurt women of color?

I'm a woman of color and kids called me a slut as soon as I grew boobs despite the fact that I hadn't even kissed anyone yet and it was like a joke that a guy would be interested in me at that age. I missed the memo that there are different words for me and slut is like just a white thing.

But yeah people use that word against women just for like, hitting puberty.
posted by zutalors! at 9:55 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]




That said, where I come from, 'slut' is pretty mild as far as insults go.

Where I grew up (a small, ultra-conservative town in Michele Bachmann country), the mindset behind the use of 'slut' was hideous. I grew boobs early, and I grew them large, and for that I was branded a slut and was subjected to years of sexual harassment and assault. Basically, being considered a slut meant that my consent, or lack of it, was meaningless.
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:33 PM on January 22, 2015


Slut cannot be reclaimed because, unlike most prejoratives, it's used not merely out-of-group, but by in-group actors pushing someone out.

As in olden times, it's a dangerous thing to be an exile.
posted by effugas at 3:22 PM on January 23, 2015


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