Tuesday, May 13, 2014

About the word SLUT

Guest blog written by: Karmilla Kamy Pillay Siokos

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about the word Slut. A lot of it was inspired by a Canadian police officer who said that women should stop dressing like sluts in order to avoid being raped. The people of Toronto were outraged by this level of victim blaming by the very people who are supposed to serve and protect (citizens not rapists) and organized the first Slutwalk in April 2011. As the movement spread around the world, the discussion about the word slut grew around it. Some people felt sympathy with the idea of protesting victim blaming but were not comfortable with the word slut so changed the name to walk of no shame. Some felt that it was racially unacceptable. Some of those in favour of the word want to use it for shock value to get the attention of people who have reached their “compassion threshold”. Others want to deconstruct the word or reclaim it – here we enter the field of academic feminism where we lose the majority of people when we start using specific jargon. My aim is to bring this discussion out of the academic ivory towers into an arena that is accessible to the everyday world.


In the context of Slutwalk the word Slut works on 2 levels.

The first is fairly straight forward. Think about the word Slut. Picture every association you have with that word.  Most people see sluts as women only. They have ideas about what kinds of women are sluts, based on dressing, alcohol consumption, the type/colour of make-up she wears, the kinds of clubs she goes to… The list is endless. There are a lot of prejudices that lead us to have negative ideas about certain kinds of women. We call these women sluts and look down at them. 

Now here’s the challenge. Even these women do not deserve to be raped because NOBODY deserves to be raped. Even Sluts have the right to say no. Even Sluts get to choose their sexual partners. No matter how you feel about any women or group of women or type of women, that does not take away their right to safety and dignity.

On this level repeating and publicly drawing awareness to the word slut forces people to look at how far the “no means no” principle actually extends. People need to look at the point at which they start to assume that somebody is “asking for it”. They need to start questioning that mentality that says the certain types of people deserve to be raped. That is usually enough to get most people on board with the idea of using the word Slut. 

The second level of discussion of the word Slut really pushes the envelope in a way that even hard core feminists argue against. The word Slut can be empowering. Yes that is actually what I said. It is not a typo. The word Slut can actually be empowering.

I proudly referred to my early 20s as my Slut phase long before that Canadian police officer even started training to get his badge. It was a reaction to being raped rather than the reason for it. There is a sense of power and control in being able to walk into a club, pick out the hottest guy on the dance floor and say to my friends, “That’s the one I’m taking home tonight.” It was about reclaiming authority over my own body. It was about taking back my right to choose. The way I dressed and behaved wasn’t about getting the attention of every man in the place; it was about having the confidence to know that I could have anyone I chose. This is why the word “Slutwalk” jumped out of the newspaper headlines at me in July 2011.

So, let’s say the word SLUT out loud. All together now, “SLUT”.

There are so many other words that mean the same thing, with the female association - whore (lately shortened to HO), bitch, hussy, harlot… Now think of the words with a male association. Think about the words men get – playa, Casanova, gigolo…

If we look at these words without our conditioned negative or positive reactions we will find that they all describe the same basic quality: SEXUAL CONFIDENCE.

One of the key factors in creating and maintaining a rape culture is the way we are taught to respond to this quality according to gender. 

From the moment our little girls are born, we dress them in pink and wrap them up and protect them. We treat them like soft, delicate, helpless little flowers. We teach them that it is okay to cry but not to hit. As they grow older we teach them to wear make-up, but not too much, only certain colours are suitable for respectable girls. Bright red lipstick is a no-no. It makes you look slutty. We encourage them to focus on their dressing; to look attractive, but not too attractive. The wrong kind of clothes make you look like a prostitute – this is meant as the worst, most shocking insult. We teach them that good girls don’t drink (well at least not in public and definitely not in the company of men). Good girls don’t do a lot of things. Most importantly good girls remain virgins until their wedding nights. We also teach girls that sex is your duty to your husband. You owe it to him to produce male heirs and that’s about all that good girls need to know about sex. Their femininity is defined by their “innocence”. There is the ridiculous chewing gum metaphor that all sex education teachers use when talking to girls. Once you’ve been used you have no hope of finding a “decent” man. Nobody wants to chew somebody else’s used chewing gum. Good girls protect their virginity at all costs. 

 So of course when they are raped, they blame themselves and so does the rest of society. This is why women do not report rape. They “know” that it was their fault. They must have been asking for it. No man would rape a good girl. Only bad girls deserve to be raped. Only “sluts” deserve to be raped. So they assume blame and remain silent for fear of being judged and shamed and having all of their doubts about themselves confirmed. The rapist gets away with the crime and goes on to prey on a new victim. He’s already chewed that piece of gum. It’s time to move on to a different flavour.

Now let’s look at what we teach our boys. 

From the moment they are born we dress them in blue and start to toughen them up. It’s okay to hit but not to cry. As they grow older we teach them to be good providers and protectors. They must take care of their sisters, who are weak and helpless. They must be gentlemen, but only to certain types of women. We teach them that they must sow their wild oats. It is their duty and their right to bed as many women as possible before they get married. Their masculinity is defined by their conquests. Their wives on other hand must be virgins. This presents a bit of a problem.  Where do they get all this experience if girls are supposed to be saving themselves for their husbands? 

This is where the sluts come in. There is a class of women who actually enjoy sex. They wear provocative clothing and bright make up. They can’t be bothered to hide in the kitchen with the good girls to drink and smoke. These are the girls you can have your way with. If they do say no, they’re only playing hard to get so you just have to force them a bit. After all everything else is saying that they want it. And if one of those isn’t handy and you can’t control yourself around a “good” girl well, who is she going to tell anyway? It would bring shame to her own family? Everybody would know that she wasn’t a virgin anymore.
Good luck finding her a husband.

For me, challenging this cultural conditioning is what taking back the word Slut is all about. It’s about teaching the world that women have an equal right to express ourselves as sexual beings. We have the right to wear whatever we choose, drink as much alcohol as we want, be out after dark… and still choose our sexual partners without being forced into submission by anybody who thinks that our choices are a general invitation. We are taking back the word slut together with the right to say no and the freedom to say yes, both without prejudice.

Written by Karmilla Kamy Pillay Siokos
Country: South Africa
Article originally posted on A Womb with a View
Karmilla is also active within the Slutwalk movement in Johannesburg. For more information, see her facebook page.

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