Gay men did it with “fag,” African-Americans did it with “nigger” (yes, I typed it even though I’m white, it’s just a word for Christsakes). Now, it’s time to reclaim a word that I used to loathe, a word that still makes me cringe when used it a derogatory manner (not because of the word itself but because of the implications of judgement), a word that I’ve come to embrace: slut.
I was moved to write about this partly by Bitch | Lab’s post about classist implications of the insult “slut;” but it’s also just been hanging out in my head for a little over a year now.
All over the place, “slut” is used as an insult. But I don’t think most people actually stop to think about, and examine, what the insult really means and why. I know I didn’t, in 9th grade when I was calling other girls sluts for some reason or another (often jealousy).
So, first ask yourself: what is your definition of “slut”? (If you’ve already gotten past using it as an insult, this section doesn’t apply to you, since you’ve already done the hard work.) Your answer might be something like, “A girl who gives it away1,” or, “a girl who has sex with lots of guys2” – something like that. Then go a step further and ask yourself, “Okay, well why is [whatever your defintion is] bad?” More and more questions will follow, which you should continue to ask and answer.
If your definition of “slut” was something that included other assumptions – for example, “A girl who has lots of sex because she has low self-esteem” – then you also have to question the validity of those assumptions. Why do you assume she has low self-esteem based on her having “lots” of sex? And so on.
It’s not enough to just go along with neatly packaged, widely accepted sexual mores just because you’ve never had occasion to call them into question. You should call them into question. Why make decisions (and judgements) based on beliefs you haven’t even bothered to examine, but have just accepted at face value?
So, what’s my reclaimed definition of “slut”? A slut is someone who is self-determined, secure in his/her own sexuality, and who does what s/he has found to be right for himself/herself, regardless of whether it’s right for others. Concurrently, s/he doesn’t bedgrudge others the right to make different choices. Whatever s/he does (or doesn’t do), it’s because it’s what s/he wants; s/he won’t be pushed around.
You can see that this definition includes nothing about number of partners, type of clothing worn, gender, sexual orientation, etc. By this definition a virgin could be a slut (and apparently, some are). To be a slut is to be sexually liberated – it has nothing to do with how much or what type of sex you have.
1 Should she be receiving payment instead? Surely that would be even worse, right?
2 Note heterocentric assumptions and a lack of a definition for “lots.”