• Fri, May 27 2011

The Editors Debate: When Is It Okay To Call A Woman A ‘Slut’?

On Wednesday, we mentioned that liberal pundit Ed Schultz will take one week of unpaid leave from MSNBC after he called conservative radio host Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut.” Today, editors Jennifer Wright and Ashley Cardiff penetrate this complex issue from every angle.

Ashley: So, is it ever okay to call a woman a slut? I think it’s obviously not okay in the case of this so-called progressive and that slut from Fox. If you read the full comment, it’s not just misogynistic, it’s also completely unnecessary. Though it’s always unnecessary. I guess what I’m asking is why are you such a slut?

Jennifer: See, it didn’t bother me at all that you called me that. Party because you’re such a goddamn hussy that I can’t take anything you say seriously, but also because… I don’t think that word applies to me? Because I’m comfortable with my sexual identity. It would be kind of like if you called me a faggot. I’d be offended that that’s the kind of word you think in your head, but not offended on a personal level because I’m not a gay man, and therefore it would just make you seem like you didn’t understand how words worked.

Ashley: You’re afforded a kind of luxury in not being offended when I call you a slut, though, because we’re friends and you know it’s in jest and we’re implicitly agreeing it’s okay. Schultz comes off as hateful and misogynistic. Anyway, I’m surprised you’re not more offended because you’re such an uppity tart most of the time.

Jennifer: Why do you have to be such a hurtful harlot? Is it because you only think with what’s between your legs?

Ashley: You mean my four brains down there? Must be weird not to have like 30 goddamn brains and just be A GIANT RAVENOUS MEAT SOCK.

Jennifer: Cockgobbler!

Ashely: Craven skank.

Jennifer: Gobble gobble!

Ashley: I will knock that scarlet lipstick from your hands, you abject whore.

Jennifer: You filthy… wanton… I’m running out of synonyms!

Ashley: Shit. Me too.

Jennifer: Thesaurus.com?

Ashley: Duh, you… jade. …That really doesn’t have the same weight, does it?

Jennifer: Floozy! Floozy just makes you sound like some sort of Fitzgerald-era flapper though, right? Which is interesting, because it points to how the impact of these words gets lost over time. A hundred years ago it would have been cool to call a woman a slut because the word didn’t mean what it now means.

Ashley: What did slut mean 100 years ago?

Jennifer: Wait. I’m an ignorant whore. That word comes up in Chaucer.

Ashley: Man, he thought of everything.

Jennifer: So, fine, if you called a woman that in 1300 they wouldn’t know what you meant. They’d be like “eh, I don’t care, going to resume my plague avoidance routine.”

Ashley: “Shine yer balls fer a shillin’ gov’nah!”

Jennifer: You just wandered into Mary Poppins, I think. But! My point was going to be in 50 years the word slut wouldn’t be around, or would seem charmingly quaint.

Ashley: Because we’ll reclaim it or because it will become so overused that it loses impact?

Jennifer: No, I was wrong. It will be around because it’s been going strong for the past 600 years.

Ashley: Yeah, it’s got legs. Like some sort of promiscuous, leg-showing woman.

Jennifer: A slatternly lady of the lexicon, indeed.

Ashley: Okay, but back to the point. Obviously, it’s completely unacceptable for some media bro to call some media ho “a slut.” It’s repulsive. How can he call himself a progressive? It was an awful thing to do.

Jennifer: Yes!

Ashley: But I’m unwilling to say that the word itself is inherently offensive. Because you’re a slut and you seem pretty happy-go-lucky about it.

Jennifer: What’s interesting about the word slut to me is that, at this point, it really has very little to do with a woman’s sexual behavior, at least as I hear it used. If a woman wears a twin sweater and doesn’t drink much and is softly spoken and fucks FUCKING EVERYONE she will most likely not be called a slut. Meanwhile, if a girl is more brazen and wild and seems crazier, while having sex with no one, she’ll be branded a slut. I think it has to do more with what we perceive as okay behavior in public – which is different from Chaucer’s use where it actually meant what women did in private.

Ashley: Yeah. Calling a woman a slut is usually just a lazy way of marginalizing her. I mean, I doubt Schultz is intimately acquainted with her and it certainly wouldn’t justify what he said (or matter at all) if he was. But in all seriousness, who doesn’t love a slut in a twin sweater?

Jennifer: Well… my point is that woman (in a twin sweater) won’t be called a slut. It has nothing to do with sexual behavior. It has to do with saying that a woman’s behavior in public is not conservative. Which is ludicrous, right?

Ashley: Right, but the weight of the word is in saying the woman lacks moral virtue. Because a woman’s sexual proclivities are so tied up in her identity and the way she’s perceived.

Jennifer: Yes.

Ashley: I wish you weren’t such an agreeable tramp.

Jennifer: It’s because I’ve had all my brains fucked out! Okay, wait, I think this is funny to us because we’re weirdly secure in our identities. And from that standpoint, we’re INCREDIBLY lucky. I think we can joke about it because we’ve never had reason to feel in the wrong about our behavior.

Ashley: Go on.

Jennifer: I think the word would be much, much more damaging to anyone who had –I mean hell, let’s go there–had some sort of sexual trauma. I can’t imagine how damaging. Which is the reason it shouldn’t be used. I think it’s hilarious because we don’t perceive each other as slutty or think of ourselves that way (and never have)… even though you’re a sperm burper. We can’t make those assumptions about people we don’t know. Maybe we should be careful about making them about people we DO know.

Ashley: I disagree there because–regardless of any sexual trauma–if some talking head called me a slut in a public forum because he disagreed with my politics, it wouldn’t change whether I’m a slut or not but it would certainly make him an asshole. He’d be appealing to peoples’ values to discredit me. And that’s cowardly. …Did you call me a sperm burper?

Jennifer: [It's offensive] because he didn’t know what your experiences had been like and therefore it would be dreadfully insensitive, right? I mean, safe to say this would be a bigger deal if instead of brushing it off, Fox-slut had responded by breaking down in tears, right?

Ashley: No. I’m saying it has nothing to do with her, whether she’s a virgin, she’s been with 1 person or 20 or 100. Her sexual history is irrelevent. He’s still an asshole.

Jennifer: I’m suggesting she might have had a bad experience and we don’t know about it as outsiders. In which case she’s going to have conflicted, difficult feelings about her sexual identity and it’s horrible to throw the word slut in there.

Ashley: Okay, so you’re saying the word “slut” might have a charged meaning for the person accused of being one. I’m saying whether that’s the case or not, it’s unacceptable. I think we both agree that you shouldn’t go around calling people sluts. Additionally, I think we both agree that between the two of us you’re the bigger slut.

Jennifer: Ultimately, I think I’m saying that what he did was potentially cruel, and you’re saying it’s just underhanded and inappropriate. Either way, bad. As for me being the bigger slut, that is technically true and also not true at all! I am wearing a shirt waist dress, have twinset in my purse! You are wearing sexy jeans!

Ashley: Oh no! These jeans are tight and torn! My argument is invalid!

Jennifer: We have agreed it is a meaningless term defined only by public perception!

Ashley: But manipulating public perception of a woman through the use of that term is vile.

Jennifer: Yes.

Ashley: I think we both need to break for an hour and have some anonymous, meaningless sex to clear our heads.

Jennifer: We’re in agreement there. Great! Slutty slutty mcslut slut.

Ashley: Why is your mouth open?

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  • Groovymarlin

    Is it possible that Schultz was using the word “slut” in a more metaphorical way? He pretty clearly called her a “right-wing slut,” I believe, which I interpret not to mean “a conservative woman who sleeps around” but as “a mindless mouthpiece for right-wing talking points.” You know, someone who will debase her own humanity for her chosen political faction.

    Anyway, it’s still offensive.

    • Eileen

      That’s a good point, and one I personally didn’t think of right away…but women often do get called “whore” or “slut” whenever they’re accused of “selling out.” I suppose men do, too, but the words still have a female connotation, so it’s still in a sexist way. I think that annoys me even more than randomly calling women “sluts” because of their sexual behavior (or perceived sexual behavior) – the implication that everything women do has to be described in words that relate to sex.

  • Allison

    Love this line: ” I will knock that scarlet lipstick from your hands, you abject whore.” I’m going to use it. But not on my talk show.

  • porkchop

    I think SLUT really works when the accuser is in pain. Regardless of the woman’s actual sexual history, slut should say: There is a direct, cause/effect relationship between your sexual act and my pain.

    So, if my best friend has sex with loads of people, she is just doing her thing, but if she has sex with my boyfriend, then she is a SLUT. And my boyfriend is also a SLUT.

    Remember in Angela’s Ashes, when Frank gets drunk and calls his mom a slut because she prostituted herself to a relative in exchange for room and board? That was powerful.

  • Cassie

    LMAO. Very very funny.

    As a serious response, I wouldn’t be offended if someone called me a slut because it’s simply not true – by any standards. I’d be offended if someone called me stupid – which is equally untrue – but is more in the “eye-of-the-beholder.”

    If you’re going to insult someone, do it truthfully.

  • annie

    what’s amazing about this is that there’s no real conclusion made but you manage to ridicule every possible side… while ridiculing yourselves using the same rhetoric? and you seem to take it seriously and not even a little seriously at the same time.

    this is why i love you, gloss.

  • Elle

    Can I just say that it doesn’t matter if you are personally offended by the word or not. I always see this claim, the “Oh I don’t care if you call me a slut because I’m secure enough in my sexuality” and it’s fucking bullshit.

    Language constructs our reality, and slut is a word that teaches us that women who express any hint of sexuality are bad and they deserve whatever happens to them. It’s the reason the double standard still thrives, it’s the reason rape victims aren’t taken seriously, the reason politicians love taking away reproductive rights. It’s an oppressive, misogynistic slur, and in my opinion it’s really only okay to use it as a way of reclaiming the word.

  • Meghan Keane

    Nice debate, sluts!

  • Lindsay Cross

    I have to say that personally, I don’t find words like “slut” funny. Because they are insults directly aimed at telling a woman that her sexuality is bad and that having sex makes her a bad person. And while there are lots of strong and confident women who are secure, like both of you wonderful ladies, it’s not nearly as common as it should be. Many women are still conflicted, unsure and have a negative view of their own sexuality. Much of that probably does come from past experiences. So while I don’t think the word “slut” is the root problem for all misogony, I do think that it’s never appropriate.

  • Ashlee

    What I hate is when girls call other girls sluts just because they’re pissed off at them or don’t like them. I recently got into an argument with a girl I haven’t been friends with in over four years because she heard I called her a slut, so as I was walking to class she yelled across a lounge, “Slut slut slut slut slut!!!” I was shocked. I explained to her that 1) I would never call her a slut because I have no idea how she behaves sexually (and frankly, I DON’T CARE), and 2) she has no idea how I behave sexually so her argument sucks.

    It just seems to be a common theme in young women to say, “Oh, she’s such a damn slut, close your legs, whore!” just because said girl is not a part of her group of friends. That just shows what an awful, classless vocabulary some girls have.

  • Nessy

    ‘Strumpet’ is a most excellent synonym for slut. It will spice up any conversation.

  • Ems

    Also – a ‘slut’ and a ‘slattern’ used to mean a woman who was a bad housekeeper and/or made no effort in her appearance. For example if you let the dishes pile up, never swept the floor and had greasy, unwashed hair you were a slut. Obviously, the link with physical dirt and ideas of sexual activity being ‘dirty’ meant the terms got confused.

    Interestingly, only a poor woman could be a ‘slut’. Firstly, because if you are poor, cleanliness and neatness is something that hugely affects your status in the community and shows you have pride in yourself (for many people in developing countries this is still the case), secondly because if you were rich and decided to live like a pig then you were considered ‘eccentric’ or ‘bohemian’. Which would probably happen if you were rich and slept with everyone as well.

    See? So by calling her a ‘slut’ didn’t just mean ‘easy lay’, he’s saying she’s sleazy, greasy and of low social status. Nice!

  • Magda

    My favorite slut word is “Doxie”. In fact I used it recently. I was walking up and down the aisles of a grocery store to pick up booze for a party, when I looked at my friend and said:
    “I feel like I look like a high priced doxie…” I was wearing a tight-as-a -second-skin pencil skirt, and nude (sorry, thats un-PC apparently, let me amend that) light beige 6 inch pumps…

    But in terms of it being ok to call a woman a slut, I feel like that ol’ femminist arguement comes into play where its all like:
    If women call other women bitches, then it makes it ok for men to do it..

    Or something like that. And I’m not going to lie, I call other women sluts. And Im sure I have been called a slut as well. But with derogatory/misogynistic words like cunt, bitch, whore, ect I feel like if I use them, and I can use them in a joking matter, or even refer to myself in those terms, it ceases to be a useful weapon. I dont think it hinders or hurts me. If anything, I feel like using that language is EMPOWERING for me.

    Does that make sense?