What ‘slut’ actually means

Men call a woman slut if she’s giving sexual attention he wants to someone else, even if that someone is imaginary.

Women call women sluts when they’re getting attention they want, even if that attention is imaginary.

But that’s how slut is used, not what the word means.

As a lover of words I really like Slut. It’s a power word. You can draw out those first three letters as long as you want and then punch that T nice and clear. Do it, it’s fun.

And slut is in the club of words that a group has tried to ‘take back’, to own in a way that implies strength.

Skank is kind of a fun word but it’s never going to get that level of power and nuance. Although I am seeing some use of hoe in a lighthearted, non-condemning way so we’ll see on that one.

Also I treat Instagram as the pulse of youth nation.

Anyway back to them sluts. I think the word slut means selling yourself low. Like if you hang out with someone you don’t like because they have beer, you’d be kind of a beer slut, but if you also didn’t like or make any distinction about the kind of beer they were offering then you’d truly be a slut.

So calling someone a slut for rejecting sexual advances makes no sense. If they were a slut they would have accepted your advance even though you’re clearly not a prize. It’s a meaningless insult. Meaningless insults disgust me, I say go for the meaningful ones if you’re a baller.

Calling someone a slut for receiving attention you want is a bit trickier. It’s implying that she is only getting the attention because the giver feels an elevated chance of success. The meaning is that the accuser is more discerning than the accused. It’s a petty self-defense mechanism. It’s saying she has all the attention but I have all the standards so I’m actually better. It’s just kind of shitty to throw another woman under the bus in order to feel that way.

The positive thing to do if you feel that way is know that instead of focusing on broad appeal you have a specific value and that means that although you may meet fewer people when you do meet someone they’re usually right for you because they’re not drawn by something superficial. Fulfillment comes not from having the most open options but from making single, strong, meaningful choices.

Again, back to them sluts. The Last Living Slut by Roxana Shirazi (good read, mixed feelings, which is what you want out of an interesting book) tries to make slut an empowering self-identifier. And I’m not sure it works and neither does the Ho Is Life trope but what it does is highlight that we don’t have a word for a woman who likes sex and is in control. Shirazi only sleeps with rock stars. That’s a high selling bench mark and furthermore she makes fun of girls who sleep with roadies to get close to stars, which is actually selling low and therefore calling them actual sluts. I’ve known women who have sex with exactly whoever they want and no one else and we just don’t have a short hand term for that.

I don’t have a firm answer on the use in the context of the Slut Walk or Riot Grrls writing SLUT on themselves at shows. They’re not trying to turn the word into a positive, they’re taking a label given to them and throwing it back in the giver’s face by wearing it. Which, I think, reminds the giver of the humanity of the labelled person. Instead of turning the other cheek it’s turning the same cheek back so the person has to think about the fact that they just slapped you.

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Gender, Pop Culture
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