Almanac

Between the Sheets: Learning about slut shaming and how we can 'Beat It'

Let’s consider slutty brownies for a moment; craveable cookie dough on the bottom, warm and gooey brownie on the top, with a layer of still-crunchy oreos in between—a combination so unforgivingly delicious it makes people feel guilty about enjoying it. 

Whoever named this dessert had the right idea about what it means to be “slutty”—divinely indulgent and not apologizing for it. Unfortunately, when we apply this label to people it seems to take on a different definition. 

Perhaps the reason we can’t seem to shake the urge to shame women for the choices they make is because using the term “slut” to negatively describe women has been ingrained in our culture since 1450. 

By scrolling around on the good ol’ Oxford English Dictionary, one can find delightful definitions for “slut,” such as “kitchen-maid” or “drudge,” “slut-hole” meaning a literal hole for garbage and, my personal favorite (and the future name of any business I might own—hopefully a pub or tavern), “slut’s corner” which is “a corner left unclean by a sluttish person.”  

While other definitions of “slut” may come and go, the tried and true 1450 definition never leaves us, “A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy.” 

It says quite a lot about the way we feel about sexuality—specifically female sexuality—that “bold” women or women who enjoy sex are, by definition, “loose” or of “low character”—no matter if they’re from 1450 or 2016.

While the word itself has a troubled past, it’s the way I hear it used constantly that I have a real problem with. Men say it about women, girls say it about other girls, mothers say it about other women in front of their daughters, but no matter whose lips are uttering the slur, there is a negative impact. We cannot expect women and girls to grow into confident adults when we constantly criticize the choices they make about their sexuality. Luckily, y’all can help change it!  

There are a few combative strategies I like to utilize when I hear slut shaming happening, and in order to help remember them I’ve categorized them based on musical icons. 

Bieber them: Ask the person, “What do you mean?” This is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to stop slut shaming in its tracks, but it also requires careful delivery to not come off as preachy. 

SHAMER: That girl is a such a huge slut. 

AWESOME PERSON: “What do you mean?” 

SHAMER: Well, she fucks a lot of dudes (what they—probably-—really mean is “well, she enjoys sex and doesn’t think having multiple sexual partners determines a person’s character, and I find that threatening.”)  

From here the conversation could go many different ways, but it’s important to stay calm and genuinely inquisitive, not accusatory. 

Gently nudging the conversation forward with simple questions forces the shamer to think about what they just said, but it’s important not to tell them what they think. Saying “So you think any woman who likes to have sex is a slut?” will turn the person off from the conversation. 

Run DMC them aka get tricky: Sometimes being a little tricky by flipping around someone’s words is super effective. 

A mother and child are sitting at brunch, chatting it up 

SHAMER MOM: Did you see Sharon’s blouse this morning? It was awfully revealing…

COOL KID: Yeah, I did notice how great she looked! 

Now Shamer Mom has to make the choice between clarifying what she meant (and looking like a jerk in the process), or realizing she was being destructive, and taking a lesson from her cool kid. 

Adele them aka make them feel your love: For notorious slut shamers, sometimes predicting what they are going to say and allying with the potential shaming victim can shut the shaming down before it even begins. 

A notorious slut shamer (Shamey for short), and their friend are watching TV when a commercial for the Shmarshmashians reality show comes on, Shmoé Shmarshmashian makes a comment about how horny she has been lately. The shamer’s clairvoyant friend (Clair for short) looks over at the Shamer and can tell they are about to be a huge downer by slut shaming Shmoé. 

CLAIR: Wow I love Shmoé, I can totally relate to her! 

Clair looks over at Shamey apprehensively, in anticipation of how they will respond.  

Shamey thinks about commenting on the “slutty” comment Shmoé made, but now realizes that would mean offending Clair. 

SHAMEY: Yeah I love that she’s so open about her sexuality… 

Clair smiles triumphantly as she realizes her victory and takes a moment to bask in a successful teachable moment. 

But, Anna—one might ask—what if I don’t agree with what the person on TV is saying, what then? Find something else positive about the person to focus on before your friend can say anything uncool. 

Of course, there is always a fourth option for when the slut shamer just won’t quit: Michael Jackson them aka tell them to Beat It! 

Two bros are kicking it. 

SLUT SHAMER: Ugh, Hillary is such a slut. 

FED UP FRIEND: No one slut shames Hill-dog in my house, please leave. 

Fed Up Friend walks over to speaker and begins playing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” while staring vacantly at Slut Shamer until he uncomfortably exits the home.  

This is, of course, an extreme option and should only be resorted to when the styles of JBiebs, Run DMC and Adele just won’t cut it. 

I feel it is important to point out the distinct difference between calling somebody a slut (slut shaming) and claiming “slut” as a take-back term. If a person knows the history of the word and finds it empowering to subvert the original meaning by using it as a sex-positive label for themselves, that is their prerogative.  However, that does not give others the right to start using it when describing them.  

Notice the difference between someone saying, “I was a huge slut freshman year, it was so fun and amazing!” and someone else saying, “She was such a slut freshman year!” Even if the person thinks they’re using it in a positive way because they have heard the person use it as a label themselves, it’s still a no-go to assert an opinion about someone else’s choices and actions.  

It is also important to take a step back and recognize when the person doing the slut shaming is staring back at you in the mirror. We’ve all been guilty of a negative thought about someone before (damn you, societal messaging), but having the maturity to shift one’s own thinking to a sex-positive ideology is the key to actually accomplishing change. 

Do you have any strategies or personal anecdotes about taking down slut shaming? Also, if you were to stumble upon a tavern called “Slut’s Corner,” would you stop in for a brew? Anna would love to hear about it at sex@dailycardinal.com! 

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