In London next month women will be march to reclaim the word “slut”. I’m shocked by this; I thought we lost that word to the gays years ago. I assumed that like a battered wife determined on a new start, it had moved to Brighton, got a makeover and was now happily describing the shenanigans of gay sexual culture with a jauntiness straight women never quite managed.
But apparently not, a Canadian cop was censured for suggesting women could prevent sexual attacks if they stopped dressing like one. Who knew rapists were so picky? I‘ve never heard of a woman on the brink of being assaulted before her assailant realised skinny jeans were doing nothing for her.
Sluts like the poor have always been with us. Ever since there was property to be passed down the family line, patriarchal society needed to ensure that their male heirs were all Wills and not Harrys. Whenever women have enjoyed any level of sexual freedom, and only the rich of course, it was usually followed by a period of balancing repression. The relative independence of 18th century women was in hindsight blamed as a progressive imbalance that led to the French revolution and resulted in an even stricter Victorian attitude. Ideas such as the medical theory that STDs were spread by the female orgasm made female sexual innocence more important than ever. Since the idea of female sexual independence is barely fifty years old, it’s not surprising a cultural myth as potent as the wanton woman has survived into the modern age.
I’ve only ever heard the word used by a male friend once, a vinegary wash of anger, frustration and spitefulness spreading across his face like lights going up at the end of a night club. It always reveals much more about the man than the woman he’s describing. They are usually describing a woman they’re sure is having lots of sex just not with them. Or if they have slept with them, this proves in their wonderland of self hatred, that they’re soiled nasty goods.
For women, the word “slut” has nothing to do with clothes. Yes we don’t, in general, really appreciate it when other women dress excessively provocatively but that’s more to do with the sober reality that, no matter how sharp your banter is, a flash of flesh will distract the most thoughtful of men. It’s irritating at worst; easy, obvious and equivalent to undercutting in business or crossing a picket line, but it’s not a hate crime.
Slut is a word not really used against women who sleep around a lot either. Most women feel a mixture of concern and rueful recognition for any sister going through that period of her life. Just as the scary witches were often lonely herbalists, the tear stained reality of the woman who will gladly have sex with strangers is usually less glamorous than men’s magazines suggest. They are, by and large, vulnerable, insecure and clumsily working through dormant issues with sole aid of their genitals and vodka. The rule of thumb being, if you don’t really like, respect, or even know the majority of the people you’re sleeping with, then maybe you’re not as happy as you think are. It’s a sentiment equally true for men too.
Women only bring out the S bomb to describe someone who has messed around with someone they care about. The women that steal boyfriends, cheat on their mates or sleep with someone to get an opportunity they didn’t deserve. These women never lose control, self respect and never ever sleep around.
So if, in reality, these larky sex mad “sluts” of the popular imagination don’t really exist how on earth did that Canadian cop feel confident that he could not only recognise one but practically knew where she shopped?
It’s because she is everywhere. You only have to log onto the internet, turn on a music channel or walk into a news agents to see this mystical slag, this chimera of fear and loathing, She Who Must be Laid, staring downing at you, watching your every move, like a humourless sexually available Big Brother. She has no personality, no sense of humour and no clothes on. Her sexiness taken rather than shared, her own pleasure irrelevant, completely defined by her yearning, panting, unquenchable desire for casual sex, especially with the fifteen year old boys the magazines advertisers are targeting. The bitter irony that most women are at their flirtiest, filthiest and most experimental with men they trust, like and respect tragically lost on them for the next twenty years at least.
Call me crazy, call me naïve but wouldn’t it be lovely if the term “slut” gradually fell out of use? If it could quietly slip unnoticed out of modern parlance and join “spinster” “crone” and “witch” as an outdated silly cartoon from the past. Maybe then, if we are very lucky, and fight really hard, many years from now, women would feel free to dress up as one every year for Hallowe’en. I know, I can’t imagine it either…