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Running Head: REWORKING THE TERM ‘SLUT’

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Reworking the term “slut:” An analysis of the sexual double standard and the history of “the slut” Laura P. Lora Pace University

REWORKING THE TERM ‘SLUT’ Reworking the term “slut:” An analysis of the sexual double standard and the history of “the slut”

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Women and men all over the country hear and/or use this word on a daily basis. Often heard in conversation, this adjective is not only used casually but has also been portrayed in the diversified outlets of mass media for what seems like forever. Today, it is rare to find a person in America whose ears or eyes have escaped the letters reading, or the images suggesting, “slut.” Regularly carrying a negative connotation, the term slut is commonly known to describe a female that dresses in tight or revealing clothing, acts in a flirtatious manner, enjoys sex, has sex a lot, or is even rumored to participate in sexual activity. However, the term is so frequently used in popular culture that a woman can be targeted and labeled a “slut” regardless of whether or not she dresses provocatively, whether or not she has or likes sex, and whether she has one partner or a hundred. The usage of the word has become mainstream despite of the meaning of the word being lost amongst all of its contemporary versions. But the term is continued to be used for one thing: to hate on women. Feminists have put a name to the persisting problem: “slut-shaming”. There is a considerable amount of research that elaborates on the ways in which slutshaming is harmful to society and how it is used to silence women, but there is a limited amount of work that covers relevant material concerning the origins of the term “slut”, the basis for the sexual double standard and the solution to the ongoing problem. Thus, by evaluating multiple secondary sources such as empirical work, survey data, non-fiction narrative and scholarship on the related topic, this new research paper will seek to expose the terminology behind the term “slut”, unveil the myths behind the archetype of the slut and analyze the sexual double standard. Furthermore, this research will prove that the term “slut” can potentially be reworked the way “queer”, as a term of abuse, has been appropriated to become an emblem of pride and visibility.

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Today, the term slut is related to a myriad of derogatory words that ferociously attack women’s sexuality. These words include, but are not limited to: “whore”, “tramp”, “bitch”, “skank”, “hoe”, “prostitute”, “nympho”, “bimbo”, “loose woman”, etc. While the ultimate origin of the word is doubtful, Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary (2001) traces “sluttish” back to the fourteenth century when it was not yet a gender-specific word and depicted “a dirty or untidy” man or woman. In the mid-fifteenth century, the word is used in reference to “a kitchen maid, a drudge”. During this time, also, the hard pieces in a bread loaf from imperfect baking are called “slut pennies” (Harper, 2001). Towards the end of the century, the word takes the “more pejorative gender meaning” of a “bold”, “impudent”, “saucy” or “brazen” girl, Feona Attwood (2007) explains. A playful use of the word, without implication of loose morals, is attested in the 1660’s: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily” (Pepsys, 1664). This version of the term does not last and its connotation changes again, this time being exclusively associated to women and denoting “promiscuous woman”. In the nineteen hundreds, slut is used several times as a euphemism for bitch to describe a female dog. Around this time, words in the German and English dialects emerge around the term slut to mean “sloppy”, “slovenly woman”, and tend to evolve toward “woman of loose morals”. By the twentieth century, slut had become a “widespread term of abuse for women who did not accept the double standards of society” (Attwood, 2007, p. 233). In summary, the slut has historically characterized a “woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits”. There is a visible pattern here: the word “dirty” continuously surfaces in the history of the term. This observation indicates that the primary attribute of a slut is not promiscuity but dirt, a type of dirty that serves also as an indicator of class (Attwood, 2007). Perceived as a source of pollution, women have eternally fought to remain immaculately clean for men. Still today, the

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contemporary woman is hunted by the threat of dirt. No woman’s house is ever dusted, mopped, vacuumed, and disinfected enough. No female body can ever be washed, deodorized, perfumed and depilated often enough. To be entirely free of dirt, women suffer. Ironically, men enjoy the right to be dirty. Because “dirt” is also an indicator of class, men are not expected to be clean: they are beyond dirtiness. While men can be as filthy as they desire, women have to remain “pure” in all aspects of their lives, even in the sheets. When it comes to sex, women can be as dirty as men, but they do not have the same right to act out their fantasies. It is in respect to this idea that Germaine Greer (2011) asks women to demand their right to be dirty. In their quest for liberation, women have to abandon the practices of “perpetual cleansing” and have to be able “to say: ‘Yes, I am a slut. My house could be cleaner. My sheets could be whiter. I could be without sexual fantasies too – pure as the untrodden snow – but I'm not. I'm a slut and proud’” (Greer, 2011). To reach this level of liberation, women have to resort not only to leaving their notions of cleanliness behind but to embracing being dirty in all sense of the word. By these means, women have to be able to explore their sexuality and destroy the boundaries that have been established by men in their notion of slut equals “bad”. A task like this will be especially difficult for girls and teenagers that live in a world which often mystifies the character of the slut to an extreme. Emily White (2002) describes the high school slut as a universal figure that embodies wrongdoing. Despite of having her mischievous stories spread out in the hallways, her sexual encounters explicitly discussed over recess and her victims written out in the bathroom walls, White (2002) discovers that the slut has rarely done anything of what she is accused. In her research, White (2002) finds the qualities that lead a girl to be labelled a slut. “Many of these girls experienced precocious puberty: breasts and hips when all the other girls were in training

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bras. Many had also experienced incest or some form of childhood abuse, which resulted in the feeling of being a sexual freak or outcast. Many of them also revealed a tendency toward extroversion: they were not afraid of cussing someone out, talking dirty or, wearing short skirts to school” (White, 2002, p. 17). But once labeled a slut, always a slut, and there is nothing to be done about it. Often times, girls have been left with no other alternative but to leave their schools because even their own girl friends would turn their backs on them. White explains, “girls have so little access to pornography that their sexual imaginations do not have much of a visual element... Thus the slut and her rumored acts exist in an elliptical darkness; her techniques are a mystery” (White, 2002, p. 134). Girls, lacking society’s acceptance and encouragement to explore their own bodies and sexuality, feel threatened by a peer who supposedly knows sexual tricks and skills of which they have never heard (Johnson, 2002). Living in a limbo, teenagers attempt to compromise between messages of excessive sex as bad and their raging hormones. White (2002) states that teenagers try to make sense of this contradiction by drawing lines of good and bad: “By turning one girl into the slut among them, the kids try to reassure themselves that they are on the right side of fate: they are good while she is evil... They have the right kind of desire while she has the wrong kind” (White 2002, p. 59). If this is just a stage in adolescence, does that mean that slut-shaming is, to some extent, normal and, therefore, acceptable? No. Slut-shaming is terribly damaging, and not only to teenage girls but to all women. Fearful of being considered a “slut,” many girls and women do not carry or use contraception, leading to unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and life-threatening diseases, explains Leora Tanenbaum (2002). Slut-shaming shows that sexism is still alive and that boys and girls grow up learning different sexual expectations and identities. It “sends the message to

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all girls, no matter how ‘pure’ their reputations, that men and boys are free to express themselves sexually, but women and girls are not” (Tanenbaum, 2002). Slut-shaming serves as evidence of the ongoing sexual double standard that should have been eliminated ages ago. Double standards are nothing new. Women deal with them every day. The popular saying that women who sleep around are “sluts” while men are “studs” tops the extensive list of women-hating double standards. Men grow “distinguished and sexily gray” as they age while women just get “saggy and haggard”. Working moms are labeled “bad” for focusing on their careers while the occasional stay-at-home dad is cheered on. A young woman has to be both virginal and provocatively enticing at the same time (Valenti, 2008). These double standards are all part of pop culture but the sexual double standard takes the starring role. In the Free Dictionary, the double standard of sexual behavior is defined as “a code that permits greater sexual freedom for men than for women” (Farlex, 2003). D'emilio and Freedman’s (1988) widely cited book Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, provide a timeline of American perspectives on sexual relationships that exposes the precise factors that led to the creation of the sexual double standard. The book’s main argument is that over the past three centuries, the notions of sexuality have experienced extensive transformations. In the colonial period, marriage was the proper place for sexuality and procreation regarded as sex’s proper function. By the mid-nineteenth century, as a growing acceptance of contraception “loosened the link” between sex and reproduction, sex was increasingly associated with “mutuality, personal intimacy, and spiritual transcendence” (Seidman, 1995). Since the late nineteenth century, the tie between sexuality and marriage weakened even further as the growth of cities diluted “small-town” thinking and sexual norms as young people gained increasing opportunities for sexual relations outside of marriage, and as

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growing consumer culture encouraged “an acceptance of pleasure self -gratification, and personal satisfaction” (Seidman, 1995). “Despite the sexual revolution, despite three decades of feminism, despite the Pill, and despite legalized abortion” teens initiated having sex, but at the same time they were also looking down on others, especially girls, who were sexually active. (Tanenbaum, 2000, p. 4) Still today, teenage girls are defined by their sexuality and women are subject to deeply sexist social and cultural values, or what some activist groups are defining as “rape culture” (Ringrose and Renold, 2012). In this so called rape culture, there is the belief that “women are the bearers of morality,” and that this morality is held within the female body (Ringrose and Renold, 2012). Based on a loosely scientific theory of male sexuality, some are convinced that women provoke in men somewhat of an electromagnetic biological force that will lead to uncontrollable hormonal sexual desire. “Thus, we come to the overwhelming sexual regulation over women’s bodies: when the female body is believed to be a tool of sorcery and seductio n” (Ringrose and Renold, 2012, p.334). The body is the basis for the distinction between the sexes. However, many gender differences have little to do with the biological body, and much more to do with the differential socialization of boys and girls in interaction with the body. (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997). It has been well-documented that women are objectified more than men: Women's bodies are more often looked at and sexualized, explain Wiederman and Hurst (1998). “Sexual objectification occurs whenever a woman's body, body parts or sexual functions are separated out from her person, reduced to the status of mere instruments, or regarded as if they were capable of representing her” (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997, p. 176). In other words, when objectified,

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women are treated as bodies that exist for the exclusive use and pleasure of others. As a result, women are constantly exposed to a culture that frequently reduces them to their sexual value. Excessive encounters of sexual objectification can lead to the practice of habitual body monitoring which increase “women's opportunities for shame and anxiety, reduce opportunities motivational states, and diminish awareness of internal bodily states” (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997, p. 175). “Because women are vigilantly aware of their outer bodily appearance, they may be left with fewer perceptual resources available for attending to inner body experience,” explain Fredrickson and Roberts (1997). This perspective predicts that the particular social contexts that highlight women's awareness of observers' evaluations of their bodies would be associated with a corresponding muting of inner sensations. (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997, p. 185) Furthermore, objectification of the female body narrows girls’ “space for action”, their aspirations and achievements, by re-defining femininity and beauty as of most importance, but also the negative impact on sexual relationships and interactions (Coy, 2009). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) analyze main programming, music videos, films, women's magazines, and sports photography to provide evidence that women's bodies are targeted for sexual objectification more often than men's. The tendency to sexualize the female body is explained by Wiederman and Hurst (1998) as that “women's physical attractiveness indirectly signals reproductive value, and so evaluating women's physical attributes has become an important criterion in men's mate selection”. Meghan Murphy (2012) argues that the cultural practice of objectifying female bodies originated to create, maintain, and express patriarchy. Murphy (2012) elaborates: “Patriarchy doesn’t want women to feel good about themselves. Feeling bad means boob jobs and Girls Gone Wild and faking orgasms. Feeling bad means trying

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to please men above all else. It means you will keep reaching for this thing you can never have. Because pleasing men will never give you real power. Patriarchy thrives on women insecurities.” Emphasized by patrilineal principles, a very common tool in controlling women is guilt. In order to subdue female empowerment, men have resorted to making women feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that deviate from the “norm”, i.e. what men have established is unacceptable for a “decent” woman to do. In the experiment by D'Augelli and Cross (1975), results showed sex guilt was inversely related to sex experience. Less guilt was associated with increasing liberality of sexual philosophy. “Adamant virgins, for instance, tended to be higher in sex guilt than potential nonvirgins”, explain D'Augelli and Cross (1975). Results corroborate that women are sexually suppressed by society, having guilt as the focal factor to not engage in sexual relations. To avoid being called names, women have repressed their sexual desires and have attempted to completely disregard their sexuality. These findings were the basis for a study conducted approximately fifteen years later. In Snell and Papini’s (1989) experiment, findings indicated that whereas there were no gender differences on the measures of sexualesteem and sexual-depression, men reported higher levels of sexual-preoccupation than did women (Snell and Papini’s, 1989, p. 261). Such a finding is consistent with the notion that men focus more on their sexuality than women. It is that very same notion that women need to challenge. In order to be on the same level as men, women need to neglect the guilt and shame patriarchy has throughout history inflicted on female sexuality. Women will have to challenge themselves and learn to be subjects, not objects: recognizing feelings of desire and experiencing sexual pleasure. Turning away from the subject/object dichotomy might lead women to develop ways of being sexual that are more individualized and satisfying than simply accepting what the culture and the media think is sexy.

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To be able to carry the label slut with pride, women not only have to claim their right to be dirty, but they also need to break paradigms in their minds. Women will need to disassociate the term “slut” as something wrong to avoid committing girl on girl crimes. Coming together by reclaiming “slut” as a political category of unity will, thus, refuse the destructive and projective force of slut shaming as a form of sexual regulation that circulates between girls and women when they attack other women for dressing like “sluts” and “whores” to “get male attention” (Ringrose and Renold, 2012). While the term “slut” has clearly taken on its meaning in the context of a sexual double standard that conceives of women’s sexuality in terms of “a Madonna–Whore binary,” a diverse range of contemporary uses suggests that it need not be understood in this way. (Atwood 2007) Evidence that the word can take on different meanings and perform different functions can be traced in a range of late twentieth century texts: “‘Slut Manifesto’ by Lizzard Amazon, ‘Macho Sluts’ by Pat Califia, ‘The Sluts & Goddesses Video Workshop’ by Annie Sprinkle and M. Beatty, and ‘The Ethical Slut’ by Easton and Liszt” (Attwood, 2007, p. 234). What these texts share is a positive re-evaluation of sexual promiscuity worked through “a mobilization” of the “slut” persona. For example, from “a woman whose sexuality is voracious, indiscriminate and shameful” to reclaiming it for “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you” (Attwood, 2007, p. 234). For these writers, to be an ethical slut is to be a force for good. Reworking the term is the refusal of slut as a signifier of shame, in particular, the attempt to explicitly transform it through mass political action. (p. 336) Taking the word queer as the most common example of re-signification, conceives how an injurious term is re-worked in the cultural domain from one of maligning to one of celebration.

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In embracing the ideal of freedom of sexual expression, school administrators, law enforcement, and legislators might experience implications on issues concerning the prosecution of issues such as sexting. Sexting, “sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images, including nude or semi-nude photographs, via cellular telephones or over the Internet,” will constitute a major problem if indeed sexting is considered as a form of expression. Nonetheless, whatever concern authority figures may have over the misuse of such images, when self-taken and intended for personal, private use, the harm of their existence is minimal. Moreover, “this minimal harm is further diminished when one considers the harm inflicted by the secondary effects of the punishment, namely the perpetuation of a culture of slut-shaming” (Gong and Hoffman, 2012, p. 577). The impacts of the reworking of the term slut and, thus, the eradication of the sexual double standard on the prosecution of sexting, should be analyzed for further discussion. An understanding of the differing contexts in which women struggle over sex, culture and terminology is clearly important in appreciating what is at stake in the struggle of reworking the term “slut”. By examining a wide range of secondary sources the study was able to provide a rich rapport of the history and terminology of the word “slut”, the qualities and perceptions of the high school slut and its societal role as a scape goat, and an in-depth analysis of the double standard of sexual behavior and its implications on women’s life. “Certainly, ‘slut’ has its limits, threatening to obscure as much as it illuminates and always running the risk of merely reproducing a form of ‘hate speak’ against women” (Attwood, 2007). Nonetheless the research findings establish that the word slut can be reworked as that of “queer”. Perhaps the word may one day mean something along these lines: “fierce woman in control of all aspects of her life”.

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REWORKING THE TERM ‘SLUT’ References Attwood, F. (2007). Sluts and Riot Grrrls: Female Identity and Sexual Agency. Journal Of Gender Studies, 16(3), 233-247. Bamberg, M. (2004). Form and Functions of ‘Slut Bashing’ in Male Identity Constructions in 15-Year-Olds. Human development, 47(6), 331-353.

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Coy, M. (2009). Milkshakes, lady lumps and growing up to want boobies: how the sexualisation of popular culture limits girls' horizons. Child Abuse Review, 18(6), 372-383. D'Augelli, J. F., & Cross, H. J. (1975). Relationship of sex guilt and moral reasoning to premarital sex in college women and in couples. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 43(1), 40-47. D'emilio, J., & Freedman, E. B. (1988). Intimate matters: A history of sexuality in America. University of Chicago Press. Farlex, I. (2003). Double standard of sexual behavior. In The Free Dictionary. Retrieved July 7, 2013, from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/double+standard+of+sexual+behavior Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173-206. Gill, Rosalind. (2012) The Sexualisation of Culture? Journal of Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(7) 483-498. Gong, L., & Hoffman, A. (2012). Sexting and Slut-Shaming: Why prosecution of teen selfsexters harms women. Georgetown Journal Of Gender & The Law, 13(2), 577-589. Greer, G. (2011). These 'slut walk' women are simply fighting for their right to be dirty. The Telegraph. Retrieved July 5, 2013,from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/women _shealth/8510743/

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REWORKING THE TERM ‘SLUT’ Harper, D. (2001). Slut. In Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=slut Johnson, S. (2002). Review of Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut, by Emily White. Iris: A Journal About Women, 64(3). Retrieved July 3, 2013, from http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/review_ fastgirls.html Lamb, S. (2008). The 'Right' Sexuality for Girls. Chronicle of Higher Education. pp. B14-B15.

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Murphy, M. (2012). It's not 'slut-shaming', it's woman hating. Feminist Current. Retrieved July 6, 2013, from http://feministcurrent.com/6845/its-not-slut-shaming-its-woman-hating/ Pepys, S. (1664). February 1664. In The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Retrieved July 6, 2013, from http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/summary/1664/ Ringrose, J. (2011). Are you sexy, flirty or a slut? Exploring ‘sexualization’ and how teen girls perform/negotiate digital sexual identity on social networking sites. New femininities: Postfeminism, neoliberalism and subjectivity, 99-116. Ringrose, J., & Renold, E. (2012). Slut-shaming, girl power and ‘sexualisation’: thinking through the politics of the international SlutWalks with teen girls. Gender & Education, 24(3), 333-343. Seidman, S. (1990). Review of Intimate matters: A history of sexuality in America. Journal Of Social History, 24(2), 391-392. Simmons, R. G., & Rosenberg, F. (1975). Sex, sex roles, and self-image. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 4(3), 229-258.

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Snell Jr., W. E., & Papini, D. R. (1989). The Sexuality Scale: An instrument to measure sexualesteem, sexual depression, and sexual-preoccupation. Journal Of Sex Research, 26(2), 256-263. Tanenbaum, L. (2000). Slut!: Growing up female with a bad reputation. William Morrow Paperbacks. Valenti, J. (2008). He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. Seal Press. Vasilenko, S. A., Ram, N., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2011). Body image and first sexual intercourse in late adolescence. Journal Of Adolescence, 34(2), 327-335. White, E. (2002). Fast girls: Teenage tribes and the myth of the slut. Scribner Book Company. Wiederman, M. W., & Hurst, S. R. (1998). Body Size, Physical Attractiveness, and Body Image Among Young Adult Women: Relationships to Sexual Experience and Sexual Esteem. Journal Of Sex Research, 35(3), 272-281.

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