Opinions
Bridgette Badowich/the Gauntlet

Slut shaming: a shameful societal norm

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I remember the first time another girl called me a slut. I was in the fourth grade, and had no understanding of what that would mean to me in the future. Twelve years later, I am much too familiar with the term, tossed into conversation alongside its relatives “whore” and “skank.” The term “slut” was first written in 1402, in T. Hoccleve’s Let of Cupid to describe “a woman of dirty, slovenly or untidy habits or appearance.” Today it just refers to women whose behaviour someone refuses to condone.

Girls learn the implications of being labeled slutty at an early age from peers, parents and teachers. We are provided with guidelines to protect ourselves from this scathing slur. Dress conservatively, don’t go to parties, don’t walk home by yourself, and whatever you do, avoid sex. Even if these policies weren’t so misdirected, they are ultimately futile. Futile, because clothes sold to young girls and women have become more provocative and revealing. Because women want to have fun (and no, Cyndi Lauper, that’s not all they want). Because cab companies suck and people have legs to walk. Because human beings have sex.

Thanks to this jumble of mixed messaging, we have a situation where women are pressured to be sexy but sweet. Those two are on pretty much opposite ends of the sexual spectrum, and that makes the gulf that lies between them impossible to navigate.

Slut-shaming has proven itself a recurring feminist obstacle. A recent broadcast of AM 770’s Kincaid and Kelly provoked further discussion. The show asked whether or not feminists should wear heels. To be frank, yes. Being a feminist does not mean abolishing all things considered feminine, which includes women’s expression of their sexuality. Feminism is not about destroying makeup, nice purses or heels, or telling women they can’t put so many throw pillows on their beds that it takes them 15 minutes to unload at the end of the day. Feminism is about being able to express your gender and sexuality without being questioned on the basis of someone else’s standards.

I have yet to meet a young woman over the age of 13 who has escaped being called a slut at least once during their lifetime. While the term may have become commonplace, its usage still stings every time. Even more upsetting is the fact that young girls and women are guiltiest for hurling this slur around.

The transformation of the word slut seems to be shifting in definition, marked by events like the SlutWalk campaign during April 2011 in Toronto. Inspired to support every woman dehumanized because of her sexual choices, the SlutWalk movement has not only succeeded in spreading information about sexual assault, rape and consent, it is fundamentally changing the way we understand the word. Getting called a slut isn’t exactly an empowering experience yet, but we are beginning to see a world which denounces the credibility of the slut-shamer’s character much more than the character of the so-called slut herself.

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