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What It Means to Be a Slut in 2013

Whether it's the internet calling you one, a teenage girl or an elderly racist.

by Amelia Abraham
03 October 2013, 4:00pm


Photo by Holly Lucas

Now that I’m feigning adulthood, I truly thought the word “slut” was behind me. If I wake up next to someone different to the person I remember making out with in some pub's toilets the night before, I’m OK with it. It's my decision, and I’ve managed to surround myself with people who happen to be OK with it too, meaning that the remnant guilt doesn't make me feel hungover for days afterwards. Yet, I find that the word “slut” is thrown around more carelessly than ever these days. MEP Godfrey Bloom called a room full of women "sluts" recently (earning him a booting from Ukip), UK tabloids still think it's OK to use it in their headlines and I'm pretty sure I overheard my neighbour call her dog a slut the other day, too.

While some people are still using the term to shame each other, there are other, much better people, who are attempting to address this – be it with hashtags, neologisms or simply by running around London half-naked.

Still, the word is as slippery as a used condom; everyone has a different conception of what constitutes a slut these days, which makes it really hard to know when to be offended. To save confusion, here’s a brief guide to what certain breeds of people mean when they use the word “slut” in 2013.

WHEN ELDERLY RACISTS CALL YOU A SLUT
Etymologically, “slut” comes from the word “slattern”, meaning “untidy” or “unclean”. This is what old people usually mean when they call you a slut. To use it in a sentence: “I find fag ends in my dishwasher cause I live with a bunch of sluts”, or, “I have the detritus of a Domino's Pizza crust in my belly button because I’m a filthy slut”. This is basically what Godfrey Bloom says he meant when he called a bunch of women sluts at that Ukip conference, after they admitted – in mocking reference to a previous statement he'd made about the slobs who pass for women these days – that they didn’t “clean behind the fridge”. So it's still misogynistic, but in a different way. Fair enough, Godfrey, but I’m keeping that pizza crust there just in case I get hungry later.

WHEN TEENAGE GIRLS CALL YOU A SLUT
If there’s one thing I learnt by attending an all-girls’ school, it’s that everyone’s a slut, to the point where the word becomes virtually redundant. The head teacher's a slut. Your best friend's a slut. The school cat that belongs to the caretaker is a slut. Whether or not you actually gave a guy a blowjob on the ferry ride back from that year 10 French trip, you will get called a slut by any teenage girl who is insecure about her appearance and ability to navigate another human body, which is, oh, all of them, ever. You will also probably call another girl a slut at some point, because she was allowed Kickers with a heel and a Tammy Girl thong and your mum wouldn’t let you have those, because she thought dressing you like that would make you look too slutty.

What this means is that, when one female calls another female a “slut”, it’s usually just because they’re feeling jealous. Still, words are powerful, and the amount of suicides among young people due to sexual bullying is nothing but a testament to this; just look at the cases of Gabrielle Molina in May and Rehtaeh Parsons in August. As a reaction, Emily Linden started the Unslut Project, a US campaign that just raised the best part of $20,000 on Kickstarter to expose and combat slut-shaming in schools with Slut: A Documentary Film. Great news for teenagers everywhere, but I still wouldn’t recommend the ferry... way too choppy.


Photo by Holly Lucas

WHEN THE INTERNET CALLS YOU A SLUT
It's not really a secret that celebs like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus deliberately play up to the role of “slut”, pre-empting the inevitability of getting slut-shamed on the web and riding the idea of that until it breaks. Whether it’s a feminist act or a marketing ploy, it’s hilariously telling; Miley and her terrifying tongue have been slammed for twerking by everyone, and one day @badgalriri’s Instafeed is bound to end up on a media studies and gender course at some depressing regional university. But how far is too far? Remember when Liz Jones had a barney with Rihanna after calling her a bad role model? I will never, EVER say this again, but to some extent, Liz Jones may have been right. If Miley wants to fellate a sledgehammer that’s her prerogative, but it does also pressure 11-year-old girls to emulate her hypersexuality, if not to actually go into their dad's shed and get a mouthful of cold steel and cobwebs.

Ultimately, the Internet has presented a whole new realm in which to be viewed as a “slut”. When the private truly goes public you’ll either earn the accolade of “#slut”, or if you’re really important, grace a Sidebar of Shame with no knickers on. Everyone knew a girl at school whose early penchant for weird sex stuff was made known to half the town via picture message (let’s just say I’ll never be a politician).

And now there’s Twitter. When someone gets shamed for being a slut online, like the Irish lass who recently went viral as “#slanegirl” after getting photographed giving a guy head at a Eminem concert, the #slut comes to stand for so much more than this. The Internet not only reflects society’s condemnation of female sexual autonomy, it condones and encourages it.

My advice? Only twerk in eyeshot of people who love you or in places with no 3G reception.


Photo by Jake Lewis

WHEN FEMINISTS CALL THEMSELVES SLUTS
According to Freud and Cosmo, all boys have this thing called a Madonna-Whore complex, which basically means that they want to have sex with a “slut” but not go out with one. This is a crock of shit. Men aren’t all the same, and they don’t all want the same thing. It is also this kind of compartmentalisation that idiots everywhere use to justify monstrosities like the notion that a girl deserves to get raped if she acts or dresses like a “slut". Obviously there’s still a ton of work to be done to educate morons that sexual violence is never justified, but Slut Walk is a good start. The protest has been criticised for perpetuating the use of the word “slut” and reinforcing the concept by many, and for being plainly lame by this very website. But sometimes, you have to speak to people in their own language, and if that language is a bodycon dress teamed with crotchless pants, then so be it.

In my mind, the word “slut” is a long way from obscurity, which means that although I’m not about to tell you my number and wake up to a barrage of insults, I AM happy to hold an event called "Slut Night", in which women like Sara Pascoe, Sophie Heawood and Bryony Kimmings come and do jokes, stories and performances about putting it about a bit. No one is organised enough to tell me what they’re going to talk about but so far I’ve been promised 360 vaginas, fake moustaches made of pubic hair and sex with a dog. The goal of "Slut Night" isn’t to reclaim the word “slut”; it’s to completely undermine it.

Read the VICE.com live blog of Slut Night here.

Follow Amelia on Twitter: @MillyAbraham

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