When I was first asked to write this article, and told to be inspired by something in current events, my mind immediately went to the 200 Nigerian girls that were kidnapped a few months ago. It was probably my sense of camaraderie for fellow young, Afrikan women, mixed with the outrage and helplessness I felt over the situation. Yet, seated in front of my computer I drew a blank. I did research, read articles, but it seemed the more I read the more paralyzed I became. Frustrated, I moved away from the screen for a while, how could I be stuck for something to say about a subject that makes me feel a thousand different ways? Was it because it was too much? Every time I approached the subject, so many ideas and theories and notions flooded my head it seemed they were caught in an embouteillage somewhere in my throat.
I decided to look for another news story to use as my inspiration. I studied other female centred events that have appeared in the news recently and was met by name after name of North American teenage girls who committed suicide due to being slut shamed in some way, shape, and form. As I read the stories of:
Alyssa Funke, 19 years old
Felicia Garcia, 15 years old
Rebecca Sedwick, 12 years old
Amanda Michelle Todd, 15 years old
Rehtaeh Parsons, 17 years old
Cherice Morale, 14 years old
Audrie Pott, 15 years old
I realised that the reason I was so blocked was because of my first issue with sexism, when I was 15 years old, and what I consider to be one of the fundamental roots of femicide and is still a huge problem now; the very notion of the word “slut”.
When I was 15, I started to question the word “slut”. Being a young woman coming into my sexuality, I thought I had an understanding of the word, but what did it mean exactly? And why was the moral execution of women suspected of being one? What do words like “loose” and “easy” mean when it comes to the sexuality of women or girls? Why was this word only really dangerous when applied to females? Why is it seemingly ok to openly shame any girl or woman who had been labelled by this word?
My 15 year old self decided to do some research. I started asking around my high school, campus, getting students to define the word “slut”. Some students had exact numbers as to how many people a woman has to sleep with or “make out” with in order to be considered a “slut”, others just used words like “lots” or “many” people. Still others didn’t even deal with numbers, just words like “easy”, “loose” and “shameless”. In every single definition, according to my schoolmates circa 1992, a slut could only be a female. I then went back to what was considered, before the internet, to be the first stop of study; the dictionary. Good old Oxford! The definition at the time, from what I can remember, was something like: A lazy or unkempt woman.
I remember being shocked and tickled at the same time. Looking the word up in the Oxford Dictionary (online, this time!), the above definition has now become the secondary definition, the primary definition is presently as follows:
“A woman who has many casual sexual partners.” (Derogatory)
- “’People think I’m just a slut having sex on screen but I didn’t do it simply to jumpstart my career,’ she adds in the Express.”
- “You’re dressing like a slut.”
- “Girls still can be labeled sluts if they’re sexually free, whereas boys aren’t.”
And the second definition presently is:
“A woman with low standards of cleanliness.” (Dated)
- “Although she was handsome in a blowsy way, she was such a slut, with holes in her stockings and grubby straps showing.”
- “Women who have their eyebrows professionally plucked, blow-dry their hair for work and always know where they are when they wake up will arrive in the office with a hangover once a fortnight and say: “Oh, I’m such a slut.””
So the word was born out of the need to shame women for being literally messy and now has evolved into a term that is used to shame women who are considered to be sexually messy. Hm, seems there’s a common theme here…The worst shame of this twisted head game, in my opinion, is the discovery I made at 15 years old that still holds true today: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SLUT. It doesn’t exist. Same way there is no such thing as a “nigger” or a “faggot”. These are all words that human beings have invented in order to humiliate other human beings. And it works.
Now, I am 37 years old and 22 years later the word “slut” still exists, and seems to be killing more North American children than we care to really notice. And while we are grateful to live here and thankful we probably don’t have to worry about 200 girls being abducted by an extremist militia, we do still have to worry about the kids at school shaming our little girls into killing themselves.
I found 7 names of such young women just using Google. Do 200 North American girls have to kill themselves before we admit that words, especially words like “slut” are femicidal? After 22 years, my beliefs remain the same, in order to stop slut shaming and thus unnecessary injuries and deaths of young women, we have to get rid of the word “slut”. It is offensive, discriminatory and lethal.