An initiative of the National Women’s Council of Ireland



December 18, 2013 at 7:28

Slut. Slutty. Sluttier. To slut [around]. The word slut is a loaded word and it is also a gendered one.

Slut is one of the most common insults levelled at women and girls. It starts in the teenage years and continues right into adulthood. It is used to denote sexual promiscuity, to highlight her “easiness” or imply that she is “loose”. It can mean that she has had sexual encounters of some sort or that she is, at least, open to the possibility. It is synonymous with dirty and cheap and a host of other words used to degrade, almost exclusively, females.

But here’s the big secret: there is no such thing as a slut.

Slut is used, most frequently, to degrade women who have sex. A lot or a little sex is irrelevant. Simply to have sex is enough to relegate women and girls to the slut underclass. That women have no sexual agency, that sex is a service we provide and not an act that we can enjoy is a sexist tale as old as time and it still plays today.

In fact you can be a slut before you have sex at all. In school kissing is sometimes enough to make you a slut, before you even think about having sex. Or receiving romantic attention from other people. All of these things are related to how we understand the role that sex and relationships have to play in our lives and the issue can get confused very quickly.

Sex is one of the most personal choice a person can make. The idea that women or men should approach sex in a specific way based solely on their gender is as stupid as it sounds. The basic parameters of sex are that it should be consensual, safe and enjoyable. Outside of these everything else comes down to personal preference and anyone that tells you different is being influenced by a society and culture that believes girls should be obedient and chaste until they are told to be otherwise.

The word slut traditionally referred to a woman who was ‘slovenly or untidy’. It is no coincidence that it transitioned over time to be used to describe a woman’s perceived sexual promiscuity. Women and girls should have tidy morals that can be easily defined and controlled. Anyone who operates outside of traditional morality needs to be marked as an aberration. A slut.

Slut shaming takes a woman’s power away and transfers it to sex. Sex is given too much status. It is allowed to define us, control us and, ultimately, ruin us. When people tell you that you are a slut for exercising your right to choose to have sex or not to have sex they are telling you that you are incapable of handling that power. That, as a female, you need to be guided by another hand. To operate under someone elses rules because you are too irresponsible to create your own playing field.

A woman’s dress sense is also fair game when it comes to defining her as a slut. A woman who is considered to dress provocatively or in a way which enhances her sex appeal is using her clothes to indicate her sexual availability. A slut is so consumed with her sexual desire that it colours her every decision, including her clothes. Obviously.

It is easy to poke fun at anyone who honestly thinks that a short skirt or high heels are chosen in order to send a subliminal message about a woman’s sexual readiness but when you examine what this belief means it is, frankly, alarming.

To dismiss someone as a slut based on her personal decisions about her clothes or her sexual activity; to imply that she is lesser is some way based on any number of inconsequential things is to blow the door wide open for victim blaming.

In her landmark speech opening the Boston Slutwalk Jacyln Friedman said of the slut:

“The word “slut” is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn’t have to lift a finger. It sends a signal: this one is fair game. Have at her. No one will blame you.”

Those are powerful words and it might be easier to dismiss them as over the top but every day in college, in school, in work and on facebook this sentiment leaks into everyday conversation. In 2008 the Irish Examiner published the results of a Red C survey that showed almost a third of the people questioned felt a woman was to blame for being the victim of a sex crime if she was wearing revealing clothes.

The message that ‘revealing clothes’ reveal anything more than skin slowly creeps towards the idea that a woman bears the sole responsibility to keep herself out of harm’s way. The idea that sexual violence is linked with aesthetics. The notion that rape and sexual assault only happen to certain types of women. In light of these damaging myths slut begins to seem like the powerful weapon Friedman believes it is.

It is up to us to take away the power of the word slut; to realise that it is used in so many contradictory ways that in the end it means nothing. It can be re-appropriated to describe someone who is comfortable with the decisions they make about their body or how they dress; it can be banished from our vocabulary altogether-- but it is important to realise the weight of the word when you use it to insult someone.


Laura Larkin is a jounalism student in DIT. You can follow her on Twitter @lauralarkin_