30 October 2012

A Man's Man's Man's Word

For some reason this put itself at the top of my blog in October 2012. I actually wrote and published it in May 2011. Fuck knows how. A few more semi-coherent, largely reasonable but provocatively-worded points about this SlutWalk thing:
  • If you dress like a slut, you will be treated like a slut
  • Being a slut can get you raped
  • Men can't be sluts
  • Feminists like Cath Elliot have no claim to the word
  • There is no justification for promiscuity

If you dress like a slut, you will be treated like a slut
Or, more to the point, it's not actually necessary to be a slut to be labelled one. Just as hyperassimilated second-generation Christian converts fell foul of the Nuremburg Laws, just as Sikhs suffer Islamophobia, just as straights can get queer-bashed, sluttiness isn't something you choose. It's something slut-shamers allocate to you. To become a slut, all you need do is be labelled one.

Please note that there's not a specific way to dress like a slut. It's fashionable for women's clothing to suggest availability, so there's a fag-paper's breadth between slut and fashionable. The way to dress like a slut is to be a slut, and wear clothes. Don't flatter yourself, sluts, that you have any say in the matter.

Being a slut can get you raped
Obviously, as mentioned above, there's not actually anything you can do to avoid becoming a slut. Deciding whether you are or aren't one isn't really your prerogative. But try to avoid it all the same, as it's a known fact that sluts can't say no and therefore being one may be seen as constituting consent.

Men can't be sluts
You might say that gay or even straight men can get called "sluts" too. But, I wonder, is there a history of gay men using deliberately feminine terms for themselves and each other? Even slut? Could you maybe call a straight man a slut in a feminising sense? As in "a man who puts it about in the manner of a distasteful woman"? Just being used on men doesn't remove its reference to women, the amusing absurdity of using it for a man showing how clearly it refers to a woman. So if anything a little humour can help entrench it.

Feminists like Cath Elliot have no claim to the word
I'm thinking specifically about what she says here
Because of their history, and because I’m a feminist, ['slut' and 'cunt'] are words I would never use to describe any other woman, just as they are words I would never ever use to describe myself.
Which is reasonable enough, but I've never trusted avoidance tactics. Even if anyone had any particular moral right to determine how other people use their own language, good luck persuading hardline misogynists to use more feminist terminology. Good luck switching off the linguistic auto-pilot of the people who don't read feminist blogs. Language is not shaped through sitting round deciding what words are ok and which aren't. Language is shaped by usage, and words belong to the people who use and understand them. If you decline to say a word, you forfeit any ability to shape its meaning through the contexts you say it in. If she really means that "feminism is about liberation, not capitulation", she just capitulated a perfectly good four-letter combo to woman-haters.

There is no justification for promiscuity
Aside from that, the problem with 'slut' isn't like the problem with, say 'Nigger'. It's not a word for an ok thing to be that has been given nasty connotations through several centuries of slavery, violence and systematic discrimination. The signified, not the signifier is the problem. Someone who grew up being called 'dyke' or 'faggot' can try and reclaim these words, because their objection is mostly to the set of sounds or letters. 'Slut' goes deeper. The very concept of 'slut' is rotten. A slut is a woman who is too promiscuous. Sometimes we like it - I believe pornography tends to get excited about "sluts" from time to time - but I doubt anyone would be surprised that our attitude to sex leaves room to have no respect for sluts as human beings, but still like the idea of fucking them. "Promiscuity" shouldn't exist. Without us specifying a normal sexual appetite or number of partners, promiscuity and sluts just wouldn't make any bloody sense. I mean, we don't have a word for someone who scratches the end of their nose too much.

On balance then, I'm in favour of the SlutWalk. Even though absurdities like sluttiness need to be ironised, misapplied and generally mashed about until they mean precisely fuck-all, this relatively straight-faced use of the word still has its purpose. We don't just need to break the word. We need to break the word's connections to rape. We need to break the connections between dressing like one and being one - and dressing up like a slut for the purpose of serious frigid-feminist hairy-armpit demo action is going to bollocks up all kinds of fun preconceptions.

But let's not get bogged down with the word. This isn't really about sluts, because sluts don't exist. It's about lots of sex, multiple partners, revealing clothes and provocative behaviour. It's about asserting women's right to do them, and the right for them not to be considered consent. Once we've sorted that out, what we call it should be largely academic.

PS Oglaf is good at the word 'slut'.


  1. I think saying 'slut' goes deeper than Nigger or Dyke or Fag is just ridiculous. Who are you to know how deep a word goes into history/oppression/someone's psyche?

    I find slut quite a banal word to be honest. I get called much worse words when people want to put my morality into question.

    That's what I find funny about Slutwalks, it all seems so passe to me.

  2. I didn't mean so much that it went deeper, more like it works in a different way. I admit it's clumsy to describe the signified as "deeper" than the signifier.

    Though obviously there are objections to blackness and homosexuality as ontological categories, I think this is far more of an issue with "slut".

  3. I don't know if I agree. Because 'nigger' stopped being used just to denote blackness a long time ago, (though I don't know the exact history of the word's usage. Do you?)

    As for homosexual it has always been in a pathological, negative meaning. It has been 'reclaimed' but also rejected again as 'gay' became the most acceptable use to describe homos. 'Homo' being one of the least acceptable, which is obviously partly why I use it.

  4. Officially, yes, words for gay have been used pathologically. But if you take, say the Polari word "so" for it - that's not pathological. That's a handy code-word which signifies the same set of urges, but with an entirely different sense of "needing to spend a few intensive hours on my couch".

    As for words for blackness, it's just as fraught, but in different ways (if you follow French Caribbean identity debates, is blackness actually a useful category, or is "créolité" or "antillanité" more useful?).

    But as ontological categories these are messy in different ways to the bizarre partner-counting rituals we use for 'slut'.

  5. Anonymous31/5/11 10:42

    Feminists bitchez are sluts with stinkin pussies that have no shame takin away the jobs that rightfully belong to men. No wonder we have a job crisis in this country that Obama can't solve.
    By God I say round these bitchez up for illegal promiscuity and put them in empty FEMA camps along with the filthy Jews.

  6. Promiscuity? Don't you know feminists are all frigid lesbians? Please do some fucking research before posting on my blog.