Thursday, 12 May 2011

What's in a Word?

Words are important to me. Take "cunt", for instance. From my POV as a writer of erotica, "cunt" has to be one of my favorites, and I use it much more often than, say, "pussy". It's succinct. It's not cutesy. It's strong and workaday and when you say it, in whatever context, everyone knows exactly what you mean. It has deep etymological roots, dating back to Chaucer and beyond. A gorgeous, albeit guttural, word. And most women hate it, and are happy to continue to do so. I get away with using it in my fiction because I'm a woman, and therefore I have a "right" to. Most other women seem content to allow its positive definition of vagina vanish into obscurity, while only its negative alternate definitions, as an insult and expletive, remain in common usage.



But "slut"? According to these chicks ^^^, it's a word that requires "reclaiming". On the surface, this may seem like a positive thing and a removal of the negative power from specific words. The idea is to apply a specific word in a positive context enough to have that positive context become the dominant one. But that's rarely what happens, is it? Let's examine what's happened when other groups have "reclaimed" similar derogatory terms. We all know them, so let's not bandy around. "Queer." "Fag." "Dyke." "Nigger."

There's a reason I kind of cringed as I typed that last one. As a bisexual, my use of "queer" isn't going to raise any eyebrows. And despite rifts and infighting (inbickering?) within the LGBTQ community, my membership in that group entitles me to use "fag" and "dyke" with relative impunity. But "nigger"? I'm not black. That's not my word. Many people would question my right to even think it, let alone speak or write it.

The problem is, despite its reclamation, "nigger" remains a negative word in all contexts but one--when a black person speaks it. The same outcome applies to "fag" and "dyke", if not "queer". While they may be spoken within positive contexts by and amid their particular in-groups (and sometimes a few trusted non-members, once they've proved themselves allies), they're now off-limits to outsiders. Woe betide the white guy who speaks the word "nigger", even in a positive context.

The negative connotation of the word remains and is only reinforced by the in-group's appropriation of it. It has become a "forbidden utterance" for everyone else. And once a thing is forbidden, its power to wound is all the greater. And the ironic thing is, the word never really belonged to black people in the first place. The idea...I gather, anyway, was to take a word used by privileged white people to remind black people that they were "less than", and turn it into something different. Something positive. But has its meaning out of the mouths of white people changed at all? Can we claim that any of the negative power been removed from the word when people are forced to resign from public office over their use of "niggardly", a completely different word with a different etymological origin, merely because it sounded like "nigger"?

Moreover, reclamation of these words in this fashion is a form of social censorship. And while words can be easily censored, there is no way to censor people's hearts and minds. If someone hates black people, he'll hate them whether he can socially get away with speaking the word "nigger" or not. The only thing reappropration of the word has done is put the onus on non-blacks to never utter it at all.

So onto "slut". Unlike "cunt", this word's meaning has never been particularly positive in any context, though it wasn't always sexual. Its first traceable usages were basically in reference to "female slobs". But considering how words like "filth" and "dirty" and "smut" are used to describe sexual obscenity, and "unclean" to describe sexual immorality and a state of sin...well, its application in regard to sex is hardly surprising. Its redefinition as a sex-positive term has been going on for some time. Dan Savage--one of the most sex-positive media figures out there, a gay dude who understands more about straight sex than most straight people, and a personal hero of mine--regularly advises married or committed couples that they need to be "sluts for each other".

Mr. Savage is also very pro-sexual objectification, which I think lies at the heart of the problem the "Slutwalk", with its intended goal of "word reappropriation"--is fruitlessly trying to solve. Ridiculous modern attitudes around the sexual objectification of people--especially women--is the diseased taproot of a very invasive weed. In response to the uproar caused by protesters in Seattle in 2003 when a local sushi bar served sashimi and fried tofu off of a naked woman's body, he wrote:

Face facts, ladies: people always have and always will objectify the people they're attracted to. Men who wanna fuck women objectify women (at places like Hooters); women who want to fuck men objectify men (at places like Centerfolds). Gay men objectify other men (at places like Ashton Kutcher's asscrack), lesbians objectify other women (at places where Venus and Serena play tennis). The urge to objectify is universal, and so long as it's fairly and respectfully indulged, it's not offensive, not a problem, and not news.
There's an insidious conflict at work in modern women, largely due to the pervasive and erroneous belief that sexually objectifying women is wrong. I think deep down, women understand that sexual objectification is a natural human tendency and, taken on its own, a morally and ethically neutral proposition. If women did not want to be viewed as sexual objects, they wouldn't invest so much time and expense into turning themselves into beautiful and sexy objects, would they? They wouldn't dress in a manner that attracts male sexual interest. They'd rely on their personalities--it's the basis of their personhood, after all--to do the job for them. Whether you're a man or a woman, to be sexy is to be an object of desire. And for straight women, that means being objectified by men.

Women instinctively realize that their own objectification gives them sexual power. The more you tart yourself up, the more male interest you get, and the more interest you get, the bigger a pool you have to choose from, whether you're looking for a one-off or a relationship.

Where downside to this power is that when you present yourself in a way that encourages sexual objectification, you have no control over who objectifies you, do you? That means being mature enough to accept the fact that sometimes, a guy you regard as beneath your notice may hit on you, or even be masturbating to images of you when he gets home from the bar. That means guys WILL look at your boobs, and no amount of angrily telling them, "My eyes are up here, asshole," is going to get them to stop noticing your boobs. Grow up, ladies. If you want to be sex objects, then be sex objects. And be responsible ones--shooting a guy down in the most humiliating way, or treating him as if he's some kind of insect you wouldn't bother to scrape off your shoe after you'd stepped on him, for daring to look at you with the kind of interest you only really want from the hot guys? Not kosher.

The conflict arises when feminism encourages women to embrace and explore their sexuality, to have agency, to say yes or say no as they see fit...and at the same time, condemns one of the most effective routes to female sexual agency--the acceptance that someone can objectify a woman sexually while still respecting and appreciating her personhood, and that sexual objectification is, indeed, a necessary component of human sexual attraction, whether you're hooking up or happily married. It's no wonder women are so fucked up about sex that they'll falsely accuse men of rape when they can't reconcile their desires and their freedom to act on them with the bizarre marriage of Victorian era morality and female sexual liberation that is the schizophrenic brainchild of modern gender feminism.

And consider someone like me. I've always been sexually adventuresome. Hopefully my mom isn't reading this (she wouldn't understand), but I lost count of the number of men I've had sex with a lonnnng time ago, way back before I was married. And despite 15 years of monogamy, during the period after splitting with my ex and before settling into a new relationship with my current boyfriend, I briefly returned to my sexually free-spirited ways. I've always been open and upfront about my desires--when I want to sleep with a man, he knows it. And yet I've never been called a slut. Why?

Because sluts are shameless. But sexual free spirits? They're not shameless--they are unashamed. Sexual free spirits understand their power, and they use it responsibly, to choose their partners and have sex--or not--on honest terms, rather than to flaunt what they've got so they can shame or scorn members of the opposite sex for daring to look at them with sexual interest. Sexual free spirits don't have some obligation to fuck every guy who wants them--but they don't get offended by being desired by men they don't want, either. Sexual free spirits may even dress like sluts, but at the same time, they're in charge of their sex life, and hold themselves responsible for their decisions--whether wise or foolish--and don't put the entire onus on men to restrain their male sexuality in the face of completely unrestrained female sexuality.

Women who do flex their sexual muscle while relying on the opposite gender to never flex back, women who do not hold themselves accountable for their own sexual decisions, women who use their sexual attractiveness to crush the self-esteem of less than desirable men, women who feel victimized because a guy they don't find attractive dared to look at them with lust when they've got 2/3 of their body on display, and women like the Hofstra rape accuser, who willingly fucked two guys and couldn't deal with the emotional and practical fall-out from it--those women are the ones both men and women call sluts.

So why is the Slutwalk a pointless endeavor? Because it does nothing to reconcile the idea of female sexual freedom with female sexual responsibility. Yet again, the Slutwalk puts the onus on one gender--every goddamn member of it--to be responsible and accountable for the sexual conduct of the other.

Whether you believe a woman who advertises her sexual availability is increasing her risk of rape or not, the Slutwalk will do absolutely nothing to prevent rape. And it will do nothing to keep immature, power-drunk, sexually irresponsible women from being labeled as sluts, either.

Most women don't realize just how restrained male sexuality already is. I compare my experiences in strip clubs depending on whether it's ladies' night or Miss Mugs 'n' Jugs' world tour, and I'm always amazed at how well-leashed the men in the audience generally keep themselves relative to women's behavior in similar situations. This is because men are socialized toward sexual self-restraint and sexual accountability, while women...well, nowadays women get to do whatever and act however they want, and if they don't like the consequences--whether it's an ugly guy ogling them, or having to admit that going upstairs with that frat boy was a poor decision--they can shift all the responsibility onto men.

That's the opposite of sexual agency. And that's the fucking Slutwalk. And no amount of reappropriation of the word "slut" is going to do anything to change the behavior of the women who've earned the name, nor change the attitudes of the men who've learned by experience to be wary and scornful of them.

7 comments:

  1. You lost number of the guys who banged you, girlwriteswhat? Now ya gotta admit; that's a *bit* slutty. Just sayin...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Meh. I am what I am. I like sex. I like men. What's a girl to do?

    I will say that I have never cheated on a partner (not even during the worst part of my 15 year marriage). It wasn't something that ever occurred to me to do. Never did the whole "monkey" thing that's typical of women, either, where they don't let go of one branch until they have hold of the next. That's just dishonest.

    So if I'm a slut, I'm an ethical and honest one, I guess. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, I was actually semi-joking. I both agree and disagree with you.

    On the one hand; what do the words "slut" and "whore" really mean? What IS a 'slut' or a 'whore', other than a rather empty insult? I guess its a subjective concept. My own personal definition of "slut": a person (male or female) who is either unable or unwilling to connect sex with intimacy. (This would include the vast majority of pornstars). To them, sex is like a stroll in the park,

    As for the number thing; that's just kinda funny in and of itself.

    Besides, as with religion and politics; when it comes to sex--everyone has an opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Did you have low self-esteem? Were you punishing your father? Sex addict? *Insert another cliche reason for a woman being promisuous*

    lulz, in any event; let's just hope your son never reads this blog someday.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Actually, it wasn't anything like that. I love my father. Sometimes we discreetly ogle women together, lol. Considering I've gone years at a stretch without sex, I can't say I'm a sex addict, either.

    The easiest way to explain it is that I'm kind of a guy when it comes to certain things, and always have been. Half the time the guys at work forget I'm a woman. The women at work think I'm "really, really interesting" but can't relate. I've always approached sex from a position of complete lack of shame but total ethical conviction and honesty. In fact, my older kids know a bit about what I'm like (not in detail or anything, but you know what I mean).

    I've never used sex as a bargaining chip in a relationship, or pulled the "I just don't feel close to you right now" when I'm annoyed with a partner. I think in some ways, I'm just not very female, if that makes sense.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Really, really interesting" is probably a better way to put it than some stupid label like 'gender-queer'. Idk; I've just honestly never heard of someone not remembering the number of their "roster". (I know a couple guys who said so, but I don't believe them). But years at a stretch without? That's actually pretty admirable. I'm reminded of the recent story of fashion guru Tim Gunn; he admitted in an interview that he hasn't had sex in 29 years. That's a helluva dryspell.

    Btw: your 'gender's bumming me out' video was good. Bravo. Well done. My only advice would be that if the apocalypse indeed ever comes; instead of killing a bottle of wine, smoke a fat pound of grass. You live in BC, so I'm sure you can easliy find some Beasters. Because if the end comes this December (ala the whole Mayan 2012 thing), I'd rather be calm and meditative, as opposed to vomiting and stumbling into furniture.

    ReplyDelete
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