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Old 07-13-2006, 06:52 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Taming of the slur

The Taming of the Slur
WHISPERS follow her like so many eyes. She is the one who will go home with you, the sure bet, the kind of girl you can lie down with and then walk all over. She is ogled, envied and often ostracized. She is the slut.

The word, which originated in the Middle Ages, has emerged from a schoolyard barb to become commonplace in popular culture, marketing and casual conversation. In his duet with the rapper Eminem, Nate Dogg describes his hunt for “a big old slut” in the single “Shake That.” The ample-bosomed puppet in the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” is called Lucy the Slut.

Novelty shops and Web sites sell Slut lip balm, bubble bath, soap and lotion. A cocktail is known as the Red-Headed Slut. A teenager on MTV’s “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” demanded that a rival admit she was a slut. (She did.)

“Slut’’ is tossed around so often and so casually that many teenagers use it affectionately and in jest among their friends, even incorporating it into their instant messenger screen names.

Like “queer” and “pimp” before it, the word slut seems to be moving away from its meaning as a slur. Or is it?

“It’s definitely a term of familiarity with teens,” said Karell Roxas, a senior editor at Gurl.com, a Web site that addresses issues that affect teenagers. “They’ll say ‘Hi, slut!’ the way my generation would say ‘Hi, chick!’ or ‘Hi, dawg!’ ”

Even among adults, the word is used to demonstrate voraciousness: “coffee slut,” “TV slut.”

“Today, ‘slut,’ even ‘ho’ — girls use it in a fun way, a positive way,” said Atoosa Rubenstein, the editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, adding that a phrase such as “you little slut” has become a way for girlfriends to bust each other’s chops.

Beyond the word itself, cultivating an exhibitionistic, slutty appearance — donning the trappings of promiscuity as opposed to actually being promiscuous — has been a growing influence on fashion and popular culture for a decade.

Women wear T-shirts with provocative slogans. Stripping and pole dancing is an au courant way to exercise. Paris Hilton is called an “American cultural icon” on Sephora .com, where she sells $49 perfume.

Ariel Levy, the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture,” said a girl in California told her that she and her friends compete to see who can look “the skankiest.” Ms. Levy told the girl that when she was in high school, girls wanted to be known as “the prettiest” or “the most popular.”

“How did you get the guys?,” the girl replied. “Charm?”

Given all of the slut-posturing, one may be inclined to think that society’s attitudes about women and promiscuity have changed. But it’s not entirely so, say authors who have studied popular culture. An entrenched sexual double standard is not easily uprooted. A promiscuous single man is lauded for being a player or a stud, but a woman who sleeps around rarely is.

Still, “slut’’ stings much more for girls than for women. Teenage girls get the cultural message that they should look provocative. Their social circles are small, so everyone knows who is doing what with whom. And those who do acquire the slut label have to face up to it daily in school and endure snickers about the very thing girls at that age are most embarrassed about — their sexuality.

“All of our pop icons look like porn stars,” Ms. Rubenstein said. “However they’re all virgins, quote unquote,” she said, referring to Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears. “That’s a very complex message to send to girls.”

For junior high and high school girls, said Leora Tanenbaum, the author of “Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation,” being labeled a slut is still painful and humiliating, despite pop culture’s semi-embrace of the term. Ms. Roxas of Gurl.com said teenagers often inquire about it.

They ask, Ms. Roxas said, questions like: “I’ve acquired the reputation of being a slut, how do I get around it?” or “If I have a boyfriend and I perform a certain action, does that make me a slut?” (Ms. Levy said that even the girl who competed to dress “the skankiest” made it clear that having sex with someone who is not a boyfriend is unacceptable behavior.)

A slut, according to the primary definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern.” The second entry defines a slut as “a woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade.” For decades, the second definition has reigned.

Ms. Tanenbaum, who interviewed more than 100 women between the ages of 14 and 66 who had been pigeonholed as sluts, found that the label can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to greater promiscuity. But, she said, it can also act as a brake, leading a woman to shut down sexually. As for the liberal use of the word today, “It’s still too hurtful,” she said.

There is no way to know if more women are being saddled with the dubious distinction now than in the past. What seems to be true, at least anecdotally, is that it is primarily girls who are pinning the label on other girls. They do it, Ms. Tanenbaum said, because of their confusion over the contradictory messages they receive about their sexuality and how to conduct themselves.

“The way they deal with their anxiety is pointing their fingers at other girls,” Ms. Tanenbaum said, adding that more than 90 percent of the people she interviewed were given their slut label by other girls.

Often, she said, the label has nothing to do with sexual behavior. Among teenagers, the word has been attached to girls whose bodies develop more quickly than those of their peers, Ms. Tanenbaum said, as well as to pretty girls, girls who are somehow different, even girls who have been raped.

“Girls wouldn’t feel the need to do this if we had one sexual standard,” she said. “It’s because we have the double standard that this phenomenon occurs.”

Whether they condone promiscuity or not, adults, who have an easier time than teenagers keeping their sex lives private, do not seem to feel as anxious about being labeled sluts. Nor are they as prone to calling others names.

“Once you get into your 20’s and 30’s, you just have better things to do,” said Susan Schulz, the editor in chief of CosmoGirl! magazine. “Everybody has that one friend who’s kind of loose and takes somebody home.”

But as Carrie Bradshaw might type on her laptop: Is there such a thing as going too far any more? Does society allow single women more sexual partners than it once did, before they get a “bad reputation?”

Jamie Breitman, 27, of Manhattan, has a friend she characterizes as promiscuous, a woman who, when they were in a bar in Spain, ended up singing on a stage and eventually making out with the bass player.

“That’s just the way that she is and we just love her for that,” Ms. Breitman said. “It makes her more interesting and fun and she always has good stories.”

Indeed, many women admired the fictional libertine Samantha Jones on “Sex and the City’’ because she had all of those qualities, not to mention confidence and an unapologetic attitude about satisfying her desires. Enjoyment was always mutual.

But viewers often commented that such a woman could not exist in real life. That attitude, Ms. Levy said, “goes to show we can’t accept a woman who’s promiscuous because she wants to be.”

Some men, especially, seem to have strong feelings about the matter.

“When I think of the word slut,” wrote Don Reisinger, a student doing accounting and law work in Albany, in an e-mail message, “I think of a woman who has been around the block more times than my dad’s Chevy. I might date a slut, but I certainly wouldn’t marry one.”

For that reason, perhaps, women sometimes feel pressured to downplay their sexual experience. “Women still have a script for their future that involves marriage, that involves children,” said Dr. Susan Freeman, an assistant professor of women’s studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “It governs a lot of choices they make, how sexually active they can be, what risks they are willing to take in terms of alienating a possible marriage partner.”

There seems to be a mysterious line between being experienced and being a slut, and no one can put a number on it. According to a government report released last year (“Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures”), men age 30 to 44 have had a median of six to eight sexual partners in their lifetimes. The women’s median was about four.

Many women steer clear of the numbers conversation entirely, but as was pointed out several times in interviews, it would be more unusual for them to be virgins.

The fact is, Ms. Levy said, “I think there are a lot of women who want to have a lot of sex because they enjoy it.”
We had in our past a huge discussion about "Bros before hos". We talk about words losing power or groups coopting a word to remove the power it has over them.

A member here posted, "In my social circle, we don't use namecalling or foul language because it's considered to be impolite. For some of us, namecalling hasn't reached the point where it is so overused that it has lost meaning and power. Some of us are still offended by such language."

I never thought I'd see the grey lady, NYTimes write a piece on Slut, but here it is. I don't think they would do the same for some other slurs out there which are much more bandied about than the demeanor of a woman.
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Old 07-13-2006, 07:40 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I prefer this approach to the term...


A Four-Letter Word
This means you.

Slut -- 1: a slovenly woman : SLATTERN 2a: a lewd woman; esp : PROSTITUTE b: a saucy girl : MINX

Ah, "slut." A compact little word, forceful even in the way it sounds, starting out with a hissing sibilant and pushing off of the tongue through the L and U, and then that nastily crisp T. "Slut." Say it a few times out loud. Roll it around in your mouth. "Sssslut." "Sss…lllut." Say it again. Notice that it's difficult -- almost impossible, in fact -- to pronounce it neutrally. It's got a sneer built into it, that word. It's not as twangy and unthreatening as "tramp." It's not as easy to yell as "whore." "Whore" is built for screaming rage and dishes flying through the air, with a nice gusty H at the front and a big old roaring R bringing up the rear. Not "slut," though. "Slut" is muttered. "Slut" is whispered. "Whore" comes in like a punch, but "slut" tingles, like a slap. "Slut" hides behind the teeth. "Slut" is for when your back is turned.

"Slut" is for when you don't act like a lady. "Slut" is for when you sit with your legs apart. "Slut" is for when you wear it short, tight, without a bra, cut up high and down low and around the side, because, see, "slut" is also for when you have the nerve to enjoy your body in front of women who hate their own bodies. Don't strut. Don't dance with soul, or lick your lips. Don't look too good; don't think you look too good. Digging your own self is slutty. Making your own good time is slutty. Who do you think you are, anyway? Knees together, slut.

"Slut" is for when you forget to hate and fear boys. "Slut" is for when you talk to them, flirt with them, hang out with them and watch kung fu movies, pretend they don't suck at guitar, sit on their laps, cut their hair. "Slut" is for when you don't remember that you can't have a male friend unless he's your brother or gay, because your male friends want to fuck you, and you can't handle that. "Slut" is liking sports and belches and messy apartments -- or, rather, "liking" those things, because you couldn't really like those things. You just pretend to like them so that you can get attention from men, because you have no personality of your own, and even if you did, men only want you for your action anyway. That's pathetic. Get a life, slut.

"Slut" is for when, in spite of everything you've learned from Cosmo and your sorority sisters, you just love men, for when you want to look at them and talk about them and burrow your nose into their necks and lick them from head to toe and hop right on them when they walk in the door like that scene from Raising Arizona where Holly Hunter clings to Nicolas Cage like a wood tick. Ugh. That's so undignified. That's so unfeminine. "Slut" is for walking down the street and talking to a friend on your cell phone and watching a cute boy walk past in the opposite direction and looking at him and looking away and looking back and then turning around in mid-sentence to keep looking. "Slut" is for thinking of stubble burn and biting your lip. "Slut" is for remembering the way your first true love used to pin you up against his car door and flushing clear up to the roots of your hair. "Slut" is for big hands and deep voices. "Slut" is for on top of you and under you and behind you, in the closet, on the floor, under the piano. "Slut" is for liking it. "Slut" is for wanting it. "Slut" is for going after it. Men hunt, women gather; men chase, women wait. Look it up, slut.
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Old 07-13-2006, 07:43 AM   #3 (permalink)
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My initial reaction: Slut is just a word. Many people I'm around use it, and near every other vulgarity imaginable, so often the word itself is no longer hurtful, only tone carries the message across. Babes, and most of my other friends, often call me a man-slut. Why? Because it's funny and I'm probably one of the most sexually tuned people around them, regardless of my number of partners. But with the right tone, you could call me a cream cheese bagel and I'd take, if somewhat confused, offense at it.

Personally, I don't believe a woman should need to downplay her sexuality. The word slut aside, I don't believe a woman can have too many partners. The number of partners she's happy with is just and simply that. I can't speak for more men than myself, as I don't often hang out with many men, but I'd be just as comfortable settling down with a woman who had many partners in the past as I would a woman with few. Relationships are based on the people in them, not past relationships.
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Old 07-13-2006, 08:08 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Words have lost power due to the constant overexposure of the information age. I've joked with my wife for years that my goal is to make 'cunt' an acceptable word for PBS.

That being said the real gist of the article is nothing to do with the use of the word 'slut' but the act of BEING a slut. The concept that womens sexuality is somehow unfairly repressed. Perhaps for some people it is, but I know a lot of repressed guys as well. The idea that we are all slaves to media and society in terms of what we do (and who we do it with) and we need to be liberated from its authoritarian bonds is in many ways juvenile.

Her example of how this effects young people more than older is true but its the difference between being an adult and a child. If you social circle is so small that fucking everyone makes you a slut, perhaps you shouldn't be fucking everyone if you can't handle the effect it has on your reputation.

As an adult when you are sure of yourself and what you want, what ever age you reach this (some never do), you would care far less about being thought of as a slut by people who have no real baring in your life.
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Old 07-13-2006, 08:50 AM   #5 (permalink)
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If you ask me, it's another one of those words that's thrown around so loosely and redefined so individually that it's lost its meaning. It's just another four-letter word now, and it's making its way into the mainstream.
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Old 07-19-2006, 09:51 PM   #6 (permalink)
Location: in a golden garden of grey
After reading this, I realize how very often I use the world. I hardly ever use it a demeaning manner, but mostly in joking or teasing of friends. I just realized how modern I am!
I would assume that it has become so socially accepted somewhat because of the articles mention of such a double standard to women. Long ago, it was taboo to show any of your womanly features, and now a days, its expected for them to look desirable, almost slutty. When the norm is to look like a "slut", Id say being called one isnt that disturbing. To an older lady anyway. Younger girls are hurt more by the expression because is a taint to their sexuality, which as the article mentions, as well, is the thing they are highly sensitive of.
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Old 07-21-2006, 07:30 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Cynthetiq
A member here posted, "In my social circle, we don't use namecalling or foul language because it's considered to be impolite. For some of us, namecalling hasn't reached the point where it is so overused that it has lost meaning and power. Some of us are still offended by such language."
Wow, that sounds a lot like me. If I'm not the one who said that, please add a "me too" for that.

[Insert standard "language usage depends on context" response here]

If someone consistently uses the word "slut" as a way to generally describe women in my home, that person would be given the initial benefit of the doubt, but asked to leave and not invited back if it persisted. Likewise, such language is not permitted in my classroom. If such language were being used at another's home or in another venue I would make note of that as one factor to be used in determining whether to return there, a strongly negative one.

It is one of many words of that nature that are commonly and loosely used in some subcultures that don't travel freely into others or to more formal contexts.

I know of several GLBT people who regularly refer to themselves and other gays as "queer", a similar attempt to reclaim a slur. I personally don't want something that came from a bigot with the intent to treat or describe me as less than human.

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slur, taming

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