Slut, whore, b*tch, slag, ho. As a twenty-something year old girl, I have heard it all before. I’ve had all of those words thrown at me. I’ve probably even thrown some of them at other people. They are words that my generation have grown up hearing on the school yard, on our favourite films and all around us. But have you ever stopped to think what it means when you use one of these words?
In 2017, I became aware of the phrase slut-shaming. It is a phrase coined by feminist author Leora Tanenbaum, who says that slut-shaming is the act of punishing a woman for possessing a sexual identity.
After a quick Google search, I read that the word ‘slut’ is actually defined as ‘a woman who has many sexual partners’. The sexism is clear as day, as there is no mention of a man and his sexual relations.
I would be naïve to think that this double standard was a new concept. Ever since the dawn of time, men have been congratulated for their sexual conquests, where women are made to feel shame. For centuries, traditional gender roles have taught us that men ought to exert themselves through their sexual prowess, where us feeble females are locked in a metaphorical chastity belt.
But fast-forward, and it is 2016. Women engage in healthy, free sex lives – much the same as their male counterpart. So why are we still hearing women being demonised and called a slut for the same behaviour?
Did we never learn anything from watching Mean Girls over and over again as a teenager, as Ms Norbury tells her students:
“You have got to stop calling each sluts and whores. That only makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
Leora points out that promiscuous behaviour is encouraged in females and yet criticised in the same breath. Women are expected to be simultaneously sexy and innocent, Leora warns, but if a woman dares take a step over the treacherous line, she is referred to as a slut.
The word itself actually derives from Middle English and was used to describe a physically dirty woman, although it has since evolved to refer to metaphorically dirty woman, ie more promiscuous women.
In reality, slut-shaming goes far beyond a women’s sex life and can sometimes be based purely on a women’s ability to acknowledge her sexuality. A woman’s sexuality is often judged by others by the clothes that they wear, the shape of their body or the amount of makeup that they decide to apply, often factors that are non-related or beyond her control.
Women should be allowed to appreciate their body and their soul as a sexual being as much as they see fit, and also reserve the right not to do so if they wish. But so often women are looked down upon for appreciating themselves, not only from men but from their peers as well.
According to the 2010 Health Survey for England, women have an average of 4.7 sexual partners, in comparison to male average of 9.3. The women of England appear to be more prude than our international counterparts, as the world average for the number of sexual partners for women is said to be 6.8.
Lifestyle blogger, Lix Hewitt, argues that the term ‘slut’ is a myth and exists purely to stifle a women’s sexuality. She claims that whenever a person refers to a woman as a slut, they are telling them to conform to what society expects of her.
In a recent study carried out by The Pulse, 53% of women admitted to feeling victimised for expressing their sexual identity, with a further 89% claiming that they had experienced feeling judged for their actions where they feel a man would not.
What is most astounding, is the majority of the women who took part in the study claimed that the felt that the sexism came from other women rather than from men. When asked why they felt this was the case, many referred back to old fashioned gender stereotypes in which people were conditioned to believe that women were there for the purposes of the man.
It is plausible that women are still conditioned to believe that they are a sexual accessory to a man, and therefore condemn their peers who seek out their own pleasures rather than seeking to please others.
Feminist campaigner, Sam Smethurst says: “Sex is fantastic, and if I’m having it frequently you should be high fiving me.”
Things are moving forward. With programmes such as Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach gracing our screens, young women are not shying away from their sexuality – and have made millions in the process of showing it off to the world. The likes of Charlotte Crosby and Vicky Pattison are now household names who have carved careers for themselves by allowing themselves to break the stereotype on national television and dare to act how society deemed only a man behave.