Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Blog: "Slut" by Stephanie Kuehnert

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Slut
by Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

There are lots of four-letter words that I love: Punk. Girl. Skin. Riot. And of course that naughty one that starts with ‘F’. But one four-letter word that I’m not a very big fan of is Slut. As a teenage riot grrrl, I tried to reclaim it or at least force people to think about the issues surrounding that label. I wrote it on my knuckles in black sharpie. You’re going to label me? Let me do it myself first. But it still didn’t undo the emotional damage that word had already done to me.

I can’t recall the first time I was called slut. Probably in junior high when I didn’t even really have boobs and was so afraid of rejection I never so much as asked a boy to dance. It was interchangeable with “ugly” then, just another demeaning word used to put an insecure girl down. By high school I had the reputation of being a slut before I’d even slept with anyone. Why? Maybe because I turned a guy down nicely because I wasn’t attracted to him and then I started seeing his friend. Maybe because I dated a guy who another girl liked. Maybe because I wore fishnet tights. Actually I’m sure all three of these reasons came into play.

I remember being fifteen, walking down a busy street when some frat-boy types yelled “Slut!” at me from their red convertible just before the light changed. I was wearing a silver skirt that fell just above my knees, fishnets, and combat boots. My boot met the passenger’s side door and I screamed my favorite four-letter word (the one that starts with ‘F’) at them as they drove up. My boyfriend just stood there. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?” I demanded.

“You do dress like a slut sometimes. I don’t think you should dress that way except for me,” he told me. He was controlling. Emotionally and sexually abusive, actually. And I thought I was in love with him. And I lost my virginity to him. And after we broke up, dealing with the aftermath of all those emotions, I carved the word Slut into my upper arm with a straight razor. I was so confused. I was so messed up. Those insults in junior high had left me with such low self-esteem, I easily fell victim to the abusive boyfriend. Sex wasn’t an empowering or beautiful thing to me for many years. It was something that damaged me.

That was what the Slut label did to me, but I had other friends who reacted differently, more like my main character Emily Black in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone does. Emily is assumed to be slutty by everyone in her town because she had a wild mother. Her best friend Regan is labeled the same way because her mom got pregnant as a teenager. Emily and Regan don’t worry about their reputations because they know that no matter what they actually do people will still think of them as sluts. They also have a different take on sexuality than their peers. Since they plan to be rock stars, they just want to fool around and have fun with rocker guys the way those rock god guys use chicks. It’s all fun and games until Emily gets treated like a groupie. She realizes then that her behavior has consequences (which of course it does and I would never advise girls to just sleep around to prove a point because it does have physical and emotional consequences), but she also becomes aware of a glaring double-standard. No one bats an eye or says anything when these guy rock stars sleep around, but when a girl does it? She’s immediately labeled.

As if to prove my point, here is the way Kirkus summed up Emily in the very first line of their review of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone: “Proud, headstrong, and slutty.” I have to admit that I was irritated. There are so many coming-of-age stories about a guy’s quest to lose his virginity and I’ve never seen the word “slutty” used to describe the main character. This especially bothers me because after Emily sees the consequences of sleeping around she stops and focuses on what is important to her: music. As a writer, I was trying to explore the very tough situation that young women are put into regarding sexuality as they grow up. Girls are treated as sexual creatures at younger and younger ages. First there was sexy, teenage Catholic school girl Britney Spears. Now, I have friends who lament that they can’t find boots without high heels for their six year-old or that their seven year-old wants a bikini. And yet the easiest way to discredit a girl or woman is to call her a slut. It doesn’t matter if she’s sleeping around or not, she could be a slut because of what she wears or who she hangs out with or the reputation or economic status of her family. It’s a lot for a girl to battle.

Personally, I think Emily comes through that battle okay and the mistakes she does make are some we can all learn from. One of my favorite scenes in the whole book is when Emily admits to Regan’s mother Molly that she’s been out of control and a guy called her a slut. I think Molly gives some great advice in this situation and, since the double-standard is obviously still out there, that all of us need to listen to her:

“You’ve got to think about your actions, but no guy ever, ever,” she emphasized, “has the right to degrade you. There isn’t one man in this world who’s any better than you. Obviously, that guy wanted you to think that what he does is fine, but when you do it, it’s wrong. And a lot of them will try to make you think that about a whole bunch of different things. You can’t ever take it to heart.”

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Thanks, Stephanie! Find out more about Stephanie at http://stephaniekuehnert.com/.


So what do you guys think of the term "slut" and its variants? What are your experiences with it?
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Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

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46 comments:

Amee said...

That's really interesting. Maybe I was just too much of an obvious goody-goody but I was never called a slut. Bitch? Sure, but slut wasn't really thrown around my school a lot.

Reader Rabbit said...

Great guest blog. I've actually never been called a slut, but then I do go to a super nerdy school. Whore is the term that people in my school like to use but since no one I really know has done anything that could be termed "whoreish/slutty" it's mostly a joke.
Bitch, like Amee brought up, is more commonly used.

Steph said...

I think I've been called a slut before, actually. It does things to your self-esteem, like Stephanie mentioned. Especially depending on the source. Thankfully, I knew I wasn't one because at the time I hadn't even kissed anyone yet. Very interesting insult, that one was.

Liv said...

Wow. That was great. And I completely agree with everything. Why isn't there a word for a guy who's a slut? For girls there about a billion and one different words and for guys: zero.
Never been called a slut myself (I don't think), as I'm a pretty big nerd, but I can connect with that and understand the ramifications because I hang out with girls who would spark those kind of comments.

WannabeWriter said...

I've been called the b-word more often than a slut. But that's probably because I act rather indifferent when it comes to guys at first. So indifferent that I get asked, "Are you a lesbian?" really often these days, haha. This was a great post. Though at my school, people say, "You slut," or "You whore," as like, a greeting. xD

The Story Siren said...

this is me: "I don’t think you should dress that way except for me,” he told me. He was controlling. Emotionally and sexually abusive, actually. And I thought I was in love with him. And I lost my virginity to him." but instead of carving slut into my arm, i had major depression and self worth issues... thankfully i never attmepted suicide although i contemplated it many times.

rimasbookjournal said...

This is really great guest blog.
I've never been called a slut before. At my school, I don't hear much of the word slut, not really at all. I've heard someone call a guy a man-whore.. But Liv's right, there aren't guy slut words while there's a gabillion for girls.

Vanessa (whatvanessareads.wordpress.com) said...

Thank you so much for this great guest blog.
What pisses me off is when girls call each other sluts, bitches, whores, whatever else as a friendly thing. Like "hey slut, how are you?" is a normal sentence for them. They greet each other by the word.

After all we've gone through to stop being degraded by men, we call each other that same word like it's normal. It just aggravates me.

thegoosegirl.com said...

I think it ate my comment...grr. So if this is my second comment, I apologize, and you can delete the first. :-)

Anyway, I love this guest blog. This is something I feel really strongly about, how women are treated and everything, even after all this time.

And seriously, when you think about it, society is setting us up for failure. Girls are held to higher sexual standards and are expected to be all virginal and stuff, yet the media is trying to tell girls that they need to be all mature and sexy and stuff like all the time, even if they're six. Uh-huh. Yeah. So it's like society *wants* to be able to call us "sluts".

I've never been called a slut. Maybe because I mostly talk to girls who are like all conservative Christians. And if I were called a slut, it probably wouldn't bother me because I'm not a slut. And if someone has to call me a slut, then that's their problem that they're a jerk with self-esteem issues. I'm just me. Except it would probably hurt.

But seriously. Why can't society just focus on how girls are feeling when faced with this constant pressure to be both two opposite things at the same time and see how much it tears us apart? Obviously, it does, but like no. Society just does not get it. Grr. Well, and guys probably don't want to get it. And like Vanessa said, girls do it to each other.

Grr.

anilee

Carol(ina) said...

Great guest blog!

I have been called a slut before. I've always found it easier to talk to guys and to make guy friends so my "friends" were jealous of that. Add a "best friend" who had a crush on one of my best guy friends who had a crush on me, and you get almost all of the girl's in my grade calling me a slut, bullying me, and just being nasty.

I did let it get to me. Before I used to be outgoing and now I'm shy, quiet, and find it hard to make friends who are girls. Even though I don't live in the same state anymore, I'm still not the same person I was before.

Khy said...

Love the post.

I've never been called a slut before, and if I keep acting the way I normally do, probably won't be called one anytime soon. But I have had friends who would definitely be called a slut by, um, pretty much everyone.

jocelyn said...

Fantastic blog, Stephanie (and Steph, loving the first of what is sure to be an awesome week). There is most definitely a double standard concerning guys and girls and sex...But what can we do about it? I don't mean that in a helpless way, but as an honest question. What can we do?

Stephanie, the more I read on your blog and stuff, everything you say about you and your life in high school and stuff, the more amazed I am with how awesome you are now--you went through some hard stuff, and I really admire how well you've gotten through it and become the person you are now.

Sarahbear9789 said...

I love the post.
I can't remember being called a slut. I have been called the b-word... too many times to count. The first time someone called me the b-word, I was nine and had to get picked up from school, because I wouldn't stop crying.
My best friend has been called a slut and she has kissed her ex-boyfriend, after they were dating for 2 months. No one deserves that type of label.

"Confuzzled" Shannon said...

Good post. Thanks for sharing your story. I have never been a fan of the word either.

violetcrush said...

Nice Post. I have never been called a Slut before, but I have been called a Lesbian just because I did not date anyone from my college. I had such a strong urge to date left right and centre after I heard the comment but thankfully i didn't.

bamabelle said...

It has been awhile, but yeah, I've been called a slut before. Once I think because of the miniskirt I had on, and once from a guy I would not date, which I find ironic. To me, I used to take those things so much to heart. I tried to act tough on the outside, but I really was not. Now, I really don't care what someone calls me. I know who I am, and I won't let someone else define me. Thanks for the awesome post!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post - truly great.

carmen alexis said...

I think that everyone these days has become so desensitized to words like that, they don't realize that people can actually feel offended and hurt because of it. I think it's great that you shared your story, it raises awareness about the issue. Great blog.

stephanie said...

Wow. Great post! I think this post is extremely relevant with today's world. Because of its frequent uses, Slut has become a word that has been desensitized to our ears.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I know someone mentioned in the comments that they hate how friends will call each other names. I think it depends in some regards...you just have to see if your friend realizes you ARE NOT being serious...and of course, don't let it get to where other people think they can say those things.

In general, I don't think you should go around calling people a slut or other names. It does hurt a lot of people.

The main thing I did like about this guest blog, though, is how men and women are treated differently. So true! It's insane, but it happens all the time.

-lauren

A.S. King said...

"I have friends who lament that they can’t find boots without high heels for their six year-old."

Count me in. Shopping in the girl's department for my daughters has become a virtual no-no anymore. All the pants are sexy low-rise (and don't actually fit) even for 3-year-olds. Did you know they now market gel-bras to girls as young as nine? Also - thongs. These things are really telling and disturbing, especially seeing I spent a large part of my summer researching child porn laws. Seriously - our culture is a mixed up contradiction.

And I'd love to add this, seeing I have just spent a long time trying to find suitable toys for a 6-year-old girl for Christmas. Why are most toys for girls make up and hair styles and perfume and lip gloss or kitchens, vacuums and babies who pee, that come with diapers? Seriously. My mother had the same problem for her three girls (the clothing too) in the 1960s/70s. Why is this not changing?

Great blog!

Amy

Kimberly Derting said...

I had a best friend who was pretty dang promiscuous, and hanging around with her was starting to give me a bad reputation. I remember going to school one day and hearing that I'd slept with this guy over the weekend, and people were whispering that I was slutty and easy. I was still a virgin (all we'd actually done is make-out at a party). After that, I found myself gravitating toward other friends who were more, shall we say, chaste. Sadly, I let some ugly words damage an otherwise solid friendship.

Rock and Roll Mama said...

Powerful stuff, Steph. I was definite;y called that a few times in high school, and it did damage me- I soon started to act as though If I've earned the label, whatever. I've always hated double standards.

Dude you should write a letter to Kirkus Review. That is UNCONSCIONABLE that they would use that word in relation to a heroine in this day and age. Hoe dare they legitimize it, and take all of Emily's struggles down to the one word that describes them the least. Oooh I'm so mad for you right now. All best, L

Alea said...

Great guest post! Liv, I think I've heard the term "Man whore" thrown around but it doesn't get used nearly as much as slut. It definitely seems sometimes people use terms that don't even make any sense in situations if they are at a loss for words. In the end usually they are the only ones that look bad I say.

harmonybookreviews said...

Wow... That's probably the best guest blog ever.

Slut is thrown around a lot at my school, mainly just as a "joke". I don't think I've ever been called it. I used to say it to some people when I gossiped with my friends but then I was called something similar and realized how much it hurt so none of that for me anymore.

Cassandra said...

This post is absolutely fantastic. FANTASTIC. I myself have never been called a slut, but I've been witness to it's damaging effects on girls around me. If you're labelled as something long enough, that label begins to take a hold of you if you're not careful. You begin to believe it, and act accordingly.

Society has such a ridiculous double standard when it comes to sexuality, especially for girls, but also for guys. I could say I could care less about it and what other people think about my sexual activities or lack thereof, as the case may be, but that wouldn't be entirely true. Sure, Society is an evil, rampant, unequal thing, but it's part of being human and being social creatures. So I guess it's up to us to deal and fight.

Again, great post. Thank you so much for sharing. And Steph, thank you for hosting this Girl Week on your blog! I'm hooked. :D

sammyjones57 said...

I think this was one of the best blogs! I'm going to comment on the "drive by slut guy". Explain to me why guys do that? I use to walk home from school (since the age of like 6-although the name calling didn't happen until junior high), but guys would randmoly shout ot all sorts of names at me. Like you, I responded by screaming back with the f word or other things, and some days I'd just throw up the middle finger and be done with it.

Now I'm in my 20's and last year I was pumping my gas minding my own buisness and this car drives by and some guy yells SLUT at me. It had been so long since I had a drive by name call that I didn't even know how to respond. I just stood there like W..T..F! Some old man just stares at me with this "uh-huh" look on his face. I'm thinking does he think I'm a slut too? Becuase I'm dressed in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, nothing slutty about that! I call my friend who dies of hysterical laughter pointing considering I'm probably the biggest prude she knows. So yeah, the slut word irks me as well.

I've seen a lot of people make the comment about the word bitch. This word has been said to me so many times it might as well be my middle name. But my response to that now is: Tell me something I don't know.

Yan said...

Wow. That was emotional powerful. I hate the word slut. It's such an insulting term too me like as if you're lower than scum.

In school terms it's something someone says to people who pissed you off or stole your boyfriend. Or to another friend as a funny joke that describes how fickle and flirty she is.

"...that their seven year-old wants a bikini."
I'm not sure how mothers deal with girls that wear these types of outfits. Like seriously, you're 9 years old, you don't even have your period yet, what the heck are you doing wearing these clothing! Cover yourself! Losing your virginity isn't as fun and cool as what kids/friends are saying. Don't throw your life away to some creepy horny little kid >:(

Shalonda said...

I am with Vanessa on this one. It's bad enough when a girl is called a slut by a guy, but when she's greeted that way by her friends---puhleeze!

I can't stand to hear girls call each other names. So many women fought so that we could be who we are today--strong, educated, independent, need I go on?

I love that Stephanie uses a strong feminine character, who stands for every one of us who has ever been called a slut or any other degrading name.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I just want to say thank you to everyone who commented! It means so much to me to read your stories, thoughts, and support! ANd I feel for each and every one of you who has gone through the Slut thing or anything similar. The Story Siren, I'm sorry to hear that you went through something so similar to what I did because obviously I know from experience how ugly that is. But I'm proud of you for surviving. I'm proud of all of us!

Oh and thank you Jocelyn for your sweet words about me. Part of me feels like I survived all that I did so that I could write these stories and help others :)

Lastly thanks to Steph for hosting SUCH an important week as this one!! YAY!
xoxo
Stephanie Kuehnert

Liviania said...

Wow, I'm excited to read all these posts Steph!

Loved this guest blog.

I've never been called a slut, but I have been often accused of being a lesbian. That's what they call you when they haven't seen you kissing a guy and thus can't use the slut slur. I tended to find it funny since I see nothing wrong with being a lesbian but I would have gotten angry if someone called me a slut.

I was holding hands with my boyfriend at an academic meet while we played bridge with two of our friends when a guy accused me of something *very* lewd. I loved the way my bf handled it. He found me a pencil to stab the guy with. I don't know where the guy got the idea it was alright to say those things aloud about *anyone*.

The second worst thing anyone said to me was an assistant principle. He asked me (in front of two of my friends) in a very incredulous voice, "Do you have a father?" He didn't even know my name and he made a value judgment about both me and my family. I still regret that I never complained about it. (I only didn't because I actually did have a father who loved me and was involved in my life but happened to live five hours away.)

Alessandra said...

I've never been called a slut before. A lesbian, yes, but never a slut. I remember that when I when to junior high, some of my classmates who were very much into boys, makeup and all these things called themselves sluts. Not as an insult, but as something to be proud of. I've never really understood them.

lovelessangel93 said...

The first time I was ever called anything degrading was in 7th grade. I was in gym class playing dodge ball with all of the guys sitting in the bleachers watching, and one of them called my name so I would notice him. I looked at him, and just as I looked him right in the eyes he called me a slut. A week later someone else called me a whore.
I already had low self-esteem, but what what was worse than my self-esteem crashing down was that I didn't know why they were calling me that. I was 12, I hadn't even had my first kiss yet so why were they calling me things like that?
I still don't know to this day. It's been almost 4 years, and I still want to know why.
My guess is that they just wanted to bring down someone who was different than them.

Gillda said...

I love this post because, as a high school teacher, I have been known to go on a tirade about the word. It is so demeaning, unfair, and wrong. Thankfully students usually see my point when I explain why I hate it so much. Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl is a great book about a girl who is considered the town slut. I want to add it to our summer reading so that more students will think before they judge.

Walter Rowntree said...

"Why isn't there a word for a guy who's a slut? For girls there about a billion and one different words and for guys: zero."
It's because humans are social creatures (As Cassandra points out), and our social interactions are asymmetrical. Men and women are not just the same. We evolved with different investments in our offspring, and therein lies the reason women can be sluts and men can't. Men are expected to be 'sluts', and in fact they are considered to be at the end of the bell curve if they aren't. So there isn't a word for a man slut because we all are. The genesis of the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy ("good girl" or "slut")is grounded in our different investments in our offspring, and the human species' use of sex to form alliances. Read "Why is Sex Fun" by Jared Diamond if you are interested in the evolutionary ethology of sexual behavior.
Also, interestingly, the word 'slut' was what a female dog was called at the turn of the (last) century, and over time came to have its modern meaning. 'Bitch' had to be coined to refer to a female dog, and GUESS WHAT!

Just Listen said...

Amazing. That was an amazing guest blog.

Though I don't have many stories about me personally being called a slut, my best friend does. It hurts watching how she acts like nothing's wrong or that it doesn't bother her at all.

I hate how loosly and easily the word is used now.

Liviania said...

I would like to point out the world 'manwhore.'

Walter Rowntree said...

'Manshore'. Good. That's one! Any more?

Walter said...

ManWhore
Sorry

Ann-Kat said...

This post made me really go back and think about all the derogatory names I've been called throughout my life. Oddly, slut is not among them. However, I do remember one girl who became known as the class slut, but she was also a friend of mine and I got to watch first hand how the name affected her.

Unfortunately, she was branded with the name because she had developed early and therefore must have been "easy" (she wasn't).

When I first met her, she was bright and vibrant, but as the years progressed, her appearance along with her self-esteem slowly devolved. It was painful to watch and it broke my heart that I couldn't do anything more than stand by her.

When we finished school, we lost touch, but your post just reminded me of her. I truly hope that she reclaimed the strength that had faded and sees herself for who she truly is.

------------------
As for terms that describe "male sluts", you're right, I haven't heard too many and the ones I've heard include "pimp" and "husla" and "playboy"...not nearly as demoralizing as "slut". Even "manwhore" isn't that bad (at least when I've seen it in action); they guy usually just pops his collar and smiles. *sigh*

Promiscuous Woman said...

Back in my day, you were either called a slut because girls were jealous of you, guys couldn't have you or you were in fact, just easy.

Anonymous said...

I like this.

To me if some girl wants to have casual sex then that is her decision, what annoys me about the word 'slut' is that it holds more weight than just a girl who sleeps around. It basically means shes worthless, ruined, below everyone just for her choosing to live her own life.

It's so degrading.

Great post x

Anonymous said...

I have been called a slut a ton of times. And your right it damaged my self esteem a lot. But the weird part is I'm still a virgin and I've never made out with a guy. A few girls have been calling me that because a lot of guys like me, even though I said no to them all.. I wish it would stop

Anonymous said...

people have been calling me this around school a lot lately and i haven't dated or flirted with many boys in my school, and it really hurts me, and my self esteem. it also really affects the way i feel about myself and my pride. i hate how people tend to call me this because my shirt is a little deep sometimes, but not too deep, and because maybe a few guys like me here and there, but i never ever get far enough to date them, and mostly the people who call me slut.. well they've never seen me around boys at all and i am still a virgin.



i don't know why they call me this but it really bothers me & my self esteem, and i wish they would stop. anybody want to help me learn how to cope? i'm 14 and i definitely am not a slut.

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