Today, Feminista Jones published a great essay that explains why she takes issue with the term "slut shaming." In it, she describes the way we use language to imply specific connotations, and how that language applies when we coin terms about behaviour.
When I realized what the essay was about, I was apprehensive at first. After all, what we understand to be slut shaming within feminist discourse (ie. shaming women for their sexual choices) is definitely something that happens, and is quite obviously a practice that needs to be eradicated. I was unsure of why anyone would take issue with a term that seeks to identify and name that behaviour.
But since I've been following Jones online for almost a year now and I very much respect her voice and opinion, specifically as a sex-positive black woman who writes openly about her sex life, her interest in kink, and the difficulties of confronting that in a society rife with respectability when it comes to black female bodies, I knew that I should do myself a favour and read it before drawing conclusions and I'm really glad I did.
Jones's argument is essentially this: When we "defend" women from being shamed for "being sluts", we are implicitly agreeing that they are sluts.
How? Well she breaks it down wonderfully by examining the ways in which we talk about female sexuality, and the words we use to describe female sexual behaviour within the patriarchal system.
"By definition, a “slut” is a woman, described as slovenly and promiscuous. Slovenly is by no means a compliment and promiscuous certainly has negative connotations. Think of what comes to mind when you think of that particular adjective. Be honest—isn’t your first thought about a woman? How often are men described as promiscuous?"
She also juxtaposes this with the terms "victim blaming" and "fat shaming" to underscore that when we use those terms, we are defending people from being shamed for who they are.
So why do we use “slut-shaming” in the same way? Following the usage of “victim blaming” and “fat shaming”, are we not basically calling women sluts when we talk about them being “slut shamed”? Are we not calling upon the prevalence and relevance of abusive terms and labeling women accordingly, while attempting to empathize with the shame they experience?
Following that thinking, when we frame the phenomenon of women being shamed for their sexual choices as "slut-shaming", we are implying that we are also defending them from being who they are, and stating that who they are is a "slut". The term effectively says "It's totally fine women if are sluts. There's nothing wrong with that."
What Jones essentially says in her essays is that there shouldn't be derogatory terms to describe women's sexual behaviour (she also examines the usage of "whore", "promiscuous" and "prostitute"), and that by invoking those terms to defend ourselves we are inadvertently validating them. As we all know, a woman does not have to engage in sexual activity of any kind to be slut shamed, as the shaming stems from the desire to control women's sexual behaviour.
We are not “sluts”. We are WOMEN and we are being shamed because we are women (who have sex). It is important to keep this at the forefront of the discussion and not rely on catchy buzzwords to make points that, quite honestly, are counterproductive. If we uphold this idea of “slut shaming”, we agree that the word for a woman who enjoys sex is a slut. We become complicit with upholding the standards of sexual morality that generated these words. We are actively accepting and sustaining the limitations placed on sexual enjoyment. We are operating within the parameters of respectability when it comes to sexual pleasure and expression and we’re essentially agreeing that it’s OK to call women sluts. It is never OK to call a woman a slut, even if you’re fighting against so-called “slut shaming”.
FJ was kind enough to engage with me on twitter about her essay and I've complied the conversation so you can see my thought process if you so choose. I had never really considered the term from this perspective before and I appreciated the opportunity to critically think about something that I've taken for granted for quite some time.
I have always seen the reclamation of the term "slut" as a way to take the sting out of something that was created as a weapon against women who refuse to have their morality tied to their sexuality, but after reading this essay, I see that practice in a different light. Reclaiming slut is almost like willingly accepting blame for a crime you didn't commit, or rather for doing something that shouldn't be a crime in the first place.
While I won't go as far as calling for a moratorium on the term as FJ does, I do think it's important to constantly be questioning and critically thinking about the terms we use to describe the influences we come up against.
Jones's essay was very enlightening, and I definitely recommend giving it a complete read.