Is there such a thing as an empowered slut?

Can the word ‘slut’ be redeemed? Or is it too loaded, too ensnared within millennia of misogyny and sexism, to be clawed back, reclaimed as a symbol of woman power, of sexual freedom and the right to be who you want and be safe? SlutWalks are springing up all over the globe, marches are planned or taking place everywhere from Australia to the US and Canada, Europe, South America and ‘even’ the Middle East. SlutWalks are a response, a powerful, public outcry against victim-blaming. As the organisers of the first SlutWalk have said, the movement began from a feeling of having had enough – enough of rapist culture, enough of victim-blaming, enough of the double standards that remain around sex, where men are celebrated for sexual activity while women are denigrated for the exact same behaviour.

‘Slut’ remains a highly divisive word. While the organisers and supporters of SlutWalks insist that the term can be reappropriated, used to imply an enjoyment of sex without pejorative connotations, without shame or judgment, many would disagree. There is no doubt that it remains a word with vicious power, and often equal intent, to hurt. And the hurt it can cause is not limited to insulting a person’s pride or integrity. Slut-shaming is intricately linked to victim-blaming and to a world in which rape occurs at pandemic proportions. The values embedded in the idea of ‘slut’ are not only sexist, they are seriously harmful. Within the term ‘slut’ reside many of the most harmful assumptions and stereotypes that have for so long enabled, and continue to enable, a rapist culture.

While all of this is undoubtedly true and while the pejorative connotations of ‘slut’ are unlikely to disappear any time soon, it seems to me that any public act which brings all of this out into the open, to be discussed and acknowledged, is a good thing. If we are ever to get beyond the ridiculous double standards that continue to surround the way we view and understand sexual activity, if we are ever to leave behind victim-blaming and achieve perpetrator-blaming, if we are ever to create a world in which men and women, people of all and any gender (or racial, sexual, cultural, religious etc.) identification, are truly equal then we need to pull apart these terms that loiter in our language permitting prejudice and inequality to continue to shape, and limit, the world we live in.

And so, although the word ‘slut’ makes me personally deeply uncomfortable, and although I would object loudly and strongly should someone attempt to label me or another with the term in my presence, I support SlutWalk. And although I believe that my sexual attitudes and my sexual activity are both deeply personal and private, not for the examination or judgement of anyone other than those actually physically involved, I expect to attend. I do not call myself a slut. In fact, I don’t even believe in sluts. For me, the term is a relic of a sexist past, an outdated and useless term, an irrelevant indictment of women that is best dismissed and destroyed. However, it’s not up to me. I am (sadly) not endowed with the power to eradicate the word, let alone all the harm and violence that it creates.  I may not be a ‘slut’ but I am most certainly an ally in the fight against violence and the fight for true sexual autonomy.

And so, yes, I think there can be such a thing as an empowered slut. The incredible success and proliferation of SlutWalks are ample proof of that. And why are empowered sluts so important, such a beautiful and admirable thing? Because empowered sluts turn the sexist world upside down. Just like any good carnival, at a SlutWalk, it is the disempowered, the silenced and the marginalised who suddenly become the power brokers, the ones who get to define the meaning of terms and the value of social roles. What SlutWalk achieves is, if not wholly a redemption of the term ‘slut’, at the very least a complication of the term. As a result, those who use the word slut as an insult, as a slur, as a weapon, will find the power of their weapon diminished. Those who use the term as an excuse, as a literal get-out-of-jail-free card, find their licence to harm taken from them. That is why, even though I am not a slut, even though there are no sluts in my view, I will be there, in my jeans and my tshirt, in order to say: call any one of us a slut and you have to call all of us a slut. Or, as Jaclyn Friedman so aptly put it: “If you rape one of us, you will have to answer to all of us.” If that’s what it means to be a slut then, I’m in.

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