Stop Slut Shaming Me, English Language!

Because I have a vagina, I am called a woman, but because I am a sexual woman, I am called a slut. Or worse. And when I say “I,” I speak for many women. Not all women, but all of the women who have been called sluts, whores and bitches.

Bitch has a different connotation, of course. We are called bitches for asserting ourselves. Assertive men are leaders. Assertive women are bitches, or at least called bossy. But when we’re in the full power of our womanhood and we’re not holding back for fear of being judged, aren’t we all really bitchy sluts at heart? Because wouldn’t we all like to assert ourselves and wouldn’t we all like to take as much pleasure in our sexuality as we can?

The English language is so sexist, it demeans us at every turn. Even the existence of certain words and nonexistence of others speaks to English’s inherent sexism. For example, the word “cuckold,” a man who is being cheated on by his wife. Why is there NO equivalent word in the English language for a woman being cheated on by her husband? And piggybacking on that lovely oversight, there is no male equivalent for the word “mistress.” A woman who a man is seeing outside his marriage is a mistress, with all that word connotes (and it’s not positive), but a man who is seeing a woman outside her marriage doesn’t get any special gendered name. He’s a lover, plain and simple, a positive and gender-neutral word.

We already know there is no male equivalent for the word “slut,” which although now sometimes applied to men, is a term made for women to shame us and keep us in our place. And not only is there no male word for slut, but instead the positive word “stud” is used to express admiration for a man with many sexual conquests. They’re studs; we’re sluts.

There is no female equivalent, for the word “stud,” yet there are words for “slut,” that I didn’t even know existed. Have you ever heard the word “slattern?” Neither had I, until I listened to the Dear Sugar podcast and heard author Mary Karr use the word. According to Merriam-Webster, it means “an untidy, dirty woman; a slovenly woman; also slut, prostitute.”

I’ve got a pretty good vocabulary, so I was surprised to learn there’s a word for slut that I had never heard in my life. What a great word, “slattern,” if we think about it just from an expression perspective and not from a gender-equality perspective. But it’s getting harder and harder not to think of everything from a gender-equality perspective when a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women is now in the White House. We need to create a word for men who brag about grabbing women by the pussy. And I don’t mean a word that already exists like “asshole.”

English needs to catch up with the times and give fair play to men’s harassment, their sluttiness, their role as the “male-stress” with married women (“mister” just doesn’t cut it). I don’t even believe in the validity of sluttiness as a concept, but as long as our culture does, let’s be able to call men out as sluts just as women are called sluts, whether or not we qualify. One word at a time, we can chip away at the sexism that is embedded in how we speak.

After that, we’ll work on coming up with a female equivalent for “cuckold.” It shouldn’t be “wife.” Not all men cheat, just as not all women who enjoy sex are sluts, and not all women who can take charge inside the bedroom and the boardroom are bitches.

And if you deign to call me a slut (though I’ve been doing a good job keeping my eyes and ears open and legs closed), I’d at least like you to use the least common and classiest word possible. I’m certainly not untidy, but if I’m going to be judged and insulted, call me a slattern.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Nice topic for word nerds!

    So an online trip to Merriam-Webster reveals that there IS in fact an obscure word for the female cuckold: cuckquean. But it likely hasn’t been used since the Middle Ages.

    That said, I’m actually fine and dandy with their being no common female equivalent to that word, because it is a demeaning and emasculating one — an insult to the MALE. A cuckold is basically an overly submissive, dickless man who “allows” his wife to walk all over him by fucking other men (there’s a racist aspect to it as well, because it has often been used to target a white man whose wife has sex with black men). It’s a term used to humiliate the man.

    Lately, the alt-right has embraced the term “cuckservative” (“cuck” for short) to, again, describe a limp, passive, inadequate man who can’t get things done (think an old-school “weak” conservative vs. the alt-right’s much admired strongman-types — Trump and Putin, etc.). It’s right up there with “snowflake” these days. No man wants to be called a cuck.

    So I say keep your “cuckold,” men — we women are just fine without a popular equivalent term.

    However, I DO agree regarding the need for a male version of slut. Of course, as you note, the problem is that, in our culture, a “male slut” is just very unlikely to EVER be seen as a bad thing. We would need a huge cultural shift to turn any term for “male slut” into a pejorative.

    As for a term for a female stud — the Samantha Jones? 😉

    1. There is a lot to unpack here, Rebecca! What an informative comment. Anything the alt-right is embracing *can’t* be good, language-wise or otherwise. I had no idea that there was ever a female equivalent of the word “cuckold” even in the Middle Ages, and what a word: cuckquean! Yet more proof of what a wonderful resource Merriam-Webster online is. Definitely one of my favorite apps too. Thank you for the history lesson and the informative commentary. Some of my other readers seem to think “slut” is good enough for men too, but I still think they deserve their own gendered word.

  2. I think the word “slut” can be unisex. Not that we need a demeaning word for either gender; but, if needed, there it is!

  3. I have used the word slut to describe a man. Some people raise their eyebrows at me as if to say “a man can’t be a slut”. But I think the word can apply equally to men and their sexual habits.

  4. You raise some good and important issues here. The problem is that you’re up against biology. We are genetically programmed to promote the survival of the race through reproduction. From a purely biological point of view, the best way to accomplish that is for men to have many partners but for women to have just one, since women can’t have more than one baby a year, at most, anyway. I think many of our social norms, and the vocabulary that flows from them, arise from this simple biological need. A man who sleeps around is helping the human race continue; a woman who sleeps around is potentially threatening the safety of her offspring by risking the protection of her husband or partner without any corresponding reproductive benefit. Obviously we’ve evolved to a point where, at least theoretically, society can move beyond our basic biological imperatives, but these instincts are deeply rooted and hard to shake. The vocabulary isn’t going to change until our attitudes change, and that’s not going to be easy.

    1. Another deeply insightful comment! Thank you, Susan. I have the smartest readers. Being up against biology, biology always seems to win, doesn’t it? Framed that way, do we really stand a chance of changing society’s attitudes and our corresponding language? It seems we should because we are rational creatures who can think through the hypocrisy of our current sexist language, but like you so eloquently point out, biology trumps rationality. Does this make me feel any better about the slut-shaming nature of English? Not really.

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