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June 02, 2014

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Recently, I've heard "whore" doing a lot of the scut work that "slut" did when I was growing up in the Eighties. But back then (in the rural Midwest), it was common and quite clearly understood to precisely mean "promiscuous", and class wasn't a significant factor in predicting its users.

More generally, most of my recent exposure to Kids Today was in the Army, which is both more conservative and misogynistic than society at large, so I'm reluctant to make any judgements on current usage of this particular term of endearment. In that context I did hear it from time to time, but again, "whore" was more common, and in precisely those instances where I'd've expected "slut" growing up.

It's not clear to me that the class elements of "slut" are present when young men use it, or if that's specific to young women -- who use it a *lot*, much more freely than they use "whore", which is a far more serious insult.

In the UK, the term is politically incorrect in the most literal sense:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24222992

UKIP leader Nigel Farage insisted nothing Mr Bloom had said was in malice and he did not want to see his colleague "hounded out of the party"

The Yorkshire and Humber MEP had the whip removed last week after a recording emerged of him joking that a group of UKIP women who did not clean behind their fridges were "sluts".

This reminds me of the way "fag" was used at one time, not necessarily to indicate that someone was gay, but to indicate that they were unmanly. In which case, the use of the word "slut" would mean "not a Lady." This indicates that it is less a comment on morality, and more a way of putting people into what Graham Greene called "the torturable class" in Our Man in Havana. The very vagueness of the insult makes it more useful, as you can put anyone you dislike into a class you are allowed to torment with it.

You quote the review of Armstrong (and Hamilton, presumably?), which says:

Before killing seven people in his rampage, Elliot Rodger vowed to "slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut"— all while complaining that those very same "sluts" refused to sleep with him.

To Armstrong, the shooting highlighted that "slut" is simply a misogynistic catch-all, a verbal utility knife that young people use to control women and create hierarchies.

I think that misses out on the racist component of Rodgers' actions. from this link

In January, Rodger posted a message, entitled “Saw a black guy sitting with 4 white girls,” in which he expressed his outrage over white women socializing with minority men:

Today I drove through the area near my college and saw some things that were extremely rage-inducing.

I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good.

Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!!

What rage-inducing sights did you guys see today? Don’t you just hate seeing these things when you go out? It just makes you want to quit life.

When another poster said he was being racist, Rodger responded with disbelief that white women were interested in these “undeserving” men instead of him:

I don’t understand how these guys do it.

Here we are suffering on PuaHate when these lesser, undeserving men that I saw today are walking around with hot girls. It doesn’t make sense.

Thus, 'slut' is not a 'catch-all', but actually directed at the fact that he felt those women were not having sex with the 'right' kind of guy, with the right kind of guy being determined by tropes of racism.

So, would I be a racist if "I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls." and I went over to him and gave him a high-five? Or would I just be a sexist?

Slut means promiscuous. It has always meant that, and it has been a term used for that, even in the early '70's. The difference between the early '70's and now is that many women were practicing an ethic of being able to enjoy sexual relationships of various kinds, including with men they didn't intend to "go steady" with. Because of the "sexual revolution" this was all fine among people who were likeminded. Women themselves varied widely in the comfort level they had with sexual freedom, but most women who were in college, or who were trying to be open-minded, tolerated that kind of experimentation among their peers. (I should also mention that men (in general - obviously there were lots of men with lots of different views) were fine with women's sexual freedom. A few years later, lots of those men were not so fine with paying women the same as men, promoting women as often as men, or treating women as equals professionally.)

Later on, the '70's college generation grew up, got married, and enjoyed the same propriety, jealous interest in their spouses as their parents had. Also, AIDS scared people into monogamy and "committed" "loving" sex. Basically, "free love" went out of style, and society eventually reverted to earlier sexual mores, including (what we have now) lavish weddings, insistence on marriage, and an effort to include all people in the opportunity (obligation?) to pledge monogamy for life (even though half of them divorce). Also, endless articles were written about single mothers and poverty and end of culture as we know it (witness the reparations thread).

Women and gay people who aren't monogamous are basically "sluts" according to a lot of people. It's still more okay for heterosexual men to be polygamous unless they get caught in a media scandal.

My tone might suggest that I think that the "free love" experiment should have continued, or that it is a perpetually satisfying as a life-long project. I don't, really. But, one positive thing about it was that you didn't hear from most people the word "slut." People seemed to be more willing to mind their own business, or to support the choices of their friends.

I think that it's difficult to make a determination about the word "slut" from Rodger's use of it. It's always been a catch-all insult, and would, I'm sure, apply to any category of Rodger's misogyny, whether it included sleeping with people not Rodger, hanging out with non-Rodger people, including other racial categories, etc. His use of the word reflected 1) on his mental illness and 2) on the fact (in his misogynistic mind) that women who are powerful (powerful enough to reject him) deserve to be called names.

So, would I be a racist if "I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls." and I went over to him and gave him a high-five? Or would I just be a sexist?

No, you would be presumptuous.

No, you would be presumptuous.

:-)

deserve to be called names

Oh, deserved to be called names, and then killed. But killing wasn't reserved for sluts.

I suppose, Charles, that would depend on how you did it. It would be pretty crass regardless how you did it, sort of a frat boy kind of thing and I'd be embarrassed no matter how you engineered the encounter.

Sapient, given that Rodgers' first 3 victims were his Asian roommates, I think that classifying it as misogyny only (as Armstrong seems to) is mistaken. That might be a problem with giving it a label, in that we don't have any word for misogyny+racism, but it is remarkable that the first 3 victims didn't really get acknowledged. This salon piece was interesting about that

I'm reading the Salon piece now, lj, but I completely agree with you. I have thought a lot about that, and definitely should have included racist-misogynistic in my comment about him.

lj, thanks for the link to the Salon piece. I hadn't realized that Rodger had an ethic Chinese-Malaysian mother. I was so sad for his Asian roommates. I can't imagine the pain of their parents. All of the victims' families, of course.

Also, funny, just reflecting on life in the '70's, as a young person growing up with "gender equality" issues:

Women my age wore mini-skirts, were braless (or, later, wore bras outside their clothes a la Madonna). Our mothers would have told their daughters, "Put on a sweater or something!" particularly when traveling on the subway or in places where creepy people would have been encountered.

I read this, and had to think about it for awhile:

"My friend was wearing a miniskirt and a brightly colored lace bra that was visible underneath her shirt. I was in a short black dress. The man growled. I heard the words “beautiful ladies.” My friend didn’t notice. I kept an eye on him."

Okay. So, when people wear miniskirts and see-through blouses with lacy bras (meant to be seen) underneath, they're surprised when creepy people are creepy?

Please understand: People should wear what they want, and creepy people shouldn't be creepy! Creepy people should be removed for questioning (for criminal prosecution or mental health treatment). But if you're hanging out in public places where you're likely to encounter a lot of people, a small percentage of whom are very creepy, for your own protection: Wear a sweater or something!

Thanks Sapient, I should add that I thought the first part of what you wrote about how the sexual revolution interacts with this were spot on. The whole thing is like one of those things that I really really don't want to follow, but like the car wreck you can't take your eyes off of.

An old joke:

Four Oxford men visiting London come upon a group of ladies of the evening.

"Oh, look," says the first Oxford man, "a covey of harlots!"

"Pish posh," says the second, "it's a flourish of strumpets."

"No, no" says the third, "they are an essay of trollops."

"Let us not argue," says the fourth. "Let's just call them an anthology of pros."

No particular point here, except that "slut" is among the least sophisticated terms of opprobrium around.

--TP

In Middle English it was a word for kitchen maid, so the derogatory connotation began as a class aspersion.

And thus does meaning come full circle....

Just for comparision:
In German the equivalent of 'slut' is 'Schlampe'. The corresponding adjective 'schlampig' has no sexual connotations at all but simply means 'shoddy' and is applied mostly to substandard workmanship and ways of dressing (like: stained shirt not properly tucked into the trousers, loose necktie, unkempt hair).

so would Schlampe = sloppy ?

There is also the word 'slattern' - whose original definition is a messy/untidy/dirty woman, but has come to take on a similar meaning to 'slut'.

Given that both are aimed at women in a derogatory manner (though I have heard 'slut' applied to men, I've never come across 'slattern' being used that way), it is unsurprising that they have taken on sexual meaning.

One might also consider the different meanings of 'tramp' depending upon whether it describes a man or a woman.

"Sloppy" descends from Old English "sloppe", which means "dung". I don't have a German-language etymology dictionary handy, but it's certainly possible that schlampig was derived from Old English as well.

It wouldn't be unusual for one to be swiped from the other in that direction.

"Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man."

Full circle, indeed.

Sapient: "Later on, the '70's college generation grew up, got married, and enjoyed the same propriety, jealous interest in their spouses as their parents had. Also, AIDS scared people into monogamy and "committed" "loving" sex. Basically, "free love" went out of style, and society eventually reverted to earlier sexual mores, including (what we have now) lavish weddings, insistence on marriage, and an effort to include all people in the opportunity (obligation?) to pledge monogamy for life (even though half of them divorce). Also, endless articles were written about single mothers and poverty and end of culture as we know it (witness the reparations thread). "

Please check on things like age at first marriage, number of sexual partners at time of marriage, etc. The sexual revolution is not over.

"Okay. So, when people wear miniskirts and see-through blouses with lacy bras (meant to be seen) underneath, they're surprised when creepy people are creepy?

Please understand: People should wear what they want, and creepy people shouldn't be creepy! Creepy people should be removed for questioning (for criminal prosecution or mental health treatment). But if you're hanging out in public places where you're likely to encounter a lot of people, a small percentage of whom are very creepy, for your own protection: Wear a sweater or something!"

To me, the first paragraph contradicts the second.

How does the first paragraph contradict the second. One describes the ideal. The other describes the real world that we currently live in. As so often happen, the ideal is not matched by reality. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be the ideal.

wj,

Similarly, I have the right to walk around the city in the night, drunk and singing aloud. If someone mugs me and robs my wallet, because I'm advertising my vulnerability, or because they don't like my singing, they are clearly in the wrong. Yet, it might happen.

However, every time I've been wondering around the city drunk and singing aloud, I've been in a group of at least five or six like-minded friends or colleagues, which decreases the likelihood of someone assaulting us a lot.

So what about when people (who may or may not happen to be male) go around without wearing a shirt in towns? Should they expect creepy people to be creepy? Should they be putting on sweaters so they don't incite people to creep on them? Why are there so few shirtless people complaining about the creepy people who harass them and try to rub themselves against them? Where are the stories about people who won't let some random stranger feel their biceps and get called a tease?

Not that wearing a sweater or jacket is not reasonable advice for people - and realistically, not all people, but women - who are going out in public in dress-up clothes, but it's worth noting that the women were getting on the subway.

Not so much hanging around, as much as trying to get from point A to point B.

If you live in a large city, and where you're going is to a party, you're going to be on a bus or subway while all dressed up.

I.e., while presenting yourself in a deliberately attractive way.

It's not always possible to avoid being lovely in public. It's weird, and a shame, that it seems necessary.

What struck me most from the New Yorker piece was this quote, cited from the YesAllWomen hashtag:

Men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them, while women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them.

The quote is from Margaret Atwood. It speaks to a real difference in what it's like for men and women to be in the world.

I don't think there's anything wrong with sapient's advice, if I had a daughter I'd probably find myself saying exactly those words fairly often.

But it's weird, and a shame, that women can't be attractive in public without worrying that they're provoking some guy like Rodgers to kill them.

Men don't really have to think about things like that. Other things, maybe, but not that.

Should they expect creepy people to be creepy?

People should always expect and prepare for creepy people to be creepy. Men have to worry about them too, although perhaps the "triggers" are different.

I appreciate your comment, russell, and agree with it. I will mention though that Rodger killed more men than he did women on his little rampage. And that young men are homicide victims at a much higher rate than women (although women are killed by partners quite a bit more frequently than the reverse).

Again, magistra, people should go shirtless if they want, or wear revealing clothing if they want. Their choice of clothing doesn't turn them into "deserving" victims if they're confronted by people who either can't or won't control their behavior.

That said, does anyone honestly think that all of the creepy people in the world will suddenly disappear? Is it bad advice to suggest that people might consider toning down their sexuality when travelling in dark tunnels with people they don't know? Nobody has to do that, and nobody is a "slut" who defies the creeps and wears whatever he or she wants.

For the most part, there seem to be many more respectful, cool, men now than forty years ago, who aren't threatened or inspired to bad behavior by female sexuality, either in social situations or in the workplace. However, what you do about the rest of them is the perpetual problem. And there will always be people way on the fringes in public places. Avoiding their notice is one sensible coping strategy.

Men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them, while women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them.

At first blush, this seems a bit overwrought. OTOH, my wife and daughter (both attractive women) are very careful where and when they go out.

The thing about dressing in an objectively provocative or alluring way isn't that it justifies criminal or even boorish behavior, it is that it draws criminal and boorish people. Fixing the problem of criminal and boorish people isn't easy.

Is it sexist to suggest that it is unwise for women, particularly young women, not to unduly heighten their profile as potential victims?

I am careful where I go and very careful about not putting myself in a situation that would make me a target. I don't know why the same general rule of prudent avoidance doesn't apply universally--not to excuse or justify criminal or other bad behavior, just to make it less likely.

According to my dictionary 'schlampig' is related to a Middle High German word meaning 'to slack', so the original meaning was more in the direction of 'lazy' than 'shoddy'. The word 'Schlamm' (mud) was introduced by Luther probably with the connotation 'slacking, formless mass'. Luther did not speak English to my knowledge.

One thing that I think might have been helpful for Sasha Weiss, is 1) calling the police; 2) setting up a twitter feed to warn people about potential anti-social types hanging around in public places, 3) a hotline to get an escort to accompany one who is confronting a potential creep.

Obviously, #YESALLWOMEN was an inspirational solidarity building thing, and I'm not against it. I'm thinking though that if I were sitting on a subway, being harassed, I might want to have a plan.

Interesting post. I intend to ask my 19 yr. old college freshman daughter if she is aware of much "slut-shaming" at her large Midwestern university. Thanks for the tip!

I was kind of baffled too, by the whole "Greek system" equals "affluent" that was mentioned in the Atlantic article. Back in the day, there were people attracted to the "Greek system" who were maybe wealthy, but also conformist and conservative. There were plenty of wealthy liberal types who eschewed the "Greek system". I'm thinking maybe that the "Greek system" has its own historical values.

Not just conformist and conservative, but highly status-conscious and fond of hierarchy. You make a good point; it's a dangerous matter to do much generalization based on collegiate social mores in the Greek system.

Thanks, Nombrilisme Vide. I actually went to school in a highly "Greek system" social environment. I wasn't interested in that, and my college days weren't my favorite social experience. But I've known others who did okay with all of that. For good or bad, it's its own thing, for sure, and not representative.

Is it sexist to suggest that it is unwise for women, particularly young women, not to unduly heighten their profile as potential victims?

No, not really.

The weird thing is that they have to consider whether wearing party attire or nightclub clothes on the subway is going to heighten their profile as potential victims. Even if they're wearing those clothes because they happen to be enroute to a party or a club.

It's just not something guys ever, ever, ever have to think twice about.

It's not sexist or unreasonable to say that they will draw less attention to themselves, of both wanted and unwanted varieties, if they dress differently.

It just strikes me that it's a weird reality to have to live with.

It just strikes me that it's a weird reality to have to live with.

Well, factor in that "party attire" for women means "sexy clothes", whereas for men means "dressy clothes" or "colorful clothes". Men's dressy clothes (even if we're talking about fashionable or interesting clothes, rather than tuxes) don't highlight "manly parts" - in other words, see-through shorts aren't involved, etc. Women are expected to look somewhat sexy in "party clothes".

That can be fun for women, especially when they look good in clothes, because who doesn't want to be desirable to those who are likewise desirable? The trouble is, when men are desirable, they can more easily ignore those that they don't mutually desire. Women have to fend off people who they don't desire, while enjoying being desirable to those they do.

The dynamics of objectification are complicated. People contribute to their own objectification, because in some ways it's fun. Keep in mind that it also sucks to be a woman who doesn't "look lovely" in party clothes.

It's not problematic to suggest risk mitigation strategies. It's problematic to suggest that risk mitigation is the only possible recourse to address such matters, and quite depressingly, this is not uncommon.

It's problematic to suggest that risk mitigation is the only possible recourse to address such matters, and quite depressingly, this is not uncommon.

Being real, however: it's important to figure out ways to discourage sexual harassment. I'm not sure how easy it is to measure whether we're even doing that "on the streets". Maybe it's because I'm old, but the public masturbators, while unpleasant in the extreme, seem to me to be recalcitrant sociopaths. Can they be cured? Don't know. Would prison be a plus? Don't know.

Domestic abuse is the most insidious problem, IMO, not public harassment. But maybe I'm wrong.

In any case, I don't mean to suggest that women wear burqas, or that they do anything differently. People like wearing makeup; people use clothing as a means of self-expression. But appearance is an objectifying factor, and being objectified is what we want to avoid. Not sure that there's an easy answer to all of this, except to mind one's own safety.

There isn't an easy answer. That's why there's the tendency to start and end with risk mitigation; everything else tends to require some large, unclear, and sometimes uncomfortable amount of cultural changes. It's easy and clearly potentially productive to tell victims of street harassment to try to lower their profile and avoid doing things to draw attention or escalate incidents; it's hard and apparently quixotic to tell society at large "stop doing street harassment - no, I know we already say not to, but we really mean it this time!". The portions of society that engage in e.g. catcalling, stalking, flashing, public masturbation, or frottage aren't likely to take such admonishments seriously once they've fixed their attitudes on the matter, and the ways said individuals learn that these are reasonable behaviors aren't exactly clear or easy to discern. Much easier (and less likely to cause offense) if you only focus on the victims' behavior. So yeah, I agree, it's not an easy problem.

I'm somewhat inclined to draw parallels to the Army's efforts to combat its sexual assault epidemic. When I was in, they were switching from a victim-centric approach (which wasn't really working) to an attempt to change the culture, recognize potentially predatory behaviors, and reduce tendencies to be a bystander. It's not clear any of those strategies will work better. It's a mess, and the core of it is that despite our best efforts to teach people that certain behaviors are unacceptable, some portion of them persistently refuse to accept that, quite possibly because they belong to subcultures that (covertly or overtly) teach that this conduct is juuuuuuuuust fine.

NV, it is possible to change that kind of culture. But what it would require, in for example the case of the military, it to teach that in the culture there it will not be tolerated, regardless of what was true in the subculture the individual came from before joining the military.

And it will require that the sanctions for violating that (new) cultural norm will be both very high probability and serious. Draconian, even. At least until the culture adjusts.

The military has demonstrated that it can do this kind of thing. Consider the way that, in th3 1950s after the integration of the military, it change the military culture to one which did not tolerate whites disrespecting blacks, no matter how things were in the troops' original subculture. It wasn't a trivial exercise (not least because a significant part of the officer corps and senior NCOs came from those kinds of subcultures), but they made it happen. And, given the will, they can do so again.

Well, factor in that "party attire" for women means "sexy clothes", whereas for men means "dressy clothes" or "colorful clothes".

Understood.

My point is that it's not always practical to not wear your sexy clothes in public.

For instance, if you live in a city, don't have a car or the budget to cab everywhere, and want to go to a party or a nightclub, ever.

I don't have an answer to this either, all I'm trying call attention to are the limits to requiring women to tone it down anytime they leave the house.

The military has demonstrated that it can do this kind of thing. [...] It wasn't a trivial exercise (not least because a significant part of the officer corps and senior NCOs came from those kinds of subcultures), but they made it happen. And, given the will, they can do so again.

Don't get me wrong, despite my pessimism upthread I agree with you. Cultural change can be top-down as well as ground-up, I agree. In this particular case it won't be easy for the reasons you stated, though, as there's a significant subcultural dismissal of the top-down push to change the cultural values in question, so it's kinda important for the general public to continue to be noticeably appalled by the incidence of SA in the military to ensure the higher-ups maintain the willpower to overcome the resistance. I think the move towards seachange rather than just telling victims to "be more careful and don't let yourself be victims" was a wonderful, hopeful, and necessary step; it's just that on anything involving gender roles and the military, my pessimism kicks into high gear. However, things are changing. Combat arms opening up to women will actually help a lot, I think, as it will help break down a certain "us vs. them" misogyny that's disturbingly prevalent there. So you're right to be less pessimistic than I am.

And I also think that we are both pretty pessimistic about how rapidly this will be successful. It definitely isn't going to be quick.

The trouble is, when men are desirable, they can more easily ignore those that they don't mutually desire.

But surely that is because the behaviour of those who desire men is more easy to ignore? In other words, people who desire men are socialized that they don't go up and feel their bodies without permission or try and take pictures up their short shorts etc. And somehow, mysteriously, this socialization works and like millions of middle-aged women I am able to avoid the temptation of going up to hot men on the Tube wearing tight clothes, asking them to have sex with me and then yelling at them if they refuse.

And yet equally mysteriously, this kind of socialisation of people who desire women is apparently absolutely, completely impossible even to contemplate. Why is that?

(CNN) -- One of the nation's most prestigious teams of flying aerobats dive-bombed into the depths of sexual harassment and stayed there for at least a year, a new Navy study says.

Under the command of Capt. Gregory McWherter, members of the Blue Angels openly passed around pornography and flew with it in their cockpits during airshows. They cursed gays and spread dirty talk about women.

Their chauvinistic behavior turned the squadron into a hostile workplace, a Navy investigation into the shenanigans said. And McWherter not only tolerated them; he set examples of bad behavior and animated those under his command.
[...]

Blue Angels dived into porn, homophobia and harassment, study says

magistra @6:16- Thank you, you just opened my eyes. I had been inclined to accept gender dimorphism (men are generally bigger ergo generally potentially dangerous) as a full explanation but I see there doesn't have to be force or the threat of it for harassment and damage to happen.

I think the webcomic A Softer World captured much of what "slut" means in a majority of contexts:
http://asofterworld.com/index.php?id=906
'Slut:(noun):
Someone who thinks sex is fun,
but not with me.'

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