by Delphine Burns
When perusing a blog, I stumbled across a quote that really stuck with me. “If you don’t respect sluts, you don’t respect women.” Hmm. What does that mean? What does that mean for feminism in the context of society, and what does it mean for the way humans treat each other? Are there implications of the treatment of “sluts” in today’s society? Of course there are.
This quote is important because it divides women into categories of essentially “respectable” women and “sluts.” This means that once again men are dictating who is worthy of respect and who isn’t. This isn’t respecting women; this is “respecting women” with strings attached. Only the women who men deem deserving of admiration are placed in the “respectable” category.
So what does that mean for the rest of us, for the sluts? It means that suddenly we’re in a separate category, a sub-category. We are not just members of the oppressed sex, but now members of the oppressed category within the oppressed sex. What? That’s a lot of oppression. We’re dehumanized, and made to think that to be equal to men, we must be “respectable” women or women who behave as men think we should. Who decides what is and is not respectable? Men in our sex-negative society are largely determinants of what is and is not acceptable. If we keep supplying them with this power, we’re perpetuating the reign of the patriarchy.
By calling each other “sluts,” or “whores,” or not speaking out when we hear others do so, we are being complacent with the use of these derogatory, sexist terms. Janis Ian from the widely adored movie “Mean Girls” once said, “There are two types of evil in this world: those who do evil things, and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.” Although in the movie, Ian simply refers to petty high school drama, this quote can be taken and applied to prevalent social issues such as this one. If you laugh when a guy makes a sexist comment or calls another girl a “slut” or a “whore,” you’re approving acceptance and propagation of these words.
My first issue is with the use of the words in general. Dividing women into two groups based on their number of sexual partners or sexual acts they’ve engaged in is problematic. Being respectable should have nothing to do with sex, but about how women treat themselves and others around them. No divide within the group of women should exist in the first place. We are all members of a sex that has been working to gain equality for decades and should support each other in this mandatory endeavor. By breaking into small groups within this category, we destroy alliances and empower the patriarchy.
Next, if there is going to be a sexuality-based schism within the group of women at all, then the group perceived as more sexual must not be labeled by a derogatory term. “Respectable” is accompanied by a quite positive connotation, while “slut” radiates a negative one. Both groups must have neutral connotations at the very least. It’s problematic to imply that one group is worth any less than the other. This halts equality, which is the very goal of feminism in the first place. By demeaning each other and equating self-worth with level of promiscuity, we are allowing men to tell us that being sexual for our own pleasure is wrong and degrading. We are not taking control of our own sexuality, but rather hiding from it and perpetuating the sex-negative society we live in today. Although it’s men who began this division, it’s humans who prolong it.
Another issue is that of the infamous double standard. There’s the age-old tale that if a woman attends a party and hooks up with two men, she’s a “slut.” If a guy does the same, he’s a “legend.” Although this is not always society’s view on the scenario, it all too often is. Too frequently, men are excused sexually as “just being guys” or “overpowered by hormones.” Society makes excuses for their promiscuity, while condemning women for ours. So long as this double standard prevails, so does the patriarchy. By not speaking out against the double standard, it sits uncomfortably in the narrow mind of society.
Essentially, my point is that respect should be for all women. There should be no prerequisites besides being human. Respect and equality are not privileges, but rights. If we are truly striving for complete equality among the sexes, we cannot put restrictions on it. We can’t decide who is equal and worthy of respect based on sexual expression. We must grant respect and equality to all women and men regardless of their sexual choices. Respect isn’t about sex. It’s about self-love and love for others.