The independent news organization of Duke University

What the word 'slut' truly means

Wednesday. What a day. The hangover from last Saturday night is cooling off, and there's still enough time to get pregame materials for tomorrow night.

I remember this time from my freshman year (sort of)--the semi-chilled beer, the punch my mother had sagely told me to avoid and the small group of dorm boys I had put on RAPP--Rape And Pillage Patrol. Although I first put the RAPP together (and to be clear, their purpose was to prevent raping and pillaging, not to instigate it) for safety reasons, I soon began to wonder exactly why I, who had spent the previous summer at school in New York City, taking a subway to the train home well after dark, felt unsafe.

What was I protecting myself from? Those mean upperclass frat boys, who at their worst just asked me if I wanted a beer? I felt compelled to protect myself from those advances, if you could call them that, not because I thought I'd get hurt or even do something I'd regret, but because I didn't want to get labeled a slut.

Although at my girls' high school I was relatively unused to male attention, I was certainly familiar with the stigma of a random hookup, and if college were to be a clean slate, I wanted to keep it clean as long as possible.

In our rooms and even on these pages we constantly talk, jokingly or not, about the way upperclass guys prey on freshman girls. We look at our party scene as if it were an episode of The Crocodile Hunter--"see the freshman girl writhe in her slinky pants, as the frat boy watches from behind. Croikey! He just moved in with a beer!" Why do we buy into this?

Boys and girls, sexual relationships--they're mutual territory. The point of my column is a minor linguistic history, inspired by those girls who've been offered non-boxed wine in a room with the door shut. Man, those girls are clueless. They're just asking for it/doing this for the alcohol/going after upperclassmen for the glory. We can call them sluts, right?

Wrong. No. My Merriam-Webster defines "slut" as either a slovenly (untidy in dress or person) woman or a prostitute. Since I'd venture a guess that Duke girls aren't paid for drunken hookups and are pretty put together when they go out, the definition doesn't particularly apply.

I'm continually amazed at the freedom with which boys use the term. Maybe they don't get that if girls weren't under perpetual duress to avoid such a label, they'd be more inclined to hook up--kind of like how they don't realize that a girlfriend is, among other things, a steady source of play.

I've always been a bit fascinated with the word "slut." The sound of it alone is damning--the hiss of the 's;' the upper palate tongue pressure that creates an 'l;' the final, almost superfluous, fluttering 't.' It isn't a pretty word, but it contains a force that its relatives lack, and in case you were wondering as to its affiliation, it even sounds like "slur." It's a bad word, in more ways than one. Why do we still use it?

Maybe I shouldn't be questioning the word itself, but why its meaning can carry such blows. It's used not only to describe the promiscuous, but also those who have had sex at all, have been rumored to maybe have had sex, had sex with someone they didn't love or maybe even didn't know, are attractive, been raped or just have breasts. It's not only a term of judgment for behavior that we have no right to judge, but a term that doesn't even always refer to behavior.

And if that's the case, why should someone labelled a slut care at all? The one time "slut" was hurled at me within earshot was when I wouldn't let a girl cut in the Ticketmaster line in ninth grade. The girl didn't know me, and even if she had, my slut factor ended at one game of Spin the Flashlight at summer camp and an eighth-grade "boyfriend."

I wasn't a slut because I was promiscuous: I was a slut because I stood up for myself. And if that's what being a slut comes down to in this day and age, then maybe it's not such a bad thing to be.

Meghan Valerio is a Trinity senior and arts editor of Recess. Her column appears every third Wednesday.

Discussion

Share and discuss “What the word 'slut' truly means” on social media.

Trending