Slut. Today, this word is defined by the English Webster Dictionary as a promiscuous woman, especially: prostitute. In today’s society, the S word is dropped far too often, by males and most definitely females too. To understand the issue let us first understand the evolution of the meaning of the word. Times have changed and the S word does not mean what it used to. Lisa Sutherland, a commissioning editor at Collins Language, was quoted in BBC news that “The earliest citation of the word was [in] 1402.” It was used by Thomas Hoccleve in the Letter of Cupid to describe someone who was slovenly or dirty. Sutherland goes on to say that “It was definitely a pejorative reference but it wasn’t always used in that way.” Samuel Pepys referred to his servant girl as being an “admirable slut” in a playful, affectionate way in 1664, adds Sutherland and “John Bunyan also used it playfully in 1678.” The word was continued in use with varying degrees of slander or playfulness. However, in the 1920s there was a spike in its use due to the ending of World War I and men becoming frightened that women were beginning to dominate the workforce and other areas of life that men deemed “theirs”. However, in the 1960s Katherine Whitehorn identified herself with the “slovenly women” in her article titled Sluts. Whitehorn defined the S word as a woman who did not feel the need to wash her clothes every day due to lack of practicality as well as a woman who did not conform to social norms. Today the S word is always used as a derogatory term for women and girls with loose morals. Now that we understand what the word means in today’s society, we need to explore the issue at hand: its common use and the double standard it presents.
In many aspects of life women can claim that there is a double standard amongst men and women. However, every woman would agree that this issue regarding the S word is the perfect embodiment of a double standard. Where men would be looked upon as a stud or a ladies man, women are called sluts even though both gender’s actions are the same. A solution would be to end its common use in every day conversation. A lot easier than it actually sounds. Especially in high school and college, young women will call each other the S word as a term of endearment or in a joking manner. However, this gives men the ability and empowerment to call us that. If women stop, the men will follow suit. This especially needs to happen because the use of the word has become so common that it is used even when talking about women victims of sexual assault. It devalues the idea of the assault and it creates the idea that “she deserved it” “she was asking for it” or “she could have stopped it”. The fact of the matter is that one in four college women report surviving rape (15%) or attempted rape (12%) since their 14th birthday. In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 20% of women answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Thus, one in five college women has been raped at some point in her lifetime. Not only that but in a typical academic year, 3% of college women report surviving rape or attempted rape. This does not include the summer, when many more rapes occur. And, in the year 2000, 246,000 women survived rape and sexual assault. This computes to 28 women every hour. (Statistics courtesy of www.oneinfourusa.org).
It would be ridiculous to say that the cutting out of one word in our vocabulary would end rapes, sexism, and double standards. However, it is a place to start and it should start right with you, wherever you may be reading this.
*originally published on January 5, 2014*