By Erin Entrada Kelly
We live in modern times, but many of our belief systems are the result of years—centuries, even—of learned social norms. Reach back into any decade in the Western world—the 1990s, 1950s, 1750s, 1350s—and you’ll find a premium on female virtue and appearance. It sums up to something like this: beauty and virginity are good; being loose and/or “unattractive” is bad. If you’re not a virgin, you should at least act like one. Be a lady.
This social conditioning makes it easy for us to conjure up simple and insipid ways to verbally attack women. If virtue and beauty are the two hallmarks of an ideal woman, the quickest way to shoot one down is to imply that she is neither.
That’s where all those unimaginative insults come in. Slut, whore, fat, and ugly are the most popular female criticisms. There have been movements to reclaim each of these, but they are generally considered insults. Few teenage girls aspire to be called a slut or a whore.
The words even feel dirty slipping off the tongue, don’t they?
When was the last time they slipped off your tongue?
You don’t have to like everyone. You certainly don’t have to approve of everyone’s behavior. But the next time “slut” slips out of your mouth, ask yourself: Where does this come from? What does it imply? In what ways does it reinforce female oppression? Do I believe the worth of women is related to their sexual behavior? Why do I believe this? And why don’t I believe it of men? What does it mean to be a “slut” and why is “slut” a slur in the first place? What do I believe about female behavior? Do I believe women should sit with their legs crossed and their mouths shut? What’s really bothering me in this situation? What has me reaching for this obtuse and overplayed slight?
If you choose to attack someone’s appearance, ask yourself: Why isn’t this same price demanded of men? And do you honestly want to be another cog in that belief system?
What kind of woman do you want to be?
If you disapprove of something, be smart enough to know why, especially if you’re going to be vicious about it.
Even better: Don’t be vicious at all.