Tuesday, September 19

Sexist slurs will lose their potency if brought into casual use

With women jokingly calling each other names like “slut” and “whore,” cries of female degradation undoubtedly follow. With these labels nonchalantly thrown around, desensitization emerges, but what results is empowerment rather than apathy in the face of oppression.

I remember watching an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a few years back, discussing how young women are demeaning themselves by calling each other these derogatory terms, either as a joke or to be cute. It was argued that through our faux idiocy, we were taking over what had been traditionally male repression that objectified ourselves and our sexuality. This poses a question: What power do words have, and does their potency stem from their definitions or, rather, us allowing them to have such intensity?
Do words by themselves have the power and ability to be repressive, or is it people who give them this magnitude? I would say the latter.

It is on this point that I must disagree with my beloved Oprah. In regards to the “slut debate,” as idiotic as it may seem for a woman to call a friend a “whore,” the entire initial meaning of the word no longer exists.
Such name-calling makes the term ironic, not a vehicle for oppression. I’m not saying that my case is an accurate representation of all others, but if a girl casually calls a friend a “slut,” does she consciously intend to demean her? I don’t see this as a means of dumbing us down. It becomes something absolutely ridiculous in these instances ““ a joking exchange between friends.

We are gradually desensitizing ourselves to the word, and by doing this, what is achieved is not apathy or a lack of female pride, but rather a dissolution of the term altogether.

As first-year biochemistry student Kimberly Borden said, “We are changing their meanings without even realizing it so that they don’t have such negative connotations.”

Men seem to have a similar perspective. Ben Schwartz, an undeclared first-year student, said he believes that “by being overly sensitive to it, you’re making the joke the attack by calling it an attack. You’re creating the attack yourself.”

The sexual implications of these labels are undeniable, but this just shows the evolution of our traditional way of thinking about women and sex. Sex simply isn’t as taboo as it once was. Throwing around these words openly acknowledges not only female sexuality, but the sense of pride that can come with it. The concept of women as sexual beings just isn’t shameful anymore. One needs only to look as far as television shows such as “Sex and the City” to realize this.

The fact that there isn’t an equivalent label for men causes some of the stir. If a woman is sexually promiscuous, she is, whether justifiably or not, labeled a “slut,” a “whore” or another familiar litany of nouns. What, however, do we call a guy that does the same? “Man-whore”? That seems a bit awkward, but the fact is irrefutable ““ there is no equivalent term. “Player” just does not have the same societal implications as “whore.”

Female oppression does not arise from this petty name-calling. It arises from our continuation of traditional definitions for these words. Despite the fact that this may diminish the way we present ourselves, it’s going to be our achievements in the real world, such as getting more women in universities and the workforce, that will create any lasting gauge of progress. According to The New York Times, in the recession, the percentage of women in the entire workforce may soon exceed 50 percent.

I realize that when a girl calls a friend one of these names, she isn’t thinking, “Oh, gee, I really am turning “˜slut’ into an ironic term, taking control of its significance and giving myself the power to create a new definition.” There will always be stupid girls who throw it around to dumb themselves down, faking idiocy to get attention or whatever else. However, whether subconsciously or not, the term loses its potency and can no longer be taken seriously when used in this context.

What, however, occurs when younger generations adopt our ways? Does it still hold this ironic meaning? Does it revert to its original intentions? This question I cannot answer. Do we then have a responsibility to stop such use if there is a risk of it returning to its original meaning? I can’t answer that either. The same question is raised with the use of racial slurs. By actively using them, whether by the person to whom it refers or otherwise, are we dumbing down the words, and not ourselves? It’s definitely an interesting debate.
George Orwell argued about the political effects of the governmental control of language in his essay, “Politics and the English Language.”

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks,” Orwell wrote. “It is rather the same thing that is happening with the English language. … If one gets rid of these habits, one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration. … What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.”

By taking over traditional meanings of words, we have the ability to completely change what they once meant. We cannot allow outdated stigmas that once surrounded these labels to continue if we want to see any sort of improvement, whether in views on female sexuality or the treatment of women.

<em>If you have ever empowered yourself through the use of traditionally shameful labels, then e-mail Gharibian at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]</em>

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.