Can the Word Slut Be Reclaimed? My Takeaway From I Am Not a Slut

May 6, 2015 History, non-fiction 12

Can the Word Slut Be Reclaimed? My Takeaway From I Am Not a SlutTitle: I Am Not a Slut
Author: Leora Tanenbaum
Source: Edelweiss
Links: Amazon|Indiebound |Goodreads
Rating: three-stars

Summary: This was an eye-opening book and I think it contains an important message, but it taught me less about different feminist perspectives than I’d hoped it would.

Blogging on any topic provides a platform for people to speak about topics they’re passionate about and the bloggers I read have inspired my interest in diverse reading, feminism, and a number of other important causes. I was also motivated to learn more about feminism by books I’ve read about women gaining and losing rights in other countries. Since I’m still relatively new to the many divided opinions about feminist issues, Leora Tanenbaum’s discussion of the word slut and the sexual double standard was a must read for me.

I came away from this book completely convinced by the author’s opinion that the word ‘slut’ is beyond redemption. I think she’s right that even when used among friends, the word can be used as a way of policing women’s sexuality. For me, it will always denote ‘bad’ behavior or a breaking of norms, even if used in fun or with admiration. I think the very existence of a gender specific word for breaking sexual norms is a problem. More than that though, what convinced me that this word needs to go where the heartbreaking stories of young women to whom this label has been applied. There’s a very thin, very variable boundary between being a prude and being a slut. Amid the many conflicting messages women receive, this is dangerous terrain for women, especially teens, to navigate. The arbitrary way this label is applied and the bullying (or worse) justified by the application of this label is unacceptable and must be eliminated.

Despite making a convincing argument, this book left me feeling underwhelmed. Personally, I didn’t find any of the author’s arguments especially surprising. While she did help me solidify my own convictions, I would have liked to hear a more balanced view of the question of whether the word ‘slut’ can be reclaimed. I think I would have learned more from hearing differing perspectives and having my own views challenged a bit more. The individual stories in this book were amazing and by themselves make this a worthwhile read. If I could add any one book to high school reading lists, this might be it. For myself though, I would have liked to also see a bit more feminist theory and a big picture view of the discussion surrounding the issues the author addressed.

Do you have strong feelings about reclaiming the word slut vs eliminating it entirely? I would especially love to hear from people who disagree with me, since the book didn’t provide much of that perspective.

 

12 Responses to “Can the Word Slut Be Reclaimed? My Takeaway From I Am Not a Slut”

    • DoingDewey

      The author clearly agreed with you very strongly! She didn’t even present many arguments in favor of reclaiming the word. Personally, I get the idea of events like Slut Walk and the idea of trying to make the word slut a positive expression of female sexuality, but I also agree with you that it isn’t likely to be redeemable. If I hear people using the word slut in ways that seem intended to be positive or friendly, I’m just not convinced. It still feels to me like there’s something mean behind it.
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    • DoingDewey

      I think the main reason I was underwhelmed by this one is because I expected the author to talk more about different views on feminism. I was looking for an intellectual argument and instead got a very emotional one. That’s not necessarily bad – I really was convinced by the stories she told that the world ‘slut’ needs to go – but it wasn’t what I was hoping for when I picked this up. Hopefully this will match your expectations better and be a more enjoyable read for you 🙂
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  1. Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings

    1. Love the new design, so pretty!!

    2. This is a really interesting conversation. I’ve always felt conflicted about the whole idea of reclaiming words since it seems hard to do it without giving the power back to the group who uses it offensively. Even when I hear girls calling each other slut apparently affectionately, it definitely still makes me uncomfortable since it does seem to still carrying that policing quality that you mention. Interesting to think about though!
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    • DoingDewey

      Thanks!

      I feel the same way. I’ve never heard someone call a girl a slut and felt completely convinced there weren’t nasty undertones to the word. And, like I said in my review, this word seems to be abused so much and lead to so many girls being treated poorly, I think it would be best just to let it go.

  2. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I really enjoyed this book, but I also agree with your criticisms. And I totally agree that “slut” can’t be reclaimed; I love what you said about how “the very existence of a gender specific word for breaking sexual norms is a problem.” It seems like one of those words that, if someone uses it and you are offended, they can just say “oh, it was a joke! I was joking!” regardless of actual intent — and if you’re still offended, then you’re a humorless feminazi. Even when it’s used “playfully,” it still seems judgmental.

    • DoingDewey

      Great point about people being able to act like they’re joking and you’re being unreasonable with this word. I find that a frustrating and incredibly ignorant response to accusations of sexism. I also think it’s a reaction that trying to reclaim the word ‘slut’ could make more common.
      DoingDewey recently posted…Nonfiction FridayMy Profile

  3. Geoff W

    It’s so hard to reclaim a word like this. Maybe The Allusionist podcast will do an episode on it and show us that there was a positive light to it originally, but for as long as I’ve known the word it’s been negative.

    On the other hand, I love when people use words like “slut” or “whore” in really witty lyrics like Kasey Musgraves in “Follow Your Arrow:” “If you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore, if you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a horr….ible person.” 😀
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    • DoingDewey

      Ah, that’s a good point. I don’t think it’s possible to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and I think the world might be a better place if it were eliminated entirely, but given the way things are, I like the idea of using ‘slut’ and similar words to point out the problems with the way things are. Lily Allen’s ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Bitch” is one of my favorite songs like that 🙂
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