by Abby Feenstra

Women have certainly made significant strides towards equality in today’s day and age. We can vote. We can drive. Marriage is no longer essentially a transfer of property between two men (although one could argue that the practice of a father walking his daughter down the aisle to physically hand her off to her husband still reflects that outdated notion, but at least it’s no more than a symbol now).

The point is, despite the gender gap in wages and the glass ceiling still present in many corporations and other institutions, women have come so far in terms of equality that the concept of feminism is considered by many to be a thing of the past. Women have the right to vote, to work, and to have control of their own reproductive systems (wait…), so what do those feminist bitches have to complain about anymore?

Unfortunately, there is one area of society where women are far from equal to men. What do you call a man who sleeps with a ton of different women? A player, a pimp, a stud … nothing that isn’t some sort of compliment. What do you call a woman who sleeps with a bunch of different men? If I were to list all of the variations on “volunteer prostitute” used in day-to-day conversation, I wouldn’t have enough room to write the rest of this column. I’ll focus on what is arguably the most-used term when it comes to repressing female sexuality: slut.

“Slut” has been used as a derogatory term for a promiscuous woman ever since the 13th century. Its other meanings have included connotations of dirtiness, low-class servant women, ugliness and female dogs. It has never been a pleasant word. Today, it is inarguably used primarily to restrict female sexual expression.

I’ve heard women be called sluts for everything from sleeping with someone they’re not dating to wearing heels with a miniskirt.  Both sexes use this term, but it’s only ever applied to women. I’m not sure if people realize how damaging it actually is. Fear of being called a slut stops women from expressing themselves sexually, meaning they are less likely to speak up about what they want from a partner, and both parties usually end up suffering. Worse, “slut,” and phrases like it, perpetuate rape culture. Rape culture exists in a society whose customs and attitudes create an environment in which rape is normalized and excused. This can be clearly seen in the prevalence of the word “slut” as an insult. Because so many women are repressed by the fear of the slut label, if a woman is actually open with her sexual desires, she is typically said to “want it” and therefore cannot be raped, because she’s completely willing to have sex with anyone at any time. This ridiculous notion goes back to the “what were you wearing?” and “were you flirting with him?” questions rape victims are often asked by police officers. If she was a slut, she was asking for it. Case closed.

That’s why it is so important for women to take away the stigma associated with that word. In order to change our culture to one that is accepting of female sexuality (which would benefit both men and women), we need to decrease the power a word like “slut” has. How do we do this?

We call ourselves sluts.

It’s the same concept behind the LGBT community reclaiming the word “queer.” If you’re referring to yourself as something, it isn’t exactly an insult anymore, is it? The LGBT community has gone so far with this concept that “queer” is sometimes part of the acronym: LGBTQ. Someone can identify as sexually queer, and no one even bats an eye anymore. How different would our society be if “slut” went down the same route?

This admittedly will not be easy.  “Slut” is so thoroughly entrenched in our culture as a derogatory term that referring to oneself as a slut might not be received very well. But then again, is enacting social change ever initially received well? Changing people’s attitudes isn’t supposed to be easy (pun intended?), but no matter how weird it may feel for us ladies to refer to ourselves using a term that is meant to hold us back, it is absolutely necessary.

Picture how awesome it would be if you could wear whatever you wanted, no matter how revealing, and not have to worry about being labeled as promiscuous just for your clothing choices. Picture how awesome it would be to be fucking promiscuous if you wanted to and not concern yourself with any sort of societal ramifications (as is usually the case for men). Picture a world where “slut” is no longer an insult, where it may even be something positive. One where women will have taken one more step towards equality. We’re already so close. Let’s break down the negative stereotypes. Sluts unite!

Abby Feenstra studies English. She can be reached at afeenstra@