Gender Studies Assignment Paper


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Gender Studies

For each question or set of questions, students must respond with an answer of no less than 400–500 words, and must reference at least 2 of the required texts from the unit. Students are also encouraged to think about each question in relation to their own life experience, and to think about the connections between the ideas contained in each unit.

The terms ‘virgin’ and ‘slut’ are very powerful ones in our current society, but they carry different weight depending on one’s gender/race/sexuality/age, etc. How are these terms used differently to characterise men, women and trans people, and how do these characterisations differ depending upon other identity markers?
What might be the pros and cons of reclaiming the word slut for feminist activism?

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It is almost universally accepted (at least in my own experience) that virginity in a man is something to be somewhat ashamed of. The ideas of “waiting until marriage” or “waiting for the right partner” are usually greeted with sentiments such as “you need to test drive before you buy” and “the right partner is the one right now”. Young boys pressure their peers towards frequent sex with multiple partners because much of your own level of social acceptance and popularity hinged on the number of notches on your bedpost. I have never heard the word “slut” used in reference to a man, I have heard women use the words “he-whore” and “player” to address promiscuity in men, but peers will usually use your sexual history as a kind of score card which is meant to be compared with others for bragging rights.

For women, the word “virgin” is meant to represent what society considers as the ideal. To somehow be sexy but not sexual, and always eager to please. Men often speak of “she’s a great girl (for someone that they may be sleeping with) but I wouldn’t marry her”; this is usually in reference to the fact that the girl that they want is “pure”. I always found it interesting that men wanted to “sow their oats” but then also expected their wives to have been abstinent, if every man had sown whenever possible, virginity would in turn become a rarity. The word “slut” is meant to represent everything that a woman shouldn’t be. It can be used to describe “promiscuity”, “cleanliness” and morality. Some would argue that it is a word which men use to demean women, and while that is true, it is also worth noting that (in my experience) the word is used mostly by young women to describe other young women that they believe to be of “poor moral worth” or “loose”.

Members of the gay and trans communities are faced with an additional layer of stigma: “what constitutes as sex?” if sex is considered to be vaginal penetration with a penis then it can be argued that all same-sex and trans couples are said to be virgins. In a modern day society we know this to be false as sex itself has many forms and in my opinion it is “any physical act involving the genital area of consenting people”, however, same-sex couples are also burdened with “a double standard for what is considered appropriate behaviour for same-sex couples…as opposed to their heterosexual peers” (Hobbs & Rice 2013, p.383). Coupled with this idea is that the word “slut” can be used for any gay or trans people who has had multiple partners.

What might be the pros and cons of reclaiming the word slut for feminist activism?
My personal opinion on this question may be seen as somewhat controversial so I will apologize if my answer is deemed offensive by some, it is a combination of experience and conversation held with others (most being women) on this subject. Under the pro category, reclaiming the word slut would change how people would view its connotation. It would no longer be a weapon used to control behaviour (“you’re acting like a …”), dress (“you look like a…”), or even ideologies (“you sound like a…”). The biggest possible con that comes to mind is the discrimination, oppression and harassment that would be incurred during efforts to reclaim the word. Society is very reluctant (and even more difficult) to change even when it is usually for the better. Recently, a “Slut walk” has been established to both “take back the word” and also to establish that sexual assault is not justifiable no matter what the victim was wearing (this is a common question asked by defense lawyers in rape cases). While this is definitely a worthwhile message, the women in my life feel that it is executed poorly. It’s important to remember that throughout the course of my life, the word slut was (and is) predominantly used by women as a slur to other women. After seeing images from one slut walk, a female member of my family said “If you don’t want to be called it, then don’t act like it” in reference to the dress (or lack thereof) of the participants. I believe that the word cannot truly be taken back until both men and women stop using it in the ways that they do. It is important to let men know that the word is not ok to use in any context, but it is also important to ensure that women receive this message as well.

The terms ‘virgin’ and ‘slut’ are powerful words and their meanings can vary depending on the intonation as well as the audience they are directed at. Virgin directed toward a white youth/woman is a sign of respect in some circles. The white culture, as outlined in the film, The Purity Myth. The Virginity Movement’s War on Women, Director J. Earp, and the article, The Cult of Virginity by Jessica Valenti, explain the high value placed on virginal women in white American society (p 360). But, based on the stereotypes held of racial and gay girls outlined in the article, Sugar and Spice…by Marnina Gonick, it might be said in a sarcastic way, to ridicule women of colour or a gay woman (p 384). The term virgin when applied to gay women has some ambiguity, depending on how you define it. The word virgin is not often applied to men because they are not considered a commodity to be sold untouched in the marriage market. There is also, of course, the double standard. Men are valued for their sexual experience; they are expected to have sexual experience when they marry. However, if a woman has sexual experience, she is spoiled and not so marriageable.

The term ‘slut’ is generally used to insult a woman. It has a history that women identify as painful and demeaning. In the article, Feminist Critiques of SlutWalk, responses show that women do not want anything to do with the word. The SlutWalk march project tried to reinvent the word, but its efforts fell flat mostly because many women found it so repugnant. It’s a word that seems to be irredeemable, somewhat like the ‘n’ word. The definition of the word, originally referred to a sexually indiscriminate girl or woman, went far beyond that in practice to a word used to degrade women and disempower them. It takes on added power when applied to women of colour and gay and transgender women, as it combines with the weight of the stereotypical heritage of each.

Virgin and slut are very gendered words, used by men to control women. They are words that commodify the female gender. The user has the power to value or devalue a woman, based entirely on her sexuality. However, the term slut has taken on a broader, more derogatory context in modern times, as a big put down to any and all. It is not only intended to demean and shame, but to wipe her out.

Both of these terms put everything about women in sexual terms. They reduce everything in her life to this. It tells us that men have traditionally valued women for their sexuality only, and they control and commodify this with their language and societal rituals. The Purity Myth unfolded a number of traditions that I had never known before, and never thought were happening in modern times: the Purity Ball and the whole abstinence movement. American society is very different from Canadian society, and becoming more so. The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey just this past week placed the United States tenth on a list of dangerous places for women to live (CBC News). It is the only western nation on that list. This is not to say that Canada does not have a tradition of misogyny, but it appears to be more intense in the United States, and perhaps exacerbated with the Trump election. The news around him, the Stormy Daniels and beauty contestant stories all point to a society where the words ‘slut’ and ‘virgin’ still have tremendous power.

2.

Reclaiming the word ‘slut’ for feminist activism may be an idea to consider, but the baggage associated with the word may be too heavy. Repeating the word often enough in an empowering context may take away some of its sting. However, for many women, particularly those of color or transgender, it may have entirely too painful a context.

The idea on the surface may have some benefits, in that it would remove one of the things used by others to degrade women, but it has to be viewed from an intersectional context. There are other stories, that a gay woman, a transgender woman, or a woman of color may attach to the word. The stories from Link Round Up: Feminist Critiques of SlutWalk by Anita Sarkeesian, talk of deportation issues, the regulation and discipline of female sexuality, connotations of rape and misogyny that go with the word, to name a few. Some words are simply so degraded and dirty that no amount of fresh air and disinfectant can make them clean.

References:

CBC News Network, June 25, 2018

Earp,. J. (Director). (2011). The Purity Myth. The Virginity Movement’s War on Women

(Documentary) United States: Media Education Foundation.

Hobbs, Margaret & Rice, Carla. (2013). Part 4 (b) pp. 355 – 389. Gender and Women’s Studies

in Canada Critical Terrain. Women’s Press. Toronto.

Sarkeesian, Anita. (2011). Link Round Up: Feminist Critiques of SlutWalk. Feminist Frequency.

Retrieved from

http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/05/link-round-up-feminist-critiques-of-slutwalk/

SlutWalk Toronto. Retrieved from http://www.slutwalktoronot.com/

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