I know, I know. And apologies straight away to those who thought that this post was going to be about girls doing unmentionable things to root vegetables – we only deal in fruits here.
In my last post, I discussed a disagreement regarding the use of the word ‘slut’ in my blog on ‘Love and Other Drugs’. I defended it, primarily because it is, I believe, a word which needs recuperation – either that or universally equitable application.
My dictionary defines it this: a slovenly or promiscuous woman (unknown origin).
I suspect that it has a fair relationship to the word slattern. A word which really needs to be brought back into use, if only because it’s so poetic.
Actually, I’m currently torn with regards what I’m about to write, but until an equivalent noun exists to attach to a slovenly or promiscuous man, I shall press on.
Slut is a word applied pejoratively, to a woman, who ‘sleeps around’. The slovenly bit no longer obtains. The equivalent for the male is ‘stud’. This is rubbish, as it fails to take into account several factors.
The first is that sexual mores have changed, and, in western society at least (and outside those for whom religion provides a moral compass – and if you think that the Bible is on the money here, just read Genesis.38), women are increasingly taking command of their own sexuality and sexual appetites. This is as it should be.
The vilification of an individual who behaves in a way which suits them while failing to harm other people is insane. cf. Tony Blair, whose Biblical obsession, and obsession with his own righteousness, most certainly harmed others. A Frank Zappa once sang, ‘Hey, this is the twentieth century, whatever you can do to have a good time let’s get on with it so long as it doesn’t cause a murder’.
Stud is a word invariably applied with pride or envy – it conjures up images of proud stallions servicing mares to produce legions of thoroughbred racehorses – it’s not exactly pejorative. It is something to which all men must aspire. Darwin says so. (Look, I know that isn’t what Darwinianism is all about, but I’m making a point, ok?)
Now, I’m not going to get caught up in this, nor am I going to consider the manner in which Hollywood cannot bear a woman to have control over her own sexuality … others will do that better. What I am going to do is comment on a comment. My last blog was on this subject. It concerned the film ‘A Little Bit of Heaven’, in which the lead female is a character who enjoys sex for its own sake, gets ill, and as a result lives happily ever after with her doctor. Phew! Lucky her, contracting a terrible illness which showed her how shallow her life had been …
This post received one comment from ‘Ali’, which read as follows:
LOVE your blog and your writing style! Perhaps if all ‘sluts’ could suffer through a disease, the world would find that peace we’re looking for.
Two friends, both female, commented on this comment. They both remarked that it was scary that someone would write that sluts ought to be wiped out so that the world could be a better place. I responded that this was a strange way to read the comment.
Then I realised that it was perfectly logical, if you ignore the initial remark, as anyone who likes what I write may have noticed that I don’t hold with this sort of attitude. But the thing was, I knew something that they didn’t.
They had both read the name ‘Ali’, assumed that the poster was a muslim man, read the post, placed the post in the venn diagram, and the overlap read ‘sluts must die’. Look! Here it is!
Now, I happen to know that Ali is neither a muslim (actually, that’s supposition, but the evidence suggests that it’s reasonable), nor is she a he. Replace the ‘Muslim man’ with ’empowered woman’, and the overlap reads, ‘you say slut like it’s a bad thing’. See!
Ok. Before you bleat, I am not, repeat not, saying that all muslim men want any woman who enjoys sex to die. To read that into this post is wilfully to misrepresent both me and my writing. And is VERY, VERY, BAD. So don’t do it.
I am also not saying that the two commentators think this, either. What they did was take the information they had and come up with a conclusion. This conclusion may be debatable, it may be wrong, it may have been justifiable. I comment not upon that.
What this whole episode flags up is the manner in which contextual information is a) crucial and b) often retrospectively applied. That is, in trying to make sense of the post, more information was needed. The commentators (both highly intelligent, articulate women) read a veiled threat in the post, where I read a knowing smile.
Writing is an astonishingly powerful tool for the communication of information, but it can be a double-edged sword, especially when we write as we talk. As either Martin Clifford or George Villers wrote in the 1670s:
1 Writing is a dead kind of Representation, and therefore not proper to Express us while we are liuing. 2 Writing sticks in the paper and produces no effects outward, speech goes forth and makes impression.
It’s not just the contextualisation of ‘Ali’ that needed to be made, but the contextualisation of the comment itself, which, read independently of the spirit of the writer, the tone of voice, the look in the eye and the tilt of the head, can mean one thing or the other.
The irony, of course, is that you cannot possibly see the arch of my right eyebrow as I type this.