‘Slut’ – What did you just call me?

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Life is full of embarrassing moments, just ask Bridget Jones.

Maybe you’ve walked out of a bathroom with your skirt tucked into your knickers, or failed to lock the toilet door and someone burst in to catch you mid flow.

And let us just say that if you ever accidentally send your mum a text saying ‘I’m so horny’... then you’d better have a picture of yourself wearing antlers nearby (You’re Welcome). Compared to that, asking for the morning after pill is something you really shouldn’t be embarrassed about.

And yet, so many women are.

This summer, emergency contraception brand ellaOne spoke to nearly 1000 women at Bestival, Rize and Leeds festivals. The results are in and it’s pretty embarrassing for everyone (us included).

Over 50% of you felt embarrassed or awkward about taking the morning after pill. In another survey conducted by ellaOne, one in eight women admitted they travelled to a different TOWN to buy emergency contraception).

Part of the reason women feel ashamed about emergency contraception is the tired old stigma that we swallow along with it. In other words: no one wants to be seen as a slut. But what does that actually mean? The word gets around, but where did it come from?

The Original Slut: An Untidy Man

‘Slut’ is just one of the many horrible words out there that refer specifically to women, but it might be one of the oldest that’s still in use. Word-nerd Susie Dent has noted that “words like ‘tarty’ or ‘strumpet’ appear very old fashioned but ‘slut’ seems to still have a powerful connotation”. Believe it or not, the earliest recorded use of ‘slut’ was actually describing a man. Many hundred years later, we haven’t yet settled on a male equivalent. In the mid-14th century Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales author and star of English Literature students’ nightmares, used the term “sluttish” to describe a man’s messy clothing (probably followed by telling him to have his wife iron it). Over time it came to apply to women as, of course, it was a woman’s job to keep things neat and tidy. A woman who failed to fulfil these household duties was labelled a ‘slut’.

‘Doctor, Doctor! I feel like a lump of bread!’

In 1755, Dr Samuel Johnson defined a slut as “a dirty woman”. His dictionary is commonly cited as the most influential in the english language, but little is celebrated about its significance as the world’s first Burn Book. Thank you, Dr. ‘Regina George’ Johnson. In spite of Dr Johnson’s efforts, to the average Victorian “slut” could mean many things: from puppies to lumps of old bread. Early grease lamps were called sluts. They were made from rags of cloth dipped in lard and set on fire for light. Cosy!

“I don’t want my sexist insult to be confused with calling someone a puppy. What historical phrases CAN I rely on?!”

Glad you asked. There are  numerous records from Tudor times of women called into court and fined for insulting each other – as if we didn’t get enough of it from men. They were charged with calling each other ‘hedge whores’, ‘black-mouthed witch whores’ and ‘f***ed for a penny-worth fish whore”. It’s a phenomenon that was well-documented by cultural high point of the year Love Island. Despite the boys freely changing partners, the girls turned on each other with some of the women exchanging insults of “slag” before the final blow: "did she call me a slag? She's slept with more people than me."

Women using sexist insults to put other women down?!  We need to shape up and shut up... What happened to the sisterhood?

 

‘Promiscuous girl...whoever you are’

The use of ‘slut’ as we know it today became popular in the 1920s. Post-war women enjoyed new independence in the workplace and in their social lives. ‘Slut’ became a word for women who worked, dated or slept with men – and the earliest connotations of ‘dirty’ were never far away. Since then, this nasty little word has been used to shame women out of certain behaviour.

In the Oxford Dictionary ‘slut’ is defined as a woman who has many casual partners. What’s wrong with that? As long as you’re happy, healthy and having safe sex, we don’t see an issue.

The sad truth is that women can be slut-shamed for anything: from short skirts to carrying condoms to purchasing the morning after pill. It’s ridiculous, it has gone on way too long and it needs to end now.

The #MyMorningAfter campaign is ending the judgement of women taking emergency contraception. Being responsible about your sexual health is sensible, not slutty.

So, if someone ever calls you a ‘slut’ you can tell them you refuse to be shamed for exercising your bodily autonomy.

(or you could tell them it used to mean ‘lamp’...)

ellaOne® film-coated 30mg tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is indicated for emergency contraception for unprotected sexual intercourse or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.

Leo Kent