Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

The Whore, the Slut and the 'Good Girl'

Protecting a woman's sexual 'honor'

In the first two weeks of March 2012, we lived with the reaction to Rush Limbaugh's tirade against a woman with whose views he disagreed.

Why are 'Slut' and 'Whore' Insults

Throughout the furore that resulted in many sponsors withdrawing their support of his 'shock jock' show, women have failed to question whether slut or whore are 'legitimate' insults against women and if so, why is it that they are. Rush Limbaugh used these words because he knew how much power they had to incite a visceral reaction. And the reaction was to protect the 'honor' of Sandra Fluke. Feminists who should have known better than to accept a patriarchal notion of who a woman should be went on the warpath to 'ruin' Limbaugh's career.

As for the word whore, getting money for something people give away is not seen as entrepeneurship but as a sign of poor morals. And yet hundreds of years ago when women were oppressed, courtesans became famous for their skills in pleasing men. Now that we have career options, this is no longer a legitimate one.  And why? Because of our notions of women's power, which say that no woman would choose to get paid for sex unless under the power of a man.

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The Good Girl

Women are raised to be 'good girls'; which includes being sexually circumspect. Any assault on their purity can threaten a woman's psychological well-being because of the significance of this 'good girl' social norm to one's perception of self-worth. Of course a boy does not get bullied for many sexual partners but for not being able to get any. 

The Sexual Revolution

And yet, we were supposed to have gone through a sexual revolution where women were free to do with their bodies as they wished. If we are free to do with our bodies as we wish then who is a slut? And what does that word really mean?

The Power of Words and 'Slutwalks'

The international 'SLUTWALK'  movement is a sign that women are beginning to take back these words and its about time. We can either own them or toss them into the word garbage pile. These words devalue women by their mere existence and not because of any behavior that they may describe. It is time that these words no longer hold women's psyche hostage nor should they inspire men to chivalrous defense of our honor. Instead, they will just be words that describe but not judge or tarnish one's 'reputation'.

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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