The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

It’s pretty much always offensive, actually

[trigger warning for assault and strong language. And sarcasm]

There I was, reading the paper, sipping my coffee, toying with the idea of sneaking out for a cigarette, when I saw something that made me choke on my long black.

I didn’t see the billboard in Parnell. (Does anyone have a picture?) Which is lucky, because likely, I would have spat at it, or something.

The image was of an intricately iced cake top that included the words “Backstabbing Slut” surrounded by iced flourishes. Underneath these words the rest of advertisement stated, in part: Top Chef. Just Desserts. They make desserts, not friends. 8.30 Mondays”

But, according to the advertiser (TV Four), it’s humorous. It’s funny!

The “Backstabbing Slut” line has been used with humour to promote the reality show “Top Chef: Just Desserts”. The line is written as a crafted, handwritten style, subtle message on a cake, and not as a blatant headline. You have to fully engage with the communication to absorb it….Anecdotal evidence suggests the word ‘slut’ is increasingly being used as a throwaway humorous line, in the same way as ‘slapper’ or ‘bugger’ is, as opposed to a nasty insult – especially amongst younger people. US reality shows contain regularly use of the phrase as a light-hearted form of insult. Teenage girls in New Zealand now frequently use the phrase as a humorous insult.

At the risk of coming across as a boring feminazi with no sense of humour, thank God the ASA saw sense.

Look, I don’t care what they are doing on US reality TV. I don’t care what teenage girls are saying to each other, though I would like to have a word with these girls that are using it as a “humourous insult”. Just because it is humourous, doesn’t stop it being an insult. It is still fucking offensive.

I am embracing the word Slut. Reluctantly. As I have written, I’ve been called it a number of times, and I will be marching for my right to do what I like with my body without judgement or threat of violence.

But like any re-claimed word, other people using it is always problematic. To me Slut is a nasty, nasty insult. Not just because of what it says about the recipient in particular, but what it says about women in general. That idea that liking sex is bad, that being confident and willing and experienced is inherently unwomanly. And an unwomanly woman is worthless.

“The word ‘slut’ is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn’t have to lift a finger

I am not the language police. I am not going to tell you what you can and can’t say. If you want to reclaim it for you, then fantastic. But if you are going to use Slut, even in jest, it behooves you to remember that it’s a word filled with misogyny and hate. Like other offensive words, it pays to be careful when you say it. Because you might think it is funny. But the person you’re saying it to might remember when someone said it when they were being demeaned, ridiculed or just before being kicked in the stomach. And to some of us, some of the time, that’s exactly what it feels like.

11 responses to “It’s pretty much always offensive, actually

  1. Emma May 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Again, it’s a failure to understand the importance of context – and that’s giving them all the benefit of the doubt. It’s irrelevant if the word is okay for US teenage girls to use to each other, because the person who put that ad together was NOT an American teenage girl. They would NOT use the word “nigger” in the same context, regardless of whether it’s okay for young African-Americans to use together.

    Also, y’know, it’s okay for certain of my friends (those who’ve also been on the receiving end of a deal of slut-shaming) to use the word ‘slut’ with me, because we understand why we’re doing it and how (ie, with Maximum Sarcasm). That doesn’t mean that it’s okay for anyone else to use it with me. I would have thought that was pretty fucking easy to understand.

    • tallulahspankhead May 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      As I said over on the other post, I am pretty sure I’ve called you a slut. As in, ‘heh. Slut’, in the midst of a conversation about serious sex-positive feministy things. But that’s a very different thing from advertising a show on a billboard. Slut is #12 (I think), on that list of words from the BSA. I think it should be much, much higher.

      • La Ranita May 16, 2011 at 8:07 am

        I’ve always found it curious that “nigger” is so high on the list yet “slut”, “whore” and “fag” are way down, when they are all examples of hate speech.

        • tallulahspankhead May 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

          Well, it is a survey, so it’s based on what “average New Zealanders” find offensive. Nigger is one of the last taboos.

          • Good Gravey May 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm

            Yes – it is always a worry when things are based on “average” New Zealanders’ opinions. I don’t think I trust average very much. Why else am I over here?

            As I have said many times – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can destroy my soul”. People really need to understand the potential power of their words.

          • tallulahspankhead May 18, 2011 at 9:32 am

            Given that is a list for broadcast media, though, I am not sure how else, other than surveying people, they could investigate it.

            There’s a censorship argument to be had (and believe me, I have had them), around the use of language, but that’s a post for another day.

  2. Pingback: Real life « Strongly Wrong

  3. @missannajane May 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I found out recently my 21 year old friend frequently refers to her friends as “Oi, slut!” or “Slutface!” on Victoria University’s campus. Y’all that know be would probably not call me a prude, but yeah, I find this offensive and disrespectful.

    Which is a different thing altogether from promiscuous behaviour, which I am all for, if it’s healthy psychological behaviour for an individual.

  4. Tamara May 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I saw that billboard a while back and had to do a double-take. Pretty offensive and there was no way I was going to watch that show after seeing that.

  5. @missannajane May 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    You know what? I don’t like men being called sluts either.

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