Because I Apparently Want People to Be Mad At Me On the Internet: “Reclamation Doesn’t Work”
I recognize your point, although I think that it’s a bit premature to judge reclamation as an entirety. Any word can hurt when it’s volleyed at you in a negative light - I am a Jewish person, and I am so proud of my heritage, but of course it hurt when someone shouted “Jew!” at me while bouncing pennies off of my face. Do you think I can feasibly stop self-describing as Jewish?
When did I say that it had to be unanimously applied? I actually referenced the opposite perspective (if you view it as a bad thing) and granted it legitimacy. However, please do not delude yourself into thinking that the reclamation of “slut” and “bitch” and other female-oriented derogatory phrases is an exclusively white, college-aged, straight movement.
And you make a lot of accusations. Do you truly think that I am privileged enough that the word “slut” doesn’t hurt? I don’t self-describe as a slut, nor do I apply it to other women on a personal level (unless they request it), in part because while I recognize the reclamation movement, I do also understand that there is still a harmful history.
However, the movement is not invalidated by that. The term “slut” is etymologically interwoven with bodily autonomy and sexual freedom outside of the patriarchally defined norms for female-bodied individuals. When someone is shaming a female-bodied individual, or group of individuals for acting outside of those norms, the term “slut-shaming” (shaming the target for being perceived as a slut) is applicable, and not negative within the context of the reclamation movement. And if you treat that bodily autonomy and sexual freedom as a bad thing - which is a problem systemically founded in misogyny - you are contributing to that taboo by shaping the language with which those girls view themselves and other women.
You’re right, I am making too many assumptions. “You” was being used in the more general sense, and wasn’t meant as a personal attack, but it was still a line I shouldn’t have crossed.
There’s a difference, of course, between the anecdote you describe and the ones I did. I don’t need to tell you the etymology of the word “Jew,” of course, but “bitch” and “queer” and, yes, “slut?” Those BEGAN as derogatory terms. The earliest known uses of the term “slut” in the English language referred to a woman who was dirty and lazy. It began as a gendered insult, with possible origins in words from German, Swedish, and Dutch that were themselves gendered insults. I don’t see how this makes it “interwoven with bodily autonomy,” but maybe I am missing something.
Your sentence here, by the way?
When someone is shaming a female-bodied individual, or group of individuals for acting outside of those norms, the term “slut-shaming” (shaming the target for being perceived as a slut) is applicable, and not negative within the context of the reclamation movement.
I feel like it’s making two different and competing points, but again, I may be missing something. On the one hand, you describe slut-shaming as “shaming the target for being perceived as a slut.” But if “slut” is what’s being reclaimed, then it has nothing to do with perception and everything to do with self-labeling. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s about the interplay between perception and self-labeling, as in “If my behavior causes men to call me a bitch, if nothing I do will prevent them from calling me a bitch, then I’m a bitch, and I will wear that label proudly,” which is how I understand reclamation to work.
However, the original phenomenon I was talking about was NOT the act of self-labeling, but the act of self-proclaimed feminists and feminist “allies” labeling others by applying the term “slut-shaming” unilaterally.
Like I said, I don’t believe reclamation works. This is because of my personal experiences with it, and also my attempts to explain it to others. I used to do educational work for a gay political organization, and during work like this I would often describe myself as “queer.” And the people I would be working to educate would often be so offended by this. They could not understand why I would put myself down like that. For them, some words were just wrong, because the violence surrounding those words had been and continued to be far too pervasive. And over time, I’ve become more and more convinced that maybe they were right.
I might not believe it works, but I’m not going to stop others from trying. And when I’m eighty and men and women can call each other “sluts” in a positive and affirming fashion universally, then obviously I will have been very wrong. And I’ll be okay with that. You can look me up then on futureTumblr, (which none of the kids will use because, omg, old people think they’re so cool posting memes all day) and I will gladly admit that I foresaw a very different future than the one we wound up in.
But in the meantime, I will continue to object to use of these words to describe people who have not chosen to describe themselves as such. Especially when those people are children.