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30 March 2014

Eliminate labels to show respect

Wisdom can be found in “Mean Girls,” one of the most quotable movies of all time, when Tina Fey’s character tells her students: “You all have got to stop calling each other sl*ts and wh*res. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sl*ts and wh*res.”

A few years ago, hearing the word “sl*t” used to make me cringe; it was such a harsh and derogatory term. Today, I have become totally desensitized to it and even hear girls use it a term of affection (“Hey, sl*t”/ “How’s it going, sl*t?”).

This transition from using the word “sl*t” as an insult to using it as a term of affection can hardly be called progress toward gender equality.

In its original meaning, “sl*t” is used to represent someone who either dresses provocatively or engages in promiscuous sexual activity with the opposite sex. The problem is that the word occasionally refers to a sexually promiscuous female, not a male.

No matter how many gender equality bumper stickers fill up Pinterest or feminist blogs exist on the Internet, we still cannot rid ourselves of the age-old sexual double standard. Men with many sexual partners are revered; women with the same number of sexual partners are demeaned.

In a 2001 study of the English language, 200 words were identified to describe a sexually promiscuous woman, while only 20 words were identified to describe a sexually promiscuous man.

A dangerous side effect of the sexual double standard is the act of sl*t shaming, which is the shaming of women who have multiple sexual partners. Aside from the fact that this rarely happens to men, it is important to point out that women are responsible for the majority of the sl*t shaming that occurs, especially on college campuses.

We women constantly seek gender equality, yet we set ourselves up for failure by putting down our own sisters.

Perhaps the most dangerous result of sl*t shaming is the propagation of rape culture in our country. Calling out women who dress in a certain style is another way to perpetuate victim-blame after sexual assault.

All too often, perpetrators claim that their victims were “asking for it” because of how they dressed. This is, of course, absolutely absurd. No one ever asks to be raped. Ever.

Recently, sl*t shaming and rape culture have attracted significant attention from the media. The students of Florida International University consider sl*t shaming to be a big enough issue on their campus, that they will be holding a Slut Walk on April 3 to change attitudes about women and sexual assaults.

Words like “sl*t” and “wh*re” seem harmless – after all, the person getting called those names usually doesn’t know she’s getting called them – but the issue at hand can be solved by breaking old habits and improving campus culture.

If we could completely eradicate labels like these from our vocabulary, we might finally eliminate the rape culture and instead spread respect.

Nayna Shah is a freshman majoring in music composition.