What do politics and slut shaming have in common? Well when certain politicians don't even really know what slut shaming and still us it, apparently nothing. Abi takes a look at Michael Gove and his  use of colorful language and defines what this mystery term actually means.

Madonnas & Whores:

What the Actual Fuck is Slut Shaming?

 

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My readers from the other side of the Atlantic probably aren’t familiar with Michael Gove, and I can’t say I don’t envy them that privilege. He’s a pretty nasty piece of work, and even his own fans don’t actually like him very much. Hell, our current Prime Minister is a slightly terrifying woman. Who, despite my feminist reservations about drawing comparisons between women in positions of power, does keep reminding me a bit of Dolores Umbridge. She also didn’t trust him to keep any of his old ministerial jobs and unceremoniously shuffled him out of the Cabinet when she took over.


You might have heard about so-called “Brexit”, though. The short version, for the enlightenment of the uninitiated: a few months back a tiny majority of the voting public made a completely inexplicable decision to do something unfathomably stupid that nobody has actually figured out how to do yet. And now we’re all stuck with the aftermath. It’s a bit like what happens when your Roomba runs over some dog shit, so naturally Michael Gove is all for it. In a move so baffling I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet, he recently came out with this piece of perplexing nonsense on the subject:


 

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“During the referendum, those thinking of voting Leave were told [...] that they should listen to people who brought you the crash of 2008. [...] The British people, understandably, didn’t like being patronised or slut-shamed so they looked closely, and with increasing attention, to the arguments.”


Leaving aside for a moment that Gove was one of the people who brought us the crash of 2008, the real question here is this: what the actual fuck does this man think slut shaming is?


He’s not the only person with that question:


The concept might not be new, but the term only came into vogue relatively recently. The core idea is a pretty straightforward one: “slut shaming” is what we do when we criticise, embarrass or deride women for behaviour that is read as being somehow overtly sexual or promiscuous in nature. Sometimes it’s pretty mild, like when a parent tells their daughter that she is “NOT going out in THAT” because they think it looks ‘slutty’ or ‘trashy’. Sometimes it’s inbuilt and insidious, like when someone is worried about telling their partner how many people they’ve slept with in the past in case said partner thinks the number is “too high” and it alters their view of them. Other times it’s blatant public sexism, like that one time Rush Limbaugh called a woman a whore for thinking birth control should be readily available.


It’s a useful term to have around, because it gives us the vocabulary to talk about something that’s been a part of our culture for generations and that we were all indoctrinated in from our earliest childhoods. (Disney films, incidentally, are full of slut shaming. I mean, I love Disney as much as the next girly girl, but the non-central women in those things cannot catch a break: just think about how the Ugly Stepsisters are portrayed as they vie for male attention, or all the insinuations that Ursula is a squid of much sexuality compared to Ariel’s literal loss of her voice.)


It’s possible to overuse even the best of terms, of course, and that’s a trap we might be starting to fall into here from time to time. Everything Roosh V has ever said is probably slut shaming, but wishing your masturbating neighbour would put some music on so you can sleep without hearing their endless moans probably isn’t.


When is a slut not a slut?


There’s a certain amount of “female empowerment” rhetoric that I’m not sure actually helps at all. I have a soft spot for Emma Stone, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed Easy A - a film that’s all about slut shaming and how it affects young women. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that the film’s message doesn’t go far enough, though. It’s a fascinating exploration of how easy it is to fall into the trap of branding someone a “slut” for things they have never done at all, but completely fails to point out that it would be wrong to treat her that way even if she had done everything she’s being accused of.


I’m quite fond of the word ‘slut’. I have a small collection of things dotted around my house decorated with it, in fact, and a few bits of jewellery I found on Etsy. Much like ‘fat’, I don’t believe that ‘slut’ in and of itself needs to be a dirty word - though it’s certainly often used that way. Until we’ve achieved widespread reclamation of either term, though, I don’t see any particular benefit in using them to describe people who find them insulting and uncomfortable - no matter what their dress size or how many sexual partners they’ve had.


And what about Michael Gove?


I haven’t the foggiest idea what the recently-disgraced politician was trying to say when he used the term ‘slut-shaming’ to talk about the EU referendum. I think I can see why he tried at all, though: it seems as though he was attempting to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist by using the language of modern political correctness, which is a fascinating move from someone on the right of this country’s politics.


I’m firmly opposed to Gove’s position on Brexit - but I can’t help but be a tiny bit pleased that an avowedly right-wing politician is prepared to use a turn of phrase that indicates that a “slut” isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be. Maybe we’re making some progress after all.

 

Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to sexual deviancy, far-left politics and wearing too much jewellery. Find her at her website or @see_abi_write.


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