24. If I have sex with a lot of people, it won’t make me an object of contempt or derision.
Two words: Bill. Clinton.
Bill Clinton suffered derision for cheating on his wife while being president. Is Chuck seriously arguing this is an example of the typical male experience? Do typical men face an angry Republican party and thousands of scandal-hungry reporters?
A few books and many scholarly articles have documented the “slut” phenomenon in US high schools – two examples are Fast Girls and Slut! Growing Up Female With A Bad Reputation. If any genuine parallel to slut-bashing exists for boys, I’ve never encountered it, heard it spoken of, or read about it in any academic source. My conclusion is that “slut” represents a genuine double-standard.
(In his comments, Chuck suggested “rent-boy.” But rent-boy isn’t a male counterpart of “slut”; it’s a male counterpart of “hooker.” Not the same thing.)
Nonetheless, I wonder if I should reword #24, because it implies that the “slut” label is applied to a woman or girl based on how many people she chooses to sleep with. In real life, it’s not that simple. Research on slut-labeling in US high schools suggests that girls are labeled as sluts for reasons other than their own behavior. The girl labeled a “slut” isn’t necessarily having more sex than other girls; but she’s usually set apart from the other girls in some other way, such as less money, earlier puberty, or being a recent new arrival.
From a review of the book Fast Girls:
White presents her victims of the slut rumor as girls whose identity was chosen for them, as opposed to one they brought on themselves. “Being a slut is not a story about the body so much as all the things that have been spoken about the body” (50). She presents the “slut” as a universal character, inevitably found at all high schools. White first proves that the designated reputation of the slut is born from redundantly similar rumors and this character exists in every school. By universalizing the slut role, White depersonalizes this image and emphasizes the lack of autonomy that girls face when, through no control of their own, they are suddenly cursed with a scarlet letter of sorts. After reading this book, there can be no plausible argument that starts with, “well she must have done something to deserve it.”
In a lengthy and sometimes drifting explanation of the Jungian archetype, White presents the slut as an unconscious rendering of the fear of female sexuality. She describes teenagers in limbo, as they attempt to compromise between messages of excessive sex as bad and their raging hormones. White states that teenagers try to make sense of this contradiction by drawing lines of good and bad. “By turning one girl into the slut among them, the kids try to reassure themselves that they are on the right side of fate: they are good while she is evil… They have the right kind of desire while she has the wrong kind” (59).
I think I’ll rewrite #24 to say There is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.” But I’m open to suggestions, too – let me know what you think.
(This is one of a number of posts responding to Chuck’s critique. You can use the category archive to see all posts related to the Male Privilege Checklist.)