The Language of Hate, Shame, and Control

How have these words of hate come to be so widely accepted that most aren't even considered vulgar anymore?

The Language of Hate, Shame, and Control

Bitch. Slut. Whore. Skank. Slag. Ho. Tramp. Hussy. Tart. Easy. Loose.

In our culture it isn’t a crime for women to have sex, that is to say that women aren’t stoned to death for it – at least. What does happen to a woman who is assigned one of the aforementioned titles is something very few people give much thought to. We like to pride ourselves on not stoning rape victims to death but I see no reason for pride given our recent history. What I see is that we in the Western world, should hang our heads in shame, at the hateful way we treat women and girls.

Men are never labelled for their sexual exploits, and the insults levelled at men never compare their value as human beings to their sex lives and yet we have countless words to describe women’s private lives.

It is at this point that someone invariably interjects “but I say man slut!” to highlight the fact that men are in fact held accountable for their sex lives but tell me this: Why is it that we need to specify that a slut is a man?

Because the language of hate is designed solely to describe women!

If I simply use the word slut or whore in a sentence with no gender specific nouns, then the automatic assumption is that they are female. The list of words above are all derived from a culture which likes to say women are liberated, but still relies heavily on shame to control and malign women. Calling a man a whore will never damage his reputation let alone his feelings the way it does to a woman. Yet calling a woman a whore might be the subject of gossip for her whole life.

What is perhaps the most perplexing part of the language of hate is that many of the women who are labelled, are in no way, not even remotely, living within the actual definitions of the labels, but the labels themselves are so shameful that they are used to pour scorn onto women anyway. And as is apparent to anyone who has ever attended a school,  negative labels stick, no matter how they come about, whether they are truthful or not (To clarify, I’m not suggesting that the use of these labels is ever true, I’m discussing general labels). Many high school girls speak of their deep pain at being labelled some derogatory form of the word promiscuous and remark further about the irony that they are in fact virgins. Girls tell of how they rejected the advances of a boy and came to be called slut, or how they loved a boy so they did consent to sex but when they are no longer associating with each other she finds out he is telling everyone she is “skanky”. Perhaps the most abhorrent usages for these words of hate is when they are used to describe a victim of rape. Many women report being called a slut during their rape. These words need to go. Women will have no semblance of liberation until they do.

So what of the men who are having sex with all these “sluts” and “skanky hos”?

If women who acquire these labels are so undesirable then why sleep with them? Because you just want to get laid? Because you want to use someone just to get off? Because you know that your reputation will still be squeaky clean after you used someone for your own sexual pleasure, regardless of how it may hurt them? In the case of a rape victim the answer is most likely as a display of superior power, violent control, and anger. Rape is very rarely for sexual fulfilment if the studies conducted on rapists are accurate. Why label someone a slut after you have raped then? Because you rely on the social judgement that is reserved for “sluts” to protect you, so your victim is less likely to tell her tale of survival to other people in the community or the police, or maybe to in some way excuse or justify the act, a way to reason with it and make it feel ok.

Basically men have no trouble sleeping with women that are supposedly deplorable. So what does that say about the actual labels? It says that they aren’t actually terms that carry weight to perpetrators and bullies, they are just cruel terms that are designed to hurt, shame, or control the actions of women.

When we look at the terms used to insult men we see there are very few of them. Dick head, Arse hole, cunt, pussy, son of a bitch, bastard, girly boy, fag, poof, and I’m sure there are a couple more. But take a closer look at that list. The first two are pretty common. Not particularly endearing by any stretch of the imagination, they can be hurtful and damaging, but rarely in the same way as the top list we have for women. What about the next four? What do they have in common? They all insinuate that the man is distasteful because of his association with women (son of a bitch refers to his mother, bastard refers to having an unmarried mother – and suddenly we’re back to “slut”) or that he has the attributes of a woman – what could be worse? Women are weak, their genitals are disgusting, what man would want to be like a woman? The only way to be a man, a REAL man, is for him to ooze testosterone, manliness, chest beating, yawping heterosexual MANLINESS! Which bring us to the last two insults reserved for men. The only way to be a red blooded male in a patriarchy that uses the language of hate is to bonk women. Only women. To like men is to be a lesser man. To be gay is to be weak, like a woman. How deplorable! (please note sarcasm)

A pregnant woman hangs her head in sorrow
Sorrow – 1882 Lithograph by Vincent Van Gogh.
License: Creative Commons CC0.

So before you use the words we listed here as insults ask yourself these questions. In fact,  ask everyone: How have these words of hate come to be so widely accepted that most aren’t even considered vulgar anymore? How can we continue to ignore the pain and shame women and girls feel when they hear these labels directed at themselves? Why insult someone because they have sex? Why is it insulting to be a woman, or gay? How would you feel if you called a rape victim one of these terms of hate? Why would you think it was ok to control or manipulate another person using these insults? How would you feel if the victim of your taunts truly took them to heart and committed suicide?

I’m not suggesting that all women are marvellous creatures, that every woman alive is above reproach, because women are human and sometimes they do shitty things. What I’m suggesting is that if you simply must insult someone, you do it without using the language of hate, without expressing a hatred of her that has it’s roots firmly planted in misogyny. Surely in this day and age there are a million creative ways to insult someone without resorting to shame, and humiliation.

It’s time for our culture to move beyond the language of hate. It’s time for women to claim the sexual freedom that our culture so proudly claims is already ours. It’s time to speak only from kindness or compassion, or to stay silent. It’s time to start using the language of love, to free women from the chains of sexual control.

Woman's back, head hung in shame
Hanging head in shame
Credit: Pexels CC0

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