‘Self Portrait’ and the ‘Slut’ Label

These self portraits (below) were actually taken specifically for a special zine that Clandestine Collective, which I and Georgia are part of, are thinking about producing. I really liked the repetitive layout of the sheet of images and I thought that this would somehow function really well as a piece of work, I just needed to decide what.

Self Portrait

One of the events that has stuck with me most in my life is being called a “slag” at the age of ten by a boy in my class at school, after he’d ‘dumped’ me (it obviously wasn’t a proper relationship, it was just one of those one week primary school things.) I remember feeling that this was wrong at the time, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, due to my young age, so my friend and I ended up having to ask my mum what it meant.

I decided to use this event as my inspiration, but incorporate other derogatory terms used against women. I’ve previously experimented with this idea by making cookies with words iced onto them, but I really wasn’t happy with the end result and ended up deleting it off my Dropr portfolio a few months later. I used words that are used against all women, such as ‘dyke’, ‘whore’ and ‘bint’, ‘bint’ being one of the words that stuck out the most for me as I have a friend who constantly refers to herself as this, and doesn’t think anything of it. The layering of the words over my face almost acts as a kind of permanent branding. This is what’s happened as a result of the use of ‘slut’ becoming an everyday norm, women have been permanently branded with these derogatory terms due to their frequent use.

Kathleen

A few months ago I went to see ‘The Punk Singer’ at the National Media Museum and prior to this, I had absolutely no idea that Kathleen Hanna had produced artwork. I can never really find that much online when I search for it but this is definitely my favourite piece (above), along with the faces that she painted on paper bags. Hanna made this particular piece of work when she was a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. The work is made up of a photograph of her participating in a beauty pageant when she was younger, perhaps a reference to the sexualisation of children and how beauty pageants present a false and unattainable female image, with the word ‘slut’ layered repeatedly in the background. This contrast between the innocence of childhood and the derogatory terms used teenage girls and women almost acts as a warning, a brief flash of the future that awaits the young Kathleen, or any young girl.

In my opinion, as a result of what I witnessed during secondary school and what I’m still witnessing now at university, the whole ‘slut’ insult is rooted in class. The vast majority of the time, some of my female friends and peers will criticise working class girls for their life choices purely because they’re from a working class background and usually don’t have the same types of opportunities available to them. The application of ‘slut’ to almost anything other than a woman’s sex life now, whether that’s their appearance or dress sense, is partly rooted in a stigma towards working class women. Wikipedia’s definition of ‘slut’ is: “a term applied to an individual who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous.” When I was aged twelve-fourteen, the term ‘slut’ was supposed to represent someone who had had multiple sexual partners, but the term is now even being applied to the clothes that women enjoy wearing. Seemingly, even if a woman wears a low-cut top or a short skirt or dress, this is an accurate representation of her sex life and is automatically a sign that she has had multiple sexual partners.

It’s very interesting to note that there’s no male equivalent of ‘slut’ or ‘slag’. I’ve heard the term ‘man slag’ used before, but this has never caught on to the same extent that referring to a female as a ‘slut’ has done. Even if there was a male equivalent, that’s not acceptable either. Someone’s sex life or sex choices are their own personal business. Some people are comfortable having sex with one or a couple of partners during their lifetime, others gain far more enjoyment out of having multiple sexual partners, it varies from person to person. Some people choose to limit the number of sexual partners they have, but this does not, under any circumstances, give you the right to adopt a superior attitude that criticises anyone who’s had sex with more people than you. That’s why I think attempts to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and transform it into an empowering term are so brilliant, particularly in movements like SlutWalk.

When I was younger, and before I’d discovered feminism, I used to openly refer to girls as ‘slags’. I hold my hands up to it and I’m really disappointed in myself that I thought it was ok to use this term against other girls. This was the norm at the time, both boys and girls used it, there was no division, both sexes were united under the use of the derogatory ‘slut’ term. This further demonstrates my earlier point about how the word ‘slut’ has become so normal in society that a lot of women don’t think anything of it, unless they’re made aware that it isn’t in fact acceptable, and that they should not accept this term being used against them.

I’m not a die-hard fan of Mean Girls, I could relate to it a little bit when I was younger, but there’s a phrase in it that’s used by the character, Ms. Norbury, which I think is really quite poignant and sums up my main point in this post:

Mean Girls

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