by chelsea g. summers
I see slut people. They’re everywhere.
It’s hard to not see the sluts. They’re all over college campuses, walking to class, carrying their books in backpacks and in briefcases. They’re hailing cabs in their skirts and their shoes, as they do, those sluts. They’re behind the Plexiglass at the bank, where the sluts wear tags with their names; they’re brazen. They’re at NCAA basketball games, in the stands and on the courts. They’re twirling on poles, and they’re banging gavels, nails, and drums. They’re on line in front of you at Duane Reade, waiting to pick up their prescriptions. They’re online writing things, their little slut fingers going tap-tap-tap on their keyboards. They’re even on NPR, however abstractly.
Until recently, I never thought much about slut-shaming. I considered it something I left behind in high school—even all those SlutWalks last summer failed to impress. Slut-shaming, as far as I understood it, was something that only worked if you let others have power over you; if you let their names hurt you, they won. To be cowed by someone calling you a slut was to descend to schoolyard level. As an adult, you have the right to enjoy however many people you want in whatever configurations of ways, and as long as you’re honest with your people, and as long as you’re safe, no one can shame you for your actions. And, really, even if you’re neither honest nor safe, slut-shaming is at best a sidelong epithet.
To be sexually active, as far as I saw it, was my right. And just as no one could talk me out of voting by calling me a Democrat or out of driving by disparaging my mad skills behind the wheel, no one was going to make me fuck fewer people—or make me feel bad about fucking however many I had fucked—by calling me a slut. Adulthood was giving the one-fingered salute to all those people who ever tried to castigate me for my sexual activity, and thus I saw slut-shaming as something you allowed to happen because you hadn’t fully become an adult. Some part of you was still, sadly, locked in high school.
Of course, in a post-Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke world, all that has changed. I don’t need to link Limbaugh’s spate of “slut” studded outbursts; everyone knows about them. I don’t need to lay the foundation of his four-day philippic against Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, where he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she recompense his misperceived funding of her birth control pills by posting videos of all the hot, sexy sex she’s having so much of. I don’t need to give the context that Fluke testified before a Democratic committee of House Representatives that she and students like her needed to have their Jesuit school follow the contraceptive mandate not merely to prevent pregnancy but also to support reproductive health in women. I don’t need to talk about how Fluke’s testimony centered on her friend who was denied coverage for her polycystic ovary syndrome. Nor do I need to mention that Fluke spoke to the Democratic committee only because her testimony was deemed pointless by the full House committee.
Anyone with a computer and a mouse is already painfully aware of all of this.
When I first listened to Limbaugh’s lambast, one thing stood out among all the epithets and euphemism (really, “round-heel”? That is the cutest slut-shame ever!), and that was this: Limbaugh knows full well how birth control works and he doesn’t care. On March 1, day three of his Fluke diatribe, Limbaugh said, “So the woman comes forth with this frankly hilarious claim that she’s having so much sex — and her buddies with her– that she can’t afford it…And not one person says, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?” Unlike both Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow who frankly questioned Limbaugh’s comprehension of basic biology, I believe Limbaugh knows full well that one month’s supply of pills protects you whether you bang the entire Hoya basketball team and their mascot, or whether you bang no one at all.
Which leads me to this: I now must revise my view of slut-shaming because when an entire political party works in concert to tell those of us—women, men, and those who refuse easy categorization—that to want to control our own procreation is wrong, immoral, and, if it’s up to them, illegal, then I see slut-shaming as something that’s moved out of the playground and onto the battleground. The Personhood Amendment may have failed in Mississippi last November, but new bills introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida aim to chip away at access to birth control. Likewise, all of the anti-abortion legislation in the form of mandated pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds on the legislative slates for seven states. If you want to know what slut-shaming really looks like, it looks like a nonconsensual, medically unnecessary ultrasound image obtained with a ten-inch wand stuck up an unhappy woman’s vagina. It also looks a lot like the Republican candidates for President.
I’m happy that Barack Obama took the time to call Sandra Fluke and support her. It’s sweet. I’d be a lot happier, however, if she had testified that she deserved funded birth control pills not merely because a friend had suffered personal hardship but mostly because she herself liked to have sex. In fact, I’d like a great big committee of big old sluts standing up in front of Congress and saying in one voice, “We’re slutty as hell, and we’re not going to take this shaming anymore.” I’d like it if this battle were over, as I thought it was, not so long ago.
Shortly after the Limbaugh debacle, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum tweeted, “I am the Whorax. I speak for the sluts.” So do I. And so should you. I have seen the slut, and she is us. The slut people are all of us, regardless of gender, who have sex, or want to have sex, and feel good about it. We are all sluts, all things considered.
ABOUT CHELSEA G. SUMMERS: A recovering academic and a former stripper, chelsea g. summers has written for magazines like GQ, Penthouse, and Singularity in the US, and New Woman and Scarlet in the UK. Her work has been featured on naughty sexytime sites like Filthy Gorgeous Things as well totally safe for work sites like Yahoo Dating; her erotic writing has also appeared in multiple anthologies. chelsea blogs irregularly at pretty dumb things, but recompenses for that irregularity bytweeting far too much every day.
[Chelsea's portrait courtesy of artist Molly Crabapple]