S*** (not the one you think)

Remember that scene in the movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary where poor Bridget is forced to stumble her way through introducing the publisher of “Kafka’s Motorbike: The Greatest Book of Our Time” in front of Jeffrey Archer, Salman Rushdie and other literary luminaries, and — understandably — keeps apologizing. “And, Mr Rushdie, yours aren’t bad either.”

That scene never fails to crack me up, and it was in my head all afternoon. Which was a nice distraction, because between the book deadline and the huge non-writing-related thing going on in my life, I’m getting a little bit overwhelmed. It may be why Sailor Boy sat me down yesterday with a glass of wine and a DVD of Mean Girls.

What a funny film. My favorite part is where Cady recognizes that in “girl world,” Halloween means dressing up in lingerie with animal ears. It’s so true! When my best friend and I were looking for costumes for the Masquerade last New Year’s Eve, the costume shops were filled with boy costumes, and girl costumes that could all be categorized under the heading “Boy Costume Wench” and looked like your average sex shop costume with corset tops and super short flippy miniskirts. You could be a pirate wench or a medieval wench or a Tarzan wench or a Revolutionary War (complete with tri-cone hat) Wench. In the end, my friend bought a pirate wench outfit that she proceeded to wear as a vest, because that’s how skimpy it was, over a puffy shirt, a pair of black pants, and kicking boots, thereby creating a slightly more feminine equivalent of the boy costume you could buy ready made. So frustrating! It’s kind of sad when the entire social paradigm shifts toward “all girls want to dress up like streetwalkers” to the point that you actually can’t find a costume that doesn’t fit that mold.

I had a great lunch with a writer friend yesterday, and we talked about feminism and why a lot of young people refuse to refer to themselves as feminist or even people our age (Gen X) tiptoe around the phrase or think that to be feminist means “you won’t get a date” or you don’t wear dresses or makeup or whatnot. Or how things that are classified as “for women” are things that society — even supposedly enlightened, intelligent society, feels comfortable denigrating. Men will avoid it and women will avoid it as well. We’d apparently both taken classes in college that came under fire for using “women” in the title of the class. In her case, the men in the required course couldn’t stop complaining about being forced to read “girl stuff.” In mine, the class was eventually titled something else, and the applications went through the roof.


And then in Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s character is telling the girls, “You guys have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores; it just makes it easier for men to call you that.” I used to do that all the time, both in jest and affection with my girlfriends and as a pejorative. That women choose to denigrate other women, as well as things that are considered “for women” isn’t really helping matters.

There’s a scene in SSG where Amy calls herself a slut. I threw it in for laughs, and because it seemed authentic to the voice of that character. She’s describing how she made out with one guy at a bar, then met another back at her dorm room and spent the night with him. Back when I was in college, they used to send around these things called “purity tests” and I always remember one of the big “OMG, no!” questions was “Did you ever hook up with two people in one 24 hour period?” I think that Amy, in retrospect, would be a little uncomfortable with that choice (especially given the repercussions), and “slut” is the term applied by and to girls who do things like that.

Boys? Yeah, there is no term.

However, it doesn’t seem as funny to me now. I still think it’s authentic for Amy to make that self-deprecating comment, and to use that term, but I also think it’s unfortunate. These are some of the choices you make as a writer: because your characters aren’t perfect. They aren’t always going to make the “right” choice. Even if they believe (as Amy certainly does) that her sexuality is just fine, thank you very much, it doesn’t mean she’s free from what our culture thinks girls should be. Maybe she calls herself that so no one else can do it first, to own the phrase on a level that renders it toothless. Because if she thinks she did anything wrong that night, it wasn’t hooking up with two people, it was that one of the people would view it as a betrayal. Maybe classifying herself as “slutty” is an easier thing for her to swallow (perhaps because she and her girlfriends have been tossing the term around, Mean Girls style, for seven years) than “cold-hearted.” Or “unfaithful.” Or anything else that the betrayed party would be more likely to say than “slutty.”

Yes, these are the things I think about. Especially as I bring the series to a close, and I think about where Amy is now, vs where she was at various points in the previous books. Amy is thinking about it too, much as I look back on that girl I was in college, who threw “slut” around with abandon and wonder why in the world I’d do something like that.

Posted in chick lit, feminism, literature, SSG, Uncategorized, writing life

14 Responses to S*** (not the one you think)

  1. Gina says:

    Boys? Yeah, there is no term.

    Hah. I just call ’em sluts too. I’m an equal opportunity denigrator.

  2. Diana says:

    I agree. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard anyone call a guy a slut as an insult. It’s usually more a term of admiration, or joking, at worst.

    there’s a line in the (not very good) movie Defnitely, Maybe where Abigail Breslin asks her dad what the male term for slut is (she wants to call him that) and he goes, “Hmmm, they haven’t come up with one yet.” True. Sad.

  3. Sara -ERF says:

    I don’t know about this one. I certainly see what you are saying, but part of me feels like calling each other sluts (and bitch for that matter) is one of those odd empowerment things. Like black people referring to themselves by the n-word. That somehow the usage of the word takes away it’s power as a weapon.

    But I’m not entirely reconciled to that idea either to be honest. It all feels very gray to me. Without making much of a conscious decision I certainly use the word a lot less since High School.

  4. Diana says:

    I agree, Sara. That was definitely the idea when we threw it around with abandon in college. We were also fond of calling each other c***s and c***rags and the like. But like you, it has really dropped out of my usage.

    Bitch is still around though, both in the positive and negative sense.

  5. Phyllis Towzey says:

    OMG, I had no idea that smart, ambitious, career-minded young women from well-adjusted backgounds attending prestigious colleges casually tossed around words like that addressing each other. I started my career as a lawyer is a major firm at the time when 99% of the partners in those firms were men, and 99% of the executives who contolled the business handed out to those law firms were men. Getting respect was tough. I guess my age is showing. But I have a 13-year-old daughter, and the thought of all this makes me actually feel ill.

  6. Mean Girls is my fav movie. Now, poor Lindsay has such issues. Sniff.

    I throw around bitch probably more than I should in the good and bad sense. Never used the c-word. There will probably always be the war of words!

  7. Liza says:

    I throw around bitch much more than I should.

    It is so crazy that a woman who sleeps around is a slut while the guys that do the same thing are concidered studs to other guys. I guess a cad would be the best way to describe those guys.

  8. Patrick says:

    I have a problem with meaning more than actual terminology. I personally feel bitch and slut are gender neutral at this point. So much of this is USian culture, from what I can tell. My friend in England gets quite a kick out of calling me C**t. It’s quite the casual term for him. Also, I always get the impression that non-USian women are much more comfortable with their sexuality and the US defined term ‘slut’ would apply to many of them and they wouldn’t think anything of it, any more so than a US guy would.

    And I liked definitely, maybe though I do cringe at a father going through a divorce telling a story about his ex-wife sleeping with his roommate among other things.

  9. Tiff says:

    I haven’t done this since college, but yeah, I remember this. I stopped calling girls bitches and sluts when, like you, Diana, I realized how much more we women denigrate ourselves through it. It just allows the men in our lives that much more liberty to do so as well.

    My favorite line in Mean Girls is, “The weird thing about hanging out with Regina was that I could hate her, and at the same time, I still wanted her to like me.” I feel like everything we do to each other as women stems from that–it’s such a high school feeling, but I think it follows us all through our lives. We feel the need to idolize a lot of things that we don’t even really like, because of what society has presented to us as “womanly” or “girly.” We don’t even like it, yet we tolerate it–and that forbearance, I think, is what makes us so easily susceptible to this kind of insult, from men or women. I really appreciated in ROS(B), when Odile yelled at everyone for all the crap about “society incest,” and said “Fuck who you want to fuck.” The amazing thing about that was that Demetria, the professed feminist/lesbian/liberal was the one who was complaining about it. The fact that they were even having that conversation about it is testament to your point, Diana. We judge each other just as much as men judge us. We objectify ourselves as women.

    I don’t know how to stop this, but it’s something I, too, have been thinking about for a long time. I think, for me, it’s just about trying to keep an absolutely open mind about everyone I meet, and trying to stay away from gossip or judgment.

  10. Cara King says:

    Really interesting, thought-provoking post, Diana! And I strongly agree with most of it.

    I was never one for using the word “slut” or the c word, but I’ve always used the term “bitch.” But many years ago, I decided I was being sexist, so now I call guys bitches too. But, you know, only when they’re acting bitchy. Which they do about as often as women do, from what I’ve seen.

    One thing that bugs me, BTW, and I think this is the same now as thirty years ago — if a guy declines to wear a speedo or short shorts, he’s just called a guy. But if a girl declines to reveal her body, she’s told she has body issues or that she’s not comfortable with her sexuality or that she’s uptight or prudish. (And the clothes for teen girls nowadays are *extremely* revealing!)

    And why does the media insist in talking about “chick flicks” and the like? Used to be guys might be happy seeing When Harry Met Sally or Jane Austen, but now they know they’re supposed to hate that stuff or else be unmanly… (Not that I think guys should fall for that sort of pressure — in fact, my husband is a paragon of secure masculinity, and even admits he reads romance — but still, it makes things harder!)

    BTW, Diana, unless I’m much mistaken, you’re not Generation X — you’re Generation Y. 🙂


  11. Diana says:

    Nope. X. Child of the 70s.

    Y-ers are folks born in the 80s and 90s. Like my brothers. It was an interesting phenomenon to notice (and a subject of much discussion in college, both among the profs, in the newspapers, and among the students) that the students even two years younger than us were so vastly different than the ones five or even ten years older than us. They don’t remember the Berlin Wall falling. They never wrote papers on typewriters. They never lived without video games, etc. I remember being at an eighties party my senior year and feeling nostalgic, while the younger students around me saw it as an alien culture. For them, Kurt Cobain was nostalgia.

    However, being of the tail end meant that there was a lot of bleed through, especially considering I was the oldest in my family. If I was the youngest, it would probably be even more obvious.

  12. Cara King says:

    Interesting, Diana… I’d always gone off Douglas Coupland’s idea of Generation X (he wrote the book that popularized the term, after all), but it seems it has since been frequently redefined! Looking about quickly on the web I find the following, all from (if I understand correctly) academic sources:

    > “people born between 1964 and 1975”
    > “Born between 1967 and 1979…”

    And this lovely quote, citation given at the end:

    > “There is even less agreement for the Gen X-ers’
    > birth years, reported to begin somewhere in the
    > early 1960s and end in 1975, 1980, 1981, or 1982
    > (Adams, 2000; Jurkiewicz & Brown, 1998; Karp,
    > Sirias, & Arnold, 1999; Kupperschmidt, 2000;
    > O’Bannon, 2001; Scott, 2000)…the Gen X-ers have
    > 45 million in their cohort (Schaeffer, 2000)”
    > (Smola & Sutton, 2002, p. 364).

    (BTW, I found all these quotes on Boston College’s
    Sloan Research Network…)

    So I guess it’s about as well-defined as “young.” 🙂


  13. finny says:

    you know what’s funny? I just watched Definitely, Maybe and there’s a scene where the daughter asks Ryan Reynolds’ character, “What’s the boy word for slut?” and he answers, “Yeah, I think they’re still looking for one.”

    Interesting that it would come up twice in one day. Happy 4th!

  14. Kristin says:

    Hmm, I with the woman who has the 13-year-old daughter (mine’s 10, so I probably have more in common with her than many others on here)…educated women call each other ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ as a cute term? Wha….? When did this start?

    Whenever I hear those types of remarks, it comes from, what I would term ‘low-class’ women, trailer trash, what have you.

    But women with degrees from prestigious universities use these terms in a ‘fun’ and ‘friendly’ way? I don’t get that.

    As for the ‘slut’ term being only for women, there was a show on tv a year or so ago about high school kids. I think it was “Kyle X/Y.” There was a vote going around the school for different things, one was ‘biggest slut,’ and a guy won the title. So I think it really is becoming a universal term. Perhaps this switch began when the Seinfeld term “mimbo” became vernacular?