We’ve been hearing that line a lot lately in the comments section here, so I need to ask — what does it mean to “dress like a slut?”
The phrase rubs me the wrong way, for obvious reasons. “Slut” is such a loaded word, and one that I always tense up when hearing — it just brings me back to high school, when it was the catch-all term for “girl I don’t like” and when targeting one’s sexual experience was the best way to damage her all-important “reputation.”
If someone says, “Dressing like a nun,” we all know what that means, because nuns generally wear a habit (I know, not always, but let’s go with it) and they’re pretty identifiable. Or if someone says, “What was he dressed like?” and you say, “He was dressed like a cop,” I’m going to assume that he’s wearing a blue uniform and possibly aviator sunglasses. But being a “slut” doesn’t mean membership in a particular group; it’s not a job with a uniform, or even really a lifestyle choice — it’s generally a term that’s attached to you by someone else, and while it might loosely relate to your sex life, it probably has more to do with whether or not they like you and/or find you threatening. And so who’s slutty? Someone who’s had more than one sexual partner? Five? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? What about someone who’s never had vaginal sex, but has had a whole lot of oral and anal sex? A slutty virgin? What if you don’t actually do anything physical with someone else, but you take your top off for Mardi Gras or Girls Gone Wild? And I know we use the term “man-slut,” but it just doesn’t have the same sting to it. So first, what’s a slut? And second, what does she dress like?
Do you automatically get a drawer full of Daisy Dukes and halter tops when you go into double-digit sexual partners? At what level of slut-itude are we allowed to wear thongs and stilletto heels?
And saying that someone “dresses like a slut” would infer that she isn’t actually a slut, right? Because you wouldn’t tell someone, for example, that they were “dressed like Mick Jagger” if they were, in fact, Mick Jagger. You would say, “Hey, you’re Mick Jagger.” So the dressing like a slut thing implies impersonation — but I’m still confused as to where this characture of the slutty woman comes from. I look just at my group of friends: Some of us have had more sexual partners than others; some have never had sex, some have had a lot. Sometimes I wear plunging necklines and high heels, and sometimes I wear turtlenecks and flats. Ditto for all of my friends. Whaddaya know! No correlation between our “slutiness” and how we dress! (This, naturally, is because none of us are sluts — everyone knows that “the slut” isn’t a friend, she’s that woman down the bar or the girl you hated in high school).
One’s sexual choices and one’s manner of dressing are just not correlated. Indeed, I’d bet a pretty penny that “slutty” clothing has more to do with the weather and the fashion cycle than with the status of one’s hymen. Case in point: A few weeks ago, it started to warm up here. All of a sudden, there were skirts and tank tops and dresses everywhere, replacing blazers and turtlenecks and long pants. “Did a whole slew of sluts just move into town?!” I wondered, obviously alarmed at the implications of that situation. Ha, no, silly me – it’s just summertime!
And the whole sluttiness thing is pretty cultural and situational, too. A while back I made a little trip to Cairo (which my parents don’t know about — don’t tell them! — and which I’m only posting about now because my dad is in Ecuador and, I hope, too busy to be reading regularly) and was careful to only bring culturally-appropriate attire: Long skirts, long-sleeved shirts, etc. I wore the headscarf in mosques, I made sure everything was covered from my ankles to my wrists whenever I went outside, and on and on. And how did I get treated on the street? Like a whore. I got hissed at, stared at, glared at… the women mostly glared, the men mostly stared, and when they were in groups and could work up the courage, they’d ask to have their picture taken with you. At one point, some Egyptian teenagers even ran over and handed me a piece of paper, on which was carefully scrawled in English, “Do you have sex?” After having been walking around by myself for two days and getting harassed every step of the way, my reaction was to calmly say, “No” (lies, all lies), walk away, and promptly burst into tears of anger and frustration. Like a girl.
It was worse when I was by myself, and I was under the impression that it really wasn’t so bad when I was with someone else. But I was wrong, apparently — I just hadn’t noticed, and it took another set of (more privileged) eyes to point it out to me. The (white, American, male) friend I was with finally got entirely frustrated, and angrily complained that he couldn’t stand walking down the street with me because it was just such an ordeal, and he was never treated that way when he was alone. To which I responded by seething for weeks (I am still seething) because, come on, what a fucking stupid complaint — as soon as I walk away, you’re safe and you’re left alone. And you can go where you want, generally unaccosted, you can travel alone, and you can even tell your parents that you’re going because they aren’t going to worry about you as much as they would about your sister. But I get to live in this body for the rest of my life, and I get to be treated like the state of my vagina is the end-all be-all to my existence until my dying day (or at least until I’m no longer able to have babies). And that the state of my vagina is easily discernable from my appearance — white, American, female, non-Muslim. Whore. Worst thing a woman can be.
Point being, I feel for the slutty girls — or the “they dress like they’re slutty” girls. I’ve been that girl. I’ve been that girl when I’ve been dressed in so-low-cut-and-backless-that-I-can’t-wear-a-bra dress and heels, and I’ve been that girl when I’ve been dressed in a floor-length skirt, a long-sleeved crewneck shirt, and a scarf covering my hair, neck and chest. I learned, quickly, that the lines shift, and that there’s no way to win this one. Dress too matronly and you’re, well, matronly, but shift the context and you’re right back to slutsville (think VH1 Behind the Music about Jessica Simpson — anyone else see that? — where her creepy parents talk about trying everything they could think of to cover her boobs up and make her look as un-sexy as possible so that she’d be accepted on the Christian music scene. She still wasn’t, on account of the looks-like-a-slut factor). Dress in the kind of clothes that are advertised to your demographic, and you’re slutty (low-rise jeans? Slut. Forget the fact that, for the past five years, it’s been nearly impossible to find anything but). Have the wrong kind of body, regardless of how you dress, and you’re guaranteed slutty (any large-chested early-blooming women wanna back me up on this one?).
If there’s actually no such thing as a “slut” — and I’ll argue that, since it’s a word that’s impossible to define, there really isn’t (the other option is that we’re all sluts, which I’m also fine with) — there’s certainly no way to emulate her style of clothing. And yet the straw-slut keeps coming back and beating women and girls over the head for their fashion choices, at least some of which are ironically made to please other women and men by giving off a vibe of sexual attractiveness.
So let’s drop the “dressing like sluts” thing, shall we? It’s silly, unproductive, hateful and just plain innaccurate. And, “slutty” dresser that I’ve been, I take it personally.