Friday, April 06, 2007

A personal LoC

A line of Control. A dress. A word. A slut.

It is not an easy admission to make, but I have used the word 'slut' whilst referring to another woman. And I have regretted using it.

In fact, I regretted using it within ten seconds of it having escaped my lips. It wasn't about what she wore. I wore less. It wasn't about make-up. She used none. In retrospect, it was about anger, and a shade of envy.

This is about four years ago. I was sitting around with a couple of young male friends. They were talking about the difficulty of getting girls to attend parties. They asked me, half joking, if I could get them through to some girls.

And stupidly, sanctimously, I shrugged and said, 'I don't know any girls who'd go out partying with strangers. Well, maybe I know one. She's a bit of a slut.'

The boys reacted unexpectedly. They exchanged glances and one said, 'Shhh. Don't ever use that word for a woman.'

My humiliation has rarely been so complete as it was in that instant.


What had been going on in my mind? Did I disrespect girls who went out with boys too soon? But I too have hung out with men, when introduced through other friends. What did I disrespect about the girl?

It took years for me to figure out what and why. I envied the girl a little. She did what she wanted. She seemed not to be afraid of being judged by her family or other people like me. It is a different story that a lot of her recklessness and defiance was rooted in her fear of being judged by her own city-bred peers, of not 'fitting in' in glamourous circles. But I did not judge her because of her fears; I judged her because of mine.

There was another reason why I was so flippantly moralistic. The man who shushed me had not been paying enough attention to me. And I craved his attention. I wanted to win his approval, somehow. To show that I was better than those 'easy' girls he hung out with. After all, all my life, I had been told that men like girls who play hard-to-get; that they respect girls with the hands-off approach.

Unfortunately, the effect was opposite to the one desired. But the good thing was that I was immediately chastened, and flung into (a miserable soggy pit of) self-reflection. Here was a man I liked and, in an uncomprehending, instinctive fashion, respected. And whose respect I may have lost.

I began to think about why I respected him - not because he partied, not because he swore and provoked and argued. Perhaps, because he was one of the few men I'd met who was neither awkward around me, nor aggressively friendly. He seemed to ask nothing of me and never crossed any lines - physical or social. Never once did I fear either him or his morality.


Never again has the word slut crossed my lips, or even my mind.

In fact, when a bunch of us journalists were outside a restaurant, an acquaintance leaned over and whispered - 'See those girls? They're sluts!' - I was surprised.

The women being referred to were in tight jeans, skirts and halter tops, lots of mascara, no male escorts.

I asked, 'How do you know?'

'It's obvious.'

I simply noted that the clothes were very smart, and considered asking them where they shopped.

'See! They're waiting to get picked up,' she continued.

'Are they?' I said, in a deliberately bored voice, and turned away.

9 comments:

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Depends. 'Bitch' is a term of endearment among women I know.

And 'slut' - well, I've called a woman a slut in certain situations. It's all in the accompanying non-verbal communication.

OK, I agree. I'd never call a woman those names in public. Or in a fight, even in private.

Crazyfinger said...

It took years for me to figure out what and why. I envied the girl a little. She did what she wanted. She seemed not to be afraid of being judged by her family or other people like me. It is a different story that a lot of her recklessness and defiance was rooted in her fear of being judged by her own city-bred peers, of not 'fitting in' in glamourous circles. But I did not judge her because of her fears; I judged her because of mine.

There is a disconcerting synonymity in this passage. Is it her "recklessness," and "defiance," if she is bold and self-aware and "did what she wanted?" Why are these the same? If we put ourselves in her shoes, I don't really think she was focused on being unafraid, or intent on doing "what she wanted." I think she may have genuinely liked enjoying with people, with men, with women, whatever and was just having a blast. Guesses. Dangerous, I know.

Another point. This expression, "did what she wanted," sparks firestorms of emotions in all men, rather unnecessarily, because it is a floppy phrasing, as the image it summons is "she wanted to do something slutty so she did it." You can berate me for saying it, but you ought to know shit like this kind of misconstruing happens all the time. Men will never have the right ingredients in their balls to assimilate this phrase in its right meaning, the one you really intended. Can't fight primal urges. Must use better, more nuanced phrasing. Sneak in when you can't get in through the front door. That kind of phrasing.

There was another reason why I was so flippantly moralistic. The man who shushed me had not been paying enough attention to me. And I craved his attention. I wanted to win his approval, somehow. To show that I was better than those 'easy' girls he hung out with. After all, all my life, I had been told that men like girls who play hard-to-get; that they respect girls with the hands-off approach.

That's it? Talk about self-flagellation. Talk about self-molestation. A woman, among others, is in a party group, a few eyes meet but one locks. Something is sparked, an insecurity, a hesitation, a pride, an overconfidence, of being unfamiliar with courting (who EVER gets to master this anyway?), so eyes drift and jerk back, creating a eye-hunger that seeks but doesn't want to be content, then that natural uncouth-ness (if there is such a word) inherent in the confusion of the spontaneity comes forth in a man...and before we know craving turns into a need, into further confusion...into further sweet sweet confusion. This is called courting. I am not sure if one should deconstruct such moments excessively. You are doing it. Not good. Bad girl. Bad, bad girl.

Saying someone is a slut is not the least of the issues. It is probably simply a bad choice of words. But making a puppet-head of a saheli doesn't become of Annie.

Regards,
Crazyfinger

jaygee said...

That was quite moving. Each of us am sure has such moments where we've been judgmental for reasons we cannot fathom now... but thats a neat admission.

Nabila Zehra Zaidi said...

I will not lie. I have been judgemental about girls...'she is a slut' ' oh she is a hard catch' and all of that. And honestly, I regret it too, because I have come to realise that I do not want to be judged , and even if somebody is wasting his/her time trying to judge me...go ahead..the time is yours and so is the opinion...it does not make a difference to me, so why should I do the same. Yes, I have become indifferent! I have fought those notions, fears that we Indians have been brought up with...'good girls do not act easy!' Well...but can we act as we may want to? Who decides what is easy what is not? Hanging out with male friends maybe considered too big a deal for somebody and partying with strangers may still not be considered that big a thing still...Who are we wanting to judge us? The so called 'moralistic idiots' or 'who dare to bare' ( barte their real self). Why should I hold on to be someone or express something, just because YOU will judge me on that? I do not want to die regretting I did not do that or did not say what I wanted to because of 'them'. Yes, now I do not call a girl 'a slut' 'a whore' unless I am really mad at someone and want to abuse him or her. Yes, him too...how many of you can actually look at a guy and say...'Oh I am sure he is a jig.'...huh...none!! Get some reality checks my dear 'hyppocrite frineds'(do tell your co worker that..Ann).

Me said...

Hi Annie, we often use the word slut in a derogatory sense. Not surprisingly, since most abuses in most cultures derive from the female of the species. In Hindi notably, all the abuses for men or for women are derived from the female genitalia. And no one has paused to ask why... Even when we refer to women as "females", we are reducing them to genderless people, something which we don't do to men; we never refer to them as "males". Uunless women begin to understand how patriarchy influences langauge and object to it, things aren't going to change.

Vi said...

I have called a woman that..and you're absolutely right, it was spiteful and tinged with envy.

annie said...

arthur: i'm aware. amongst friends, slut and whore are fun words. but clearly, this was not said in jest.

crazyfinger: i'm not going to talk too much about that girl, and why i thought she was reckless, because her life is hers and not my story to tell. and i couldn't care less about what men will think about a girl doing what she wants.
this post was not about courtship rituals, it was about gender, judgement, prejudice and the words we use when dealing with all this. it is about how we women view each other other and speak of each other. such deconstruction is necessary, humourless though it is. the words one chooses to use are a reflection of oneself. it may not seem like a big deal to you. it was and is a big deal to me.
jaygee: sigh! talk about the price of admission!
nabila: correct. never care too much.
me: yes indeed. let's start analysing our language and usage. though, on a different note, there are a few - very few that I know of - abuses that include male organs too.
vi: am glad you too recognize that. the sooner we admit to it, the better. helps everyone all around.

The Mad Momma said...

ouch... that hurt. because it was almost my admission.. thanks for having the honesty and analysing something i should have but didnt.

Opinionated said...

Hey! I've used the word before & not regretted it. It really varies from situation to situation. Given the person I'm talking about, I'd use it again! ;-)

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