I am old enough to remember when members of the media could not say a woman was “pregnant.” This was considered vulgar; hence newsreaders resorted to euphemisms such as ”in the family way.”
Today, this designation would be inaccurate forty percent of the time. With two out of every five children born to unwed mothers, they are not received into anything resembling the traditional family.
Under such circumstances, our language regarding delicate matters has become not just direct, but vulgarly direct. People are permitted to say just about anything — that is, unless there is a political need to suppress it.
We recently witnessed this dynamic with regard to Sandra Fluke. After she testified before congress about her urgent desire for government-sponsored birth control, a firestorm broke out. Rush Limbaugh, in describing her as a slut and a prostitute, brought the wrath of an outraged nation down on his head.
Now granted, labeling Ms Fluke a prostitute was unfair and unwarranted. But what about describing her as a “slut.” Is this word to be totally forbidden, even when the “f” word has made it into the mainstream media?
Let’s agree that the term "slut" refers to females of easy virtue. This is certainly how it is used on the college campus where I am employed. Here, as elsewhere, women who have large numbers of sexual liaisons are derisively dismissed as damaged goods. They may make for good short-term entertainment, but are rejected as unsuitable for long-term relationships.
No, you say. This cannot be true! Haven’t feminists educated us to the fact that women should have the same rights as men? Consequently, if men can have casual sex without destroying their reputations, why can’t women? This being so, calling a female a “slut” is clearly evidence of a double standard.
Indeed, it cannot be denied that this is so. But neither can it be said that this disparity has disappeared.
The reason a double standard persists is that the consequences of male and female sexuality differ. To put the matter baldly: Women become pregnant, whereas men do not. Everyone knows this, especially young women who are vulnerable to being seduced and abandoned.
Certainly, Fluke knows this. If so, then to what status should this nearly 30-year-old woman be assigned? To judge from the $3,000 she described as necessary to keep her safe, she must be engaging in a great deal of intimate contact. The next question is, therefore, with whom?
If Ms. Fluke is bedding down with a steady partner, then why isn’t he helping to pay for their joint adventures? If, however, she is indulging multiple partners, then isn’t the label “slut” fitting? She may believe that as an adult woman promiscuous sex is her right — and perhaps it is. But it is equally the right of others to regard her lifestyle as morally questionable.
Nearly two centuries ago, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of colonial women forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” if they committed adultery. I submit that Ms. Fluke has symbolically done the same to herself.
In going blatantly pubic with her sex life and demanding government support for her profligate ways, she has in essence branded herself a “slut.” She may resent this, as do her supporters, but she was the one who exposed her habits to communal scrutiny.
Not all may see it, but Ms. Fluke pinned a scarlet letter “S” on her chest. She paraded her private life before us; hence she cannot complain if some do not judge her as she does herself.
Didn’t Monica Lewinsky learn a similar lesson a decade and a half ago?
Melvyn L. Fein. Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University