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Image / Editorial

The moment Samirah Raheem showed the world how to disempower the word slut


by Erin Lindsay
16th Jul 2018
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We understand the power and offensive nature of the word slut. But instead of being intimidated and humiliated by it, Samirah Raheem shut it down. Here Erin Lindsay explains just how important Raheem’s response is. 


How many times have you been slut-shamed? A depressing amount, I’d imagine. Whether it’s outright insults or subtle backhanded comments, every woman knows all too well what it feels like to have her sexuality scrutinised. Whether you’re a virgin or someone who enjoys casual sex, your sex life is the subject of constant criticism and judgement, right down to what you wear. The word ‘slut’ has permeated pop culture to the point that we use it as an insult – because being someone who has a lot of sex is apparently something to be ashamed of. Being called a slut is an embarrassment, a humiliating slap in the face.

It’s the argument that has spawned countless movie storylines and far too many memorable quotes. “If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap” – the Breakfast Club, anyone? A movie quote that I was far more fond of was that of Ms Norbury in teen classic Mean Girls: “You have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, it just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores”.

“Yes,” I thought. “We have to stop using that awful word to each other, I’m not a slut and I don’t want to be called one.” But let’s unpack that. In reality, what is a slut? Why does that word have so much power? Looking up the definition of the word was a real eye opener – definition one defines ‘slut’ as “a woman who has many casual sexual partners.” Nothing untoward there. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But the second definition read as follows: “a woman with low standards of cleanliness.”

Rewind there. Why is having casual sexual partners suddenly synonymous with being unclean? With having low standards? A woman who has plenty of sex does not mean that she can’t be clean and have respect for herself – the two are not mutually exclusive. A person’s worth does not rely on their sexual habits – something we’ve understood about men for a long time, but when it comes to women, we’re still grappling with.

This week, a video of American model Samirah Raheem being interviewed by Reverend Jesse Peterson while attending Amber Rose’s 2017 SlutWalk went viral on social media. An entire year after the interview was first recorded, people around the world sat up and took notice of Raheem’s feminist warcry: “We are all sluts”. When asked what makes her a slut by a bemused (but still irritatingly smug) Peterson, Raheem’s response summed up our ridiculous aversion to the term perfectly: “Because I own my body. My body is not a political playground. It’s not a place for legislation. It’s mine and it’s my future”.

When pushed on why she would call herself such a thing, Raheem reinforced her point: “a slut is not what you made it Jesse… it doesn’t matter if I’m a virgin, it doesn’t matter what a woman’s sexual history is… a slut is a word for anybody owning their sexuality, turning up and not letting Jesse twist their answers around. ”

You can watch the full video here:

https://twitter.com/CrisLuvsErrBody/status/1017250990670667777

 

While Samirah Raheem was clearly having a lot of fun in her interview, her point still stands; take the power away from a word, and it can’t hurt you. If you are comfortable with yourself and your sexuality, then others won’t be able to use it against you.

That Mean Girls quote still stands, by the way – just in a different context. Yes, we should stop calling each other sluts and whores – if we’re using those words with malicious intent. We should definitely not allow men to use those words with malicious intent. But if we can work towards taking the power out of those words, and stop the intent behind them being so derogatory, then we can finally reclaim the words as something more positive.