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07 September, 2015

Slut-Shaming

This blog was going to be one thing, and it turned into something else, presto-change-o, before I'd even finished researching it.

I was going to write a withering condemnation of those people who criticize women for exploring their sexuality. Then I actually sat down to read, and read up on, my source material...and I found myself mentally criticizing a woman, not for exploring her sexuality, but for how she went about doing it.

Here is a link to an article by Robin Rinaldi. She is a woman who wrote a memoir called The Wild Oats Project, about her year of open marriage. It should be noted that her open marriage has very little in common with my own. For one thing, she unilaterally initiated hers when her husband had a vasectomy (she had wanted children; he refused; she decided she'd have lovers instead, a leap of logic I don't quite understand).

She had at least twenty lovers over the course of that year, and from the sounds of it she had very little emotional attachment to any of them (though she tried to dress up her encounters as a journey towards "feminine empowerment"). Indeed, she had very little emotional attachment to anything, including herself, and she seems to have emerged from her year-long experiment more lost than she was going into it. Which is saying something.

Rinaldi couldn't bear to leave her husband, but she very much wanted to hurt him. He was, she writes, physically and emotionally lacking...and she goes into quite a lot of detail on that score. I feel bad for the guy, and I seriously wonder how they managed to last eighteen years. Needless to say, the marriage didn't see out the 19th year, though it is unclear whether all her extramarital sex or her attitude towards her marriage is more to blame.

In short, Robin Rinaldi is not even close to a role model for a new marital paradigm. I feel vaguely ill just reading reviews of her memoir: I think I'll give the actual manuscript a pass.

If she and her husband had discussed this at length before embarking on it; if her motives were more pure and had less to do with revenge for a life denied her; if she had concentrated as much on the "marriage" part as the "open" part...I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the hatred she has reaped online.

And she has reaped a LOT of hatred. Some of the emails and texts she has received:

filthy whore, I hope you caught the clap

you are one nasty skank ass. nothing but a cum dumpster. worthless with nothing to offer a man but a hole.

Sorry, @Robin_Rinaldi, in my world there is a word for “happily” married women who spend a year bedding many men and that word is #slut so how does it feel being a worthless degenerate? 

… hows it feel knowing your family line will die with you and you have no place in the world? hows it feel knowing you probably got herpes from the last 20th guy you slept with? its good youre already aging and your looks (which werent that great to begin with) are slooooowly fading away. soon youll be nothing but a whithered husk of a woman, sitting in your rocking chair unable to move without shit dripping down your ass, and wishing you had grandchildren to tell them about the time you were a total slut and made your beta weakling husband cry in his bed ... hope you get AIDS
That's ugly, isn't it?

Here's the thing, and it's the one overarching point she makes that I must defend, vigorously: women get emails and texts like this JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN.  Never mind an open marriage: if you're a woman and you dare to say out loud that you enjoy sex with ONE partner,  the "slut" epithet will be sure to follow. If you are a woman and you suggest that women are not portrayed realistically or fairly in video games, you will get many, many rape and death threats and somebody will make a video game in which the object is to beat you up. If you are a woman, period, a man has probably called you a slut, a whore and a skank.

Geoffrey Chaucer used the word "sluttish"  to describe a slovenly MAN in 1386...but by 1402 the word "slutte" referred exclusively to a "dirty, untidy, or slovenly" woman. Kitchen maids often dirtied themselves in the course of their jobs, and so came to be called "sluts" (no pejorative): Samuel Pepys, in his Letters (1664),  said his maid Susan

"is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better.”

There is absolutely no sexual connotation to this usage at all. It persisted into the 1800s, and has all but died out today.

My etymological sources are screamingly silent on how a word that originally meant "ditty" or "ugly" woman should come to mean a woman with more than one sexual partner. It's one of those many self-evident "truths" that I don't quite get. Why should sex, which is intensely pleasurable, not to mention intensely spiritual, be something dirty or ugly?  Perhaps it has something to do with sexually transmitted diseases. It's worth noting here that Robin Rinaldi, in her year of living promiscuously, did not contract an STI. (And she's the kind of tell-all writer who would have told if she had.)

One of the iconic handbooks to open relationships is called The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. It defines a "slut' as "a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you." I like this meaning: I think it's a compliment, even high praise.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing 'dirty' about sex, even lots of sex, even with different partners--provided you take precautions of one kind or another. Safer sex is the number one rule or boundary in polyamorous relationships and it is all but ubiquitous in other forms of ethical nonmonogamy such as swinging. Poly relationships  may progress to a point of trust wherein the partners will 'fluid-bond', but that's not how they generally start out.

Of course there's the double standard: men who have sex with many woman are called 'studs' by other men...and the derogatory words that women use for them, "cad", "rake", and "womanizer", are nowhere near as strong as "slut". This is because men have been culturally conditioned into believing that (a) they must have regular sex and (b) doing so is exerting power and control over their female partners. Women, by contrast, are supposed to "lie there and think of England", because sex is a "marital duty" and nothing whatever to get excited about.

Bull.

In the 1990s, I  met, and loved, a couple of women who identified -- proudly -- as sluts. I'll never forget what one of them told me about the difference between male and female sexual pleasure. "You have an itch in your ear, and you stick your finger in there and give it a good scratch. Now, what feels better, your finger or your ear?"

Some day I'm going to write an essay on Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song). There is more wisdom packed into this song than you'll find in many relationship books. For now, I'll just  cite this tiny snippet:

'cause there's no better way to love me than through honesty and trusting 
it's not indiscriminate fucking, it's indiscriminate loving

And 'indiscriminate loving' is NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. For either gender.




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