Since yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I read a lot of articles discussing how important reproductive rights are to the lives of women. One that really struck me was an article written by Lizz Winstead at the Huffington Post called “Abortion is a Medical Procedure”. Winstead writes:
“Of course, those are the sluts like me: Unmarried women who are stigmatized because we choose to have enjoyable, non-procreative sex, a concept that is hideous and freakish and out of the mainstream. And to ice the slut cake, if our birth control fails, we may choose to have an abortion.
Actually, I am surprised they haven’t started spelling it, abwhoreshun.
Yes, women like me are called whores and worse, when, if an accident happens and we choose abortion, we don’t offer the proper amount of remorse and contrition.”
I quoted that particular section because it is perhaps the motivation behind this post. I’m not foolish enough to think that my words might convince anyone to believe in the right to choice if they believe otherwise. This is one of those arguments where nobody wins, and it can turn into an ugly battle of words that just leaves everyone with an awful taste in our mouths. (On that note, please remember that I welcome comments, but reserve the right to block any comments that attack others or are disrespectful of my readers)
No, my discussion today goes back to an argument I’ve made in the past, words matter and words have power. I learned that in a different matter this week, when United Airlines agreed to refund the fare difference after my somewhat public display of anger at the way I was treated, which resulted in many of you joining your voices with mine and several e-mails and letters. Words won that battle (but I still will try to fly other airlines as the money doesn’t really make up for how I was treated).
[Update: I am leaving this passage in and crossed out because I just found out they only gave me a refund of $82.88 on my $205.06 extra costs. NEVER FLY UNITED!]
In that small instance, words had (a miniscule amount of) power.
But they always do, which is the subject of this post. This morning, a few questions began to float around my head, based on all the articles and videos I watched yesterday.
- Why is it that, if a teenage girl has sex, especially if she becomes pregnant, she is labeled as whore, slut, etc. while the male part of the equation is called . . . (drumroll) . . . the father of the child?
- Why is that a young woman who has been raped or molested is labeled as asking for it, whore, slut, etc. while the male perpetrator (unless actually convicted) is called . . .(drumroll) . . . the accused, a star athlete who made a mistake, a misguided youth, and (if the young woman becomes pregnant) the father of the child?
- Why is it that there have been hundreds of movies where the main premise is the guy intends on getting laid, and sometimes will even go so far as to buy a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, and they usually go after women who may be called whore, slut, prostitute, etc? There are some movies where the women set out to do the same, but somehow the men in those pictures (at least the one that the woman hooks up with) don’t come off as players in any way, or if they do it doesn’t remain a negative.
- Why is it that women who speak up about the rights of women–the right to reproductive choice, equal pay, and equality under the constitution–are sometimes labelled whore, slut, bitch, hag, etc? Vocal men usually don’t get similar labels placed on them (except the most extreme ones like Rush Limbaugh, but even then the terms don’t seem quite as ugly).
I could go on and on with this list, but the point is that there are not really terms applied to males that are as derogatory as those applied to females. I mean, I suppose a male could be called a “man-whore” but that still implies that whoredom lies in the realm of women.
Let’s face reality folks. It takes two people to have sex! I’m not talking about self-pleasure and other things. I’m aware of those. But, it takes two people for a girl to gain a reputation. It takes two people for a woman to become pregnant. In the reality of sexual behavior, the male has to take the more active role. A woman can lie there, but a man has the appendage that does the work. So why then, is all the negative terminology about sexual behavior aimed at the woman?
The answer is simple, words have power. As long as we continue to allow these words their negative connotations nothing will change. As long as the men who want to to stay in power (I’m not saying all men, I mean the ones who use this language on a regular basis) continue to label women with these words, nothing will change. As long as women continue to call other women by these words, nothing will ever change.
I turn again to a quote from Lizz Winstead’s article:
And to all the people who claim we shouldn’t talk about abortion, or even say the word abortion because you claim it will be used against us by those aforementioned haters:
That is true only if we let them.
We must stop letting them control the language around this issue. They are trying to control everything else and I say no more.
I am taking back the word abortion.
Words have power, so how can we use that power to claim the rights of everyone to be happy, healthy, independent, sexual beings?
Let’s reclaim the words.