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A Slut versus Stud Conversation
“Call out words that describe promiscuous females and promiscuous males,” I say, and ask these ninth and tenth grade boys and girls if they know what the meaning of the word “promiscuous” is. They know exactly what it means.
The kids are engaged. Even the most introverted among them calls out something. I stand, poker-faced, writing the words they shout out, barely able to keep up with them. As I scribble, my back turned towards the class, I hear the light bulbs go off in their heads. “Wow, there are so many words for girls, and they’re all bad!” And, “There aren’t very many words for guys, and most of them are good!” In the trailer for the film, Definitely, Maybe, the pre-teen daughter of the protagonist says, “What’s the boy word for ‘slut’?” to which he replies, “They still haven’t come up with one yet.”
One of the highlights of my life has been to volunteer in Jay Preskenis’ alternative classroom, SAEJ, at Ashland High School. More often than not, I come away amazed at the level of savvy and wisdom that these students express. In my own life, I have lots of questions and not many answers. I try to keep this kind of open inquiry as I facilitate conversations with the students exploring such terrain as our cultural myth of romantic love; the hero or heroine’s journey and moving from victim to hero; the Shadow; truth and lies; and the dangers of black and white thinking. My favorite discussion, though, is the slut versus stud debate.
Now, at the end of my first year of doing this work, I finally understand that I don’t need to get up in front of the room and tell the kids what I think, an often counter-productive approach. Instead, I draw a blank chart on the board, with two columns the first headed “female” and the second “male.”
Then I make a column next to each side of those columns for “insult” or “compliment.” I ask them if the words they have called out are positive or negative and mark down the consensus. What emerges is that all the words for females are negative: whore, tramp, slut, hoe, easy, loose, and many other words not fit to print. The girls are the ones who are calling out the worst names for their own gender.
I tell a story that I’ve heard recently from someone I know. A friend of her daughter’s had participated in a hazing ritual to get into a sorority. In it, the candidates stripped off all of their clothing. The sorority sisters then took a black indelible marker and circled all the flaws on their naked bodies. I wonder how much this might have to do with female rivalry in our culture. How much are we taught as women to vie for male attention? In which ways might women have learned to tear down the competition?
I ask if there are any positive words for a promiscuous female. It breaks my heart when one 14-year old girl says, “A woman who is in touch with her sexuality.” How can she know what this means at her age and what experiences have brought her to this knowledge? Next I ask, “Who is holding the shame?” The answer, in black and white on the board, stares us all in the face.
We get a mixed result on the male side: stud, ladies’ man, Romeo, Casanova, Don Juan. For some, a word like “player” is bad and for others good. Males are generally admired by other males for “scoring.” According to some girls in the class, some guys are even more intriguing when they’ve been with a lot of girls: a special girl might be the one to finally capture his heart, to be the one he chooses above all the others.
We talk about double standards. Why is it okay (or even encouraged) for men to sleep around and not so for women? We don’t come up with any definitive answers, but still the talk is fruitful. Films like “American Pie,” “Van Wilder,” “The Wedding Crashers,” and even MTV videos are mentioned, where men are on the make and women are there to be made. We speak of other cultures where women are stoned to death for adultery and men are simply slapped on the hand. How much do females hold the role of scape-goating for the unconscious side of male sexuality? And how can we have a discussion about all this without shaming men?
We talk about rape and date rape, and that it is often the women who are blamed: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, “she should have known better.” And worse: “She was asking for it…” The shame is often placed at the feet of the female. Women are supposed to know that rape is something that men do and should act accordingly.
In one of the “Batman” films, there is a scene where the female protagonist is on a dark street in a bad area. Suddenly she is surrounded by dozens of men and we, the audience, know exactly what these guys want with this one lone, defenseless girl. As I watched this scene, I wondered what an anthropologist from Mars would think. And I was horrified to realize this is what we here on Earth consider normal, predictable, expected.
We segue into the discrepancy between the male and female desire to be sexual. I ask the kids what they think the reasons are that males want to have sex. They call out:
One girl mentions something about “Mama’s recipe for keeping your man.” Doing the deal. Women using sex as a commodity or as a bartering chip. Women learn early to see themselves through the male gaze.
The discrepancy is clear. Notice that “pleasure” is missing in the female list, at least in this particular class. We talk about the way female erotic desire is devalued or ignored in our society. For a male to be horny is presumed; for a female, it is often looked down upon. I expect embarrassment, nervous laughter, balking. I get none of the above. These kids want to talk about what they notice. They want to learn about another way to think about these things. And the boys are so engaged that it makes me want to cry.
We talk about the mystery of female desire. Male desire and sexuality is much more direct, less hidden, physically and sensorially. There is also a difference in drive. It takes time for many or most women to become familiar with and understand their own sexuality. The missionary position that we most often see during sex scenes in movies shows that it’s as good for her as it is for him. But studies point otherwise; most women do not reach orgasm in that way.
I ask the students at the end of the class if anything has changed for them in the last hour and a half. Many say they are not going to use the word “slut” anymore. Most have begun to think about the differences between these male and female standpoints, and how “messed up” and confused these issues are.
I am fascinated by how we as individuals perpetuate so many things in our culture that we complain about or would claim to dislike. This slut versus stud debate is one of them. What questions can we ask ourselves about how we unconsciously perpetuate a social system that we are not happy about or with? How do both genders create and/or maintain this state of affairs?
This is so insidious that it is often difficult to see. In the film “What the Bleep,” they show that the Native Americans could not see the invading sailing vessels off-shore. Because they had never seen ships before, they couldn’t recognize them. On the flip-side, our attitudes towards the opposite sex are so woven into the fabric of our interactions that we can’t see them either.
Perhaps all of us can make a difference by virtue of asking ourselves questions about what we’re perpetuating and, if we’re not happy with our answers, what we would like to create in their place. Like I’ve done with the kids, maybe I’ve left you with more questions than answers. As e.e. cummings wrote: “always a more beautiful answer that asks a more beautiful question.”
Marla Estes is a writer, teacher, and mentor with an M.A. in Transpersonal Studies, living in Ashland, Oregon. Every other Monday she facilitates “Conversations about Love” at the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library, 258 A Street in Ashland (www.rvml.org for dates). Visit her website at www.marlaestes.com
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