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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

How did words like ‘slut’ get so OK?

Poor Duke University can’t avoid campus sex scandals to save its life. Just more than a month after Duke senior Karen Owen’s so-called “”f#$& list,”” which featured explicit descriptions and ratings of a dozen or so collegiate athletes whom Owen had slept with, was leaked on the Internet, a handful of Duke students are at it again.

This time, the so-called scandal revolves around a campus fraternity. The men of Sigma Nu sent out an invitation to more than 300 female students on Oct. 30 inviting them to the fraternity’s Halloween party, according to The Chronicle, Duke’s campus newspaper. The email included some choice references to women, to put it mildly. The e-mail refers to the party’s invitees as “”sluts”” and congratulates them on “”not having the physique to pull off Snooki this year,”” referring to the somewhat plump star of MTV’s “”Jersey Shore.”” The email also encourages women to “”put more thought into (your costumes) than your major.””

The off-campus fraternity Alpha Delta Phi sent out a similar, and if anything skeezier, email that same night. That group’s invitation addressed the female recipients as “”bitches, I mean witches.”” It goes on to make an off-color reference to Helen Keller and refer to a woman’s appearance as “”generously … a 3,”” among other rude, offensive and just plain icky language.

Both fraternities apologized for the emails when, the next morning, someone plastered the campus with copies of both messages, with the words “”Is this why you came to Duke?”” and “”If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”” handwritten across the bottom of the pages.

But here’s the worst part, and the part that applies to every college student in this country: Reading this, you’re probably not very outraged at all.

I wasn’t, at first. Especially on the heels of Yale University’s epically offensive “”rape chant,”” scandal — a fraternity on that campus forced pledges to march past women’s dorms shouting “”No means yes; yes means anal”” — these Duke emails seemed comparably tame. Most correspondences between men and women alike include such colorful language, and, it seems, referring to women as “”sluts”” and “”bitches”” is par for the course in college life.

But to quote Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury (and because I can’t resist a “”Mean Girls”” quote): “”You all have got to stop calling each other ‘sluts’ and ‘whores.’ It just makes it OK for guys to call you ‘sluts’ and ‘whores.'””

Obviously, we’re there. We’ve reached the point where only a few brave souls, like whoever printed out and plastered Duke with those fraternity emails, are strong enough to say that they don’t particularly appreciate being called such names. Few women would stand up for themselves if a man, especially one with some form of social clout, called them a “”bitch.”” Few would admit that being ruthlessly judged on their weight and appearance feels completely awful, because somehow we’ve managed to convince ourselves those judgments are fair, or at least acceptable. It feels like too much trouble to try to change the rhetoric; much easier to just accept it and pretend it doesn’t sting.

This doesn’t mean I’m blaming the victim, or suggesting that only women are harassed and judged based on their appearance; they’re not alone, as Duke’s own Karen Owen made abundantly clear. But if women on college campuses want to see a true end to sexism, which we can all admit still exists in spades, especially in social structures like Greek Life, they’ve all got to get a little outraged.

No one, not a man at a party, not your long-term boyfriend, not your girl or gay best friend, gets to call you a bitch or a slut. Those words mean something, something nasty and hateful. Unless you’ve really stepped back, assessed their meaning and embraced them, they’re not “”reclaimed”” or “”re-appropriated”” terms. Instead, they’re biting words that some people use to make women feel worthless and objectified.

And no, in fact, they’re not OK.

— Heather Price-Wright is the opinions editor of the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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