The Naming of Women

Observations and experiences like these are depressingly common, but I stumbled across two today. The first was Kristen Cashore talking about why she has chosen to no longer interact via social media (FAQ: Why don’t you allow comments on your blog or involve yourself in most social media?):

as a female writer who creates female characters who sometimes (sometimes!) choose to have sex outside of wedlock, not to get married, not to have children, to self-sterilize, generally to make their own decisions rather than do what society tells them they’re supposed to do, a disturbing number of the emails I received, back when I was receiving emails, were from haters.

Wonderful – hate-mail for creating realistic characters. How absurd. (I love Graceling and Fire.)

The second was on the blog Uncharted Journeys of a Lost Girl on the too-familiar theme of two-faced judgementalism (is that a real word? – anyway, see Love. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.):

We have so many stereotypes that surround sex, that we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Even worse, are the gender stereotypes we have attached to a simple action. Men can sleep with whomever they want, and they’re gold in the eyes of fellow men; women, on the other hand, who engage in non-committal sex are presented as whores. But these stereotypes are not about to change anytime soon. While women may complain about said stereotypes, because, well… we love sex too, when another woman has sex outside of a relationship: it is the women who classify her as a whore.

The naming of women is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games… I tell you, a woman needs a name that’s particular, a name that’s peculiar, and more dignified, else how can she keep up her tail perpendicular, or spread out her whiskers, or cherish her pride?

A name more effanineffable than ‘slut’ or ‘whore’.

Trixieland wonders how much promiscuity is ‘too much promiscuity’ and looks at female characters in fiction who sleep around (The Promiscuous Protagonist – Where is the Slut Line?):

So what do you think? Can you name some female literary characters that sleep around and are still sympathetic? It’s harder than you’d think.

How much sex is too much for a character? Where is the Slut Line? And how the hell is this even a thing in 2012?

It troubles and depresses me. It also confuses me, because a woman who conforms to society’s expectations of her behaviour often does so by sacrificing (suppressing) her true self. This is, of course, true of men also, but society’s expectations of men are that they should be leaders and independent, not followers and dependent. A man should be a real man – even a devilish rogue may be forgiven. A woman should be seen but not heard. Perhaps not even seen.

I understand why a man should have a natural fear of ‘his’ woman sleeping around (‘Oh, no! What if she has someone else’s baby? Eunuchs! I need eunuchs to guard my harem!’) and perhaps that extends to a fear of any woman sleeping around and a division between ‘nice’ women who get married and… other women who don’t. Er. But why should we base a fair, modern society on the primitive fears of men?

Or, better question, having created such a society, why should we sustain it? Why is it maintained and encouraged by the primitive fears of women?

Genderly Speaking talks about our love to hate (Miss America: The Ultimate Feminist Nightmare):

While we may ooo and ahh at the beauty (and, occasionally, yes, the talents) of these young women, it is typical sexism to want to believe that a woman can never “have it all”. If you are too sexy, you’re probably slutty; if you’re too strong, you’re unattractive; and yes, the winner of them all… if you’re too pretty, you’re probably dumb.

Yes, sexy implies slutty… Hmm. (Release the Feminist Kraken has an interesting post about slut culture: Adventures In Sluttiness: Sluts, Slut Culture, and Slut Shaming.)

It’s a deeply embedded, pervasive and self-destructively negative culture of ‘slut-shaming’. Here’s the definition by Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog (FAQ: What is “slut-shaming”?):

Put in the most simple terms, slut-shaming happens when a person “publicly or privately [insults] a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women”. It is enabled by the idea that a woman who carries the stigma of being a slut – ie. an “out-of-control, trampy female” – is “not worth knowing or caring about”.

That article has a lot of interesting things to say about the culture of slut-shaming. For example:

As with many sexist phenomenon, women aren’t just the targets of slut-shaming, they are often the perpetrators as well. Not to mention that many times women will slut-shame in one moment and go on to revel in their “sluttiness” in the next.

When a culture simultaneously glorifies both “modesty” and “raunch” – hailing both as a way to be a “proper” woman – the women who live in said culture are going to internalize the contradictory messages. So it should come as no surprise that many women both attack the “slut” while trying to be one.

Anyway, as PDXX Collective says: Can We Please Stop Slut-Shaming?

Coda: A thought for writers…

Does a romantic heroine have to be a virgin – whether technically or equivalently – waiting for her one true love to whom she will always be faithful? Does promiscuity really have to be associated only with amoral characters?

A woman can enjoy great sex with multiple partners (I’ll leave the mechanics of that to your imagination) and still be a good person, with morals and standards. She can be as heroic as any virgin lass – and probably have a lot more fun in the process.

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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