Coming to Terms With 'Slut,' Cont'd

First of all I want to thank everyone for reading my essay so carefully and taking the time to respond. I can totally see the validity of ignoring trolls and I understand why many writers and others take that approach. But what I was trying to examine was the historical and social power that the word “slut” conveys, even on a mature feminist, even when slung at me from men whom I viewed as pathetic or pathological. The fact is, the word did land in my body, it did cause me psychological distress, and as someone who’s devoted her life to words, I found this too interesting to ignore. Don’t these two facts—that trolls use the word religiously and that a relatively powerful woman can still be psychologically felled by it, at least temporarily—reveal something about the word itself?

I’m also not a hundred percent sure we should dismiss the humanity of trolls outright. Bear with me here.

I received many more messages than the ones published in this article. I glanced at some of these men’s pages. Several seemed to fit the troll profile of an outcast loner; several others were married (one even used his wife’s Facebook account to message me), or were fathers, or had profile photos of themselves in suits and ties with job titles at big companies. Are we really all that sure who they are? Is it possible some were upstanding, fully functioning, decent men who experienced a moment of misogynist rage at the notion of my book? Does that change the context of the slut-shaming at all? These are questions I ponder.

Ignoring them certainly could be seen as taking a higher ground, but to be honest, it also smacks of fear to me. The truth is I wanted to face them down—or more to the point, face down the fear they brought out in me. It was that primal fear of being outcast and having violence wished upon me that put me in mind of women halfway around the world whose sexuality and freedom are under constant control and who do have violence enacted on them. When I say I sensed my kinship to them, I mean just that: my kinship as a woman. The patriarchy I live under is nearly dead and the one they live under is alive and well. If a stupid tweet could make me feel like throwing up, what do those women endure every day? It made me want to learn more and ultimately help them. I in no way meant to compare my white western slut-shaming to the horrors of women living under fundamentalist Islam. If you take nothing else away from this response, please understand that.

I have zero interest in victimhood or martyrdom, and I find it telling that I was called a slut for writing about sexual freedom and then a martyr for writing about being called a slut—something that many female writers, artists, and public figures have addressed, something real and unfair about which we women just refuse to shut up. Slut shaming is not the world’s biggest problem by far, but it exists, and it is sexist to the core, and I for one will shut up about it when the word, which has no male equivalent, either goes away or loses all power to harm, whichever comes first.