Saturday, September 21, 2013



Is Miley Cyrus a slut or just pretending to be one?

I suspect the latter, but what impact does her playacting have on the burgeoning sexuality of her young female fans?  

I offer my blog entry of a couple of weeks ago as one perspective amongst many of  the vexed question of who (if anyone) is a 'slut' and what does the word mean?


A European Union MP was stripped of his parliamentary role a couple of days ago after describing a room full of women as sluts.

In a previous speech, Godfrey Bloom, 63, had joked about women failing to clean behind the fridge. Said one colleague of Mr Bloom’s:

“The trouble with Godfreyis that he’s not anti-women, but has a sort-of rather old fashioned territorial sense of humour which does not translate very well  in modern Britain.”

This four letter word also ruffled plenty of feathers recently on Facebook.

Chris wrote:

“If you dress like a slut you’ll get treated like a slut.”

Howls of protests ensued. Mila wrote:

“Only sickos bring in labels such as slut to a conversation which could have been honest as the writer in the original blog intended it to be.”

Despite the fact that ‘sicko’ is also a lablel, Mila was right. A lively and abuse-free online debate had been derailed by an off-topic and possibly offensive comment.

‘Possibly offensive’?

I grew up in an era (1960s) when use of the words ‘fuck’ and cunt’ were considered so offensive use of them in public could lead to arrest and a court appearance. Today (2010) an 11 year old actress can say to the villains in a movie (KICK ASS), with barely an eyebrow raised: 

“Okay, you cunts, let’s see what you can do now.”

And yet, ‘slut’ retains the power to trigger reserves of anger in the way ‘cunt’ once did. Why? Or should the question be: ‘Why not?’

 “You are such a slut,” said by one woman to her girlfriend after a ‘one night stand’ (in ‘Sex and the City’, say) might be the affectionate sharing of an old joke between them. The same words spoken by a female teacher to a teenage student could be a vicious put-down intended to offend and humiliate in public and lead to the teacher’s dismissal. Said with a smile by a male boss to a female employee with a lascivious smile these words could see the man in court for sexual harassment.


Michaela Cross, a young woman from the United States, posted an opinion piece online (“The Story You Never Wanted to Hear”) about her experiences studying in India. She suffered relentless sexual harassment, groping, had men masturbate in front of her and experienced two rape attempts. She wrote about how traumatized she was by the experience candidly and started an interesting online debate joined by close to a million people. One Indian man apologized for the behavior of other Indian men. Other contributors pointed out that sexual harassment is in no way confined to India and spoke of the dangers of making the kinds of generalizations Michaela Cross was making based on only three months in the country.

Katherine Stewart, who experienced her own share of harassment on the trip, warned of the dangers of stereotyping Indian men:

“When we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.”

Katherine Stewart is black and, in all likelihood, has had first hand experience of the stereotyping that Michaela Cross was engaging in.

As one would hope and expect with any hot button topic, many perspectives were brought to the online discussion. My own contribution,  when it reached Australia, via Facebook, was:

“After all the whingeing the writer redeems herself with, “What, may I ask, is the cure for seeing reality, of feeling for three months what it is like for one’s humanity to be taken away? But I thank God for my experiences in India, and for my disillusionment. Truth is a gift, a burden, and a responsibility.” True. It is. Life can be hard. It is hard for many people. Shit happens. Growing up, travelling, having these kinds of experiences gives pampered westerners a glimpse of what life is like for so many of their fellow human beings.”

Chris responded to my post with:

“Never were truer words spoken.”

And Damien wrote:

“While I agree there are parts of India where it could be uncomfortable for a woman travelling alone, I wouldn’t characterize India as being any less safe for a woman than a great deal of countries…I’m just saying it’s inaccurate to portray India as a nation of women groping rapists.”

So far, so good. A conversation, a dialogue, a debate with different points of view being presented and responses to those points of view discussed calmly, coolly and without rancor.

One of the tangents, however, dealt with the wearing of clothes appropriate to the country being visited and led to Chris’ contentious one liner:

“If you dress like a slut you’ll get treated like a slut.”

I responded with:

“I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely, but yes. In an ideal world women could and should be able to wear what they like anywhere they like but in the real world different cultures have different values and standards and, whether we agree with them or not, we must, when visiting these countries, take these into account.”

Jack wrote:

“WTF does a ‘slut’ dress like?”

Chris replied with:

“The FACT is the way Western women dress is highly OFFENSIVE –and/or seen as ‘sluttish’ in many many cultures. Even in relatively ‘moderate’ Thailand…women don’t wear bikini’s on the beach – they go swimming clothed in t-shirts and shorts. Westerners, generally, have little or no idea how offensive their behavior is to much – if not most of the world.”

Could Chris’ original comment about dressing like a slut be appropriately used in Thailand? Or Saudi Arabia or any one of many countries in which culture demands that women keep most of, if not all, their bodies covered in public? This tangent was not explored because the focus of attention in the ensuing heated slanging match was on the word ‘slut’.

In an attempt to introduce a little levity, I quoted from a dictionary:

“Slut or slattern is a term applied to an individual who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous.” Hey, that’s a perfect description of me as a young man.

This led to other contributors reaching for their dictionaries and the debate turned into what the word ‘slut’ means, whether it is always an insult and offensive and so on. 

With the onset of an argument about dictionary definitions of words by the righteously indignant the end is almost invariably in sight for any meaningful discussion, dialogue or debate about whatever it was to which the contentious word referred.  Julian Burnside’s lack of righteous indignation in response to the verbal abuse he has been subjected to vis a vis his stance on refugees is appropriate, constructive and to be applauded as a template of how to deal with the Godfrey Blooms of the world and others who, through their use of language, are expressing their own frustrations with life or simply looking for a fight.

In my youth the word ‘gay’ was a word used by my mother and her generation (growing up in the Depression) to describe an experience: “Everyone at the party was happy and gay.” The same phrase, used the morning after Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, means something quite different. In the 90s my teenage son and his friends used the word ‘gay’ as a put down – not of a person’s sexuality but of whatever stupid thing that person was thought to have said or done. And not just a person. A bad TV show could be ‘gay’.

Three different usages for the same word, none of them offensive to homosexuals.

So, could the word ‘gay’ be offensive? Yes, if an interviewer asks the Prime Minister of Australia if her husband is gay, that is offensive. It is not the word but the context and the intention on the part of the person asking the question that makes it offensive. And intention can, of course, be conveyed in ways other than verbal. To get back to the example mentioned above, “You are such a slut,” said by a female teacher to a student - with a smile and easily read body language - could also constitute a sexual advance.


As I was growing up (1960s) the word ‘sick’ was reserved for a particularly unpleasant state of physical being that all too often involved doctors and unpleasant tasting medicines. In the 90s, thanks to black kids in South London, it became a term used to describe things that were ‘great’ Even Awesome. (Don’t get me started on ‘awesome’!). “The guitarist in that band is sick!”

And so it goes. The examples are legion within the last few decades. The word ‘set’ has at least 424 different meanings and any conversation that involved the question “How do you define ‘set’ would take weeks to resolve. With ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘mother-fucker’, ‘cocksucker’ are no longer taboo, it is only context that renders them offensive.

It was not Chris’ use of the word ‘slut’ that started the online slanging match but the notion that it was/is possible to ‘dress like a slut’. Without wanting to start yet another slanging match the question could be put thus:

“Is it possible to dress in such a way as to advertise that you have or are available to have multiple sexual partners?”

Prostitutes all around the world do this? The dress and make up code changes from culture to culture but prostitutes why fly their trade in pubic are almost invariably clearly identifiable. That they dress like prostitutes will not, I suspect, lead to my being labeled a ‘sicko’. I am not so sure that this would apply if I wrote that women who exchange sexual services for money ‘dress like sluts.’

Words in themselves are not, today, either offensive or inoffensive. It is the context in which they are used and the tone of voice in which they are said that counts.

So, what is the difference between a prostitute whose clothes and make-up advertise her availability for a sexual encounter and a woman, identically dressed, going to a party or nightclub? It is that the prostitute is not too choosy about whom she has sex with, as long as she is paid, whereas the woman dressed identically may be very choosy indeed or, in fact, not particularly interested in having sex with anyone that night. She may only be hoping to attract a partner with whom she may have sex at some point in the future as part of a relationship based on love.

In an Australian context such a woman (dressed similarly to a prostitute) has every right to be offended if a man presumes, from her dress and make up, that she is available to him for sex. This same woman, dressed in short mini-skirt in any one of the world’s roughly 50 predominantly Muslim countries, would be seen to be dressed as a prostitute. As a slut.


The best way to deal with men (or anyone) who refers to you with a word you find offensive is to turn the other cheek or go find some clever and inoffensive way humour helps here) of letting the speaker of the offensive word know that his words do not give him the power he had hoped they would.

As for any young woman, perhaps looing for true love on her night on the town,  dressed in an outfit not dissimilar to that worn by a prostitute, it is a good idea for her to keep in mind that there is a cohort of men that will misread the signals she is sending. 

Yes, in an ideal world, this would not be so. However, this is the world we must all live in.


  1. Interesting! Context is all! Could it be I find cunt as offensive as slut, a sign of my age?
    Meanwhile, two street performers at the Manly Arts Festival attracted police attention this weekend.
    Their street performance titled "gender bender" had the boy wearing a girls outfit to look stark naked and the girl wore a boy's suit, complete with a penis - "a sock type thing filled with rice."
    One of the 50 000 onlookers considered this was offensive and called the police. Who knows what caused the concern - cultural difference, age, not sexy enough - too sexy? Or simply bad performance art. It was after all a public space.
    The solution? They were asked to put some clothes on. How civilised.

  2. Miley, with her pubic hair free Brazillian cunt is every hot blooded man's wet dream and she knows it.

  3. Yeah, OK, every man over the age of 14 wants to fuck Miley or some young girl like her. That is a given. Problem is, 13 and 14 year old girls who think Miley is way cool do not understand that presenting themselves to men as fuckable is going to get them into deep shit if they are not careful. Yeah, girls should be able to wear what they want and men should be able to control themselves bla, bla, bla but in the real world girls that dress as sluts need to be aware that there are some men out there who are going to treat them as sluts - not just with the words they use but with the body parts they use.

  4. I don't want to fuck Miley Cyrus. I am a 41 year old woman, for God's sake. I once had a body like Miley's (though with pubic hair) and, after three kids, it kinda pisses me off that I not longer look like that and that not nearly enough men want to fuck me. Certainly not my husband. My soon-to-be-ex-husband!