This piece opens out from a reading of Candice Holdorf’s article, “Why Consciously Awake Women Are Sluts.” I admire how Candice has shared her story of the word “slut,” and sparked a vital conversation: I honor this wise woman’s revolutionary bravery, passion, and sacredness. I also want to take a step beyond the solution that studying the etymology of the words “slut,” “whore,” and “virgin,” implies: that women should “own” the words slut and whore as archetypal pieces of who we are.
I will never teach my daughter to own the words "slut" or "whore," or any of the ways these words and their history might fragment, undermine, or confine her. Each day, I work and love my way towards a world in which feminine sexuality and the sacred nature of the earth itself is cherished and venerated as the free-flowing, unlimited source of our existence. And I will teach my daughter never to accept a name that she has not felt deeply as true and rooted within her own being—not even the name I choose for her.
During my teenage years in Catholic school, I was regularly called a slut. Yes, I have spent much of my womanhood learning to unwrap the defensive posture my body took on then, remembering how to look you in the eye without fear as I pass you in the hall. To rediscover my sexuality as my most potent and beautiful creative power and way of connecting. As far as I can now understand, I earned the name slut by being too passionate, too willing to taste all of what was on offer: my dress was too red, my mouth too full of whiskey and wild sound, my uniform skirt too short, my lips too willing to kiss and explore.
We heard of this woman who was out of control.
Usually it was other girls tossing the word “slut” down the hall, glaring at me through hooded eyes. It was a way for other girls to consolidate their power, and transmute their jealousy and fear of the parts of life they were not yet willing or ready to experience for themselves. But they could not stop looking at me. Neither could the teachers, who constantly checked the length of my skirt, with lingering eyes. Or the priest who asked me in confession if I masturbated. By naming me as an outlier, an aberration, the corrupt system—the carnival of shame, submerged desire, and piety—could go on functioning.
I remember that my friends and I used the words “slut” and “whore” as teasing addresses in the private notes we passed to each other in the hallways between classes. But this was before I became “the” slut. After that, I could not recover the cuteness or novelty of these words. And because teenage girls can be exceptionally sensitive creatures when they want to be, my friends stopped using these words with me. Yet, in my mind, I had taken the name. As a teenage girl, the only way I knew to “own” the slut archetype was to succumb, to smile when I wanted to wail, to accept a reality of being subsumed into the power agenda of others, of losing my ability to discriminate between another’s desire and my own. In accepting the name and role “slut,” I said “yes” when I wanted to say “no,” over and over again: to boys who wanted sex, to religious dogma, to a decrepit system that really needed a woman to set it on fire, reduce it to ashes once and for all. In telling you this story, I discover what's still burning in me: this necessary fire, this long-smoldering pyre for the names I no longer tolerate.
Women will starve in silence until new stories are created which confer on them the power of naming themselves.
While I acknowledge the power in learning the history of, and thus transforming, our understanding of the words “slut,” “whore,” and “virgin,” I am alarmed by what the world will feel like for our daughters if we stop there. These words—in my body and psyche—will always do the dirty work of separation: separating my sacredness from my desire, separating women from their sexuality, casting the sexual woman as an exile from culture. I don’t accept this culture. From wombs and hearts like mine—who gestate a fresh form of imagination—a new culture inclusive of women's sexual power can be born.
We are the bird's eggs.
Yes, it’s true that in this time, whether we like it or not, women bear the responsibility and deep initiatory power of naming ourselves. While occasionally this reality exhausts me, on the whole I embrace it. But for goodness sake—yes, for our daughters’ sake, and for our own continuance—let’s get more creative than to simply rework the epithets that brutality and savagery have written upon our gorgeous bodies.
Why don’t we call women who know sex, love sex, and have sex whenever and with whomever they choose “goddesses,” “priestesses,” "lovers," "mothers," "sisters," or—here’s a wild one—“women”? I hope that you have felt the joy of being a woman in this way. I hope that with time all women of this planet can feel the freedom to be joyful and powerful in this way, without shame or fear of retribution.
By diving deep within ourselves for new names, let's demonstrate what we know to be true: that women are tuned in, turned on, alive, and full with a power far beyond what's been spoken or imagined thus far. A woman names herself. A girl comes to a name, becomes a woman (or women). A woman comes with the fullness of all her names moaning or laughing or wailing on her lips. Because I have known the pain of a wrong name, an exile name, I know that I must learn to receive this woman, in all her true names, her names of mystery, her names that daily set me on fire. Will you?