The History Of The Word "Slut"

Slut-shaming has been on the tip of everyone's tongue lately, largely since that pesky double standard where women are shamed for engaging in promiscuous sex while men are praised for it lives on. But have you ever wondered what the historical origins of the word "slut" are? If so, you're in luck: Cristen Conger of HowStuffWorks' "Stuff Mom Never Told You" has done some digging into the etymology of the term with some fascinating results.

Interestingly, although men are rarely — if ever — called sluts today (and no, man-whore doesn't count), they were actually the first to be labeled as such. According to Conger, the first usage of the word "slut" dates all the way back to the year 1386 in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer didn't use the term to shame men who were sleeping around, though; at the time, it was used to reference a man who had poor taste in fashion. Although people who dress provocatively are often coined as being slutty, I'm guessing you've probably never called a man who had a bad fashion sense a slut. The next time some some guy calls me a slut, I'm going to just fire right back and explain that historically speaking, he's much more of a slut than I could ever be.

Here are two of my other favorite facts Conger highlights; scroll down to watch the full video:

"Slut" Has a Bad History of Classism and Racism

Besides the blatant sexism connected to the word today, there have also been classist and racist undertones to the its usage throughout history. As Conger emphasizes, many times in today's culture, women who are called sluts are perceived to be low income or behaving without class. This current idea dates back hundreds of years, as poor women were regularly looked down upon simply for existing. As far as the intersection with race goes, black women were historically almost never described as slutty — but not for the reason you think. Hint: It's a pretty awful reason. Ready? Here goes: Because purity was not believed to be something black women could ever attain, they were automatically deemed slutty. You heard me: They weren't called slutty because (white) people thought they already were slutty. In other news, people are awful.

Girls Are Often The Ones Doing The Slut-Shaming

Probably all women have been called a slut by another woman, which seems pretty counter-intuitive (why would a fellow woman want to hold back our entire gender even further?). As a feminist activist, I've seen many women point this out — and it turns out there's scientific truth to this notion. Conger cites a study that found that women judge other women more harshly for sleeping around than they do men.

Why do they do this? The video cites another study that points to a possible reason: Young adult women slut-shame in order to create strong social bonds with other women. There targets are often girls who are of low income, bringing that pesky classist element back into the slut-shaming arena.

Conger sums up my feelings on women who slut-shame perfectly: "Anytime you throw another girl under the old slut-shaming bus ... you chip away at the entire equality and autonomy of all women." Now who else thinks it's high time the term — which is an imaginary concept, anyway — went the way of all things?

If you want to learn more about the history of the word "slut," watch the full video below:

Images: Giphy (3)