Apparently, a bunch of sluts were running around my city recently.
I’m talking, of course, about the SlutWalk movement, which began earlier this year when a Toronto cop implied that women who dressed like “sluts” deserved to get raped. Outraged at the cop’s statement, women all over North America hit the streets both to protest the Neanderthal mindset that afflicts so many males, and to repurpose the word “slut.”
There have been debates over the appropriateness of the tactic, and some claim that the SlutWalk organizers have marginalized ethnic minorities. But I’m more interested in discussing the strategy’s ultimate goal.
The organizers want to eliminate a misogynistic jab, in the hopes that female-haters will have one less weapon in their repertoire. The idea of robbing an insult of its strength and perhaps even turning it into a positive term, is an old one.
In fact, this bit of reverse psychology goes back, at the very least, to the nation’s founding. The song Yankee Doodle was originally a British tune that mocked the Colonists (come on; did you think “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” was a complimentary line?). The fledgling Americans appropriated the song and turned it into one of our more bizarre patriotic melodies.
And we all know that many African Americans have yanked the N-word away from racists and turned it into a confrontational self-identifier. Many, of course, even use it as a term of endearment for one another.
But my question is the following: Has any of this reappropriation ever really worked?
Racists still use the N-word, and coming from them, it’s just as hideous as it was centuries ago. Does anybody really think that “slut” will stop being offensive anytime soon?
As for we Latinos, sure, we sometimes throw “cabrón” around with our friends. But even that is pushing it. I once heard a Latino say, “Hey you, wetback” in jest to a fellow Latino. Physical violence was narrowly averted.
The reason is clear. Some words are just meant to be offensive. For those terms steeped in hatred, all the reclaiming or ironic spinning in the universe will not alter their wince-inducing qualities.
In fact, one could argue that making such phrases seem inoffensive, only causes them to thrive, with the result that they linger in the national vocabulary far longer than they naturally would. Again, look at our old friend, the N-word, which many white people use in a pathetic attempt to be down.
To insist that we can redefine such vile terminology is to fight the laws of language, history, and human nature. More often than not, we will lose that battle.