We've had a few animated discussions in our household since Rush Limbaugh's comments about Sandra Fluke hit the news. One of the points that Jeff raised in response to my furious indignation was that left-wing commentators have used pejorative words (ones that I will not share here as I don't ever even say them in real life) to refer to some conservative women (among them Sarah Palin). We finally got to the heart of the matter this morning, when I protested, "But 'slut' is different." Jeff looked puzzled at first, but then we both realized why we had been talking past one another. For me, and I would venture to suggest for many women, the word "slut" is completely different from other insults--no matter how crude those might be. It's a word that is thrown around freely at times (hang out in any high school and you'll see that I am correct about this) but, when deployed seriously (as Rush clearly intended), is a vicious and cruel insult without equal.
Slut, in its typical usage, suggests loose morals and sexual promiscuity. It doesn't denote a woman who likes sex, or who likes frequent sex, or who especially likes sex with the added protection of birth control. Its actual definition may be elusive (and probably varies from woman to woman)--for example, is a slut someone who has sex with many people, casually and without commitment, within a short span of time, or is a slut someone who's had sex with many people, serially, over her lifetime? Do you have to regret the sexual activity in order for it to make you a slut? Do you have to not know the partner's last name? We women might default to something akin to the old definition of pornography: we know one when we see her--or we know what might make us feel like a slut, and we don't want to be one.
But when spoken by a man, perhaps particularly by a man with a history like Rush's, and even more particularly when followed by a string of repetitive and escalating insults that bordered on pathological, its meaning is clear. So as the apologies and faux-apologies flow, I just couldn't agree with Jeff that every nasty insult that's ever been hurled by a man at a woman is equal. Slut is different.