This is a really, really quick post to point out something that struck me in my daily perusal of Slate.com the other day, in “A New Study on Slut-Shaming Finds That Rich Girls Are the Worst.” The title is deliberately provocative in the usual Slate way, of course, since the article is actually about the fact that “slut” doesn’t correlate much with actual sexual behavior. Instead, Amanda Hess says,
the system was more about policing women’s looks, fashion, and conversational styles than criticizing the notches on their bedposts. And the vagueness and ubiquity of the term “slut” on campus allowed these women to effectively police each other without denying themselves actual sex. The higher-class women defined “respectable femininity” as a “polite, accommodating, demure style often performed by the white middle class,” what one woman described as “the preppy, classy, good girl.” These were women with “parent-funded credit cards” who wore “expensive MAC-brand purple eye shadow” instead of drugstore brands and—instead of working jobs—“had time to go tanning, get their hair done, do their nails, shop, and keep up with fashion trends.”
What’s great about this, and what I wish Hess had pointed out, is that this is exactly what slut used to mean. I’m going to quote Wikipedia because I have a a lot of deadlines this week, and I just want to get this out of my head and onto paper (“paper”):
Although the ultimate origin of the word “slut” is unknown, it first appeared in Middle English in 1402 as slutte (AHD), with the meaning “a dirty, untidy, or slovenly woman”. Even earlier, Geoffrey Chaucer used the word sluttish (c. 1386) to describe a slovenly man; however, later uses appear almost exclusively associated with women. … Another early meaning was “kitchen maid or drudge” (c. 1450), a meaning retained as late as the 18th century, when hard knots of dough found in bread were referred to as “slut’s pennies”.
You can bet those Early Modern kitchen maids weren’t wearing purple M.A.C. eyeshadow on their trips to the tanning salon.