Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag

LOVE & SEX

I agree with Phoebe Waller-Bridge – there’s no such thing as a slut

The word ‘slut’ needs to disappear from our vocabulary, says Daisy Buchanan

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By Daisy Buchanan on

“You have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores…it just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Arguably, this line from Mean Girls is Tina Fey’s strongest and smartest. It certainly still resonates more than ten years later: today, in a Guardian interview, Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has revealed that she wants to erase “slut” from our collective vocabulary.

Speaking to Decca Aitkenhead, the 32-year-old said: “You’re always being told you’re at your peak [in your twenties], you’re the most attractive you’ll ever be, so get out there and use it… But it’s such a weird conflicted message: I must be more promiscuous, I must make the most of this dying, shrivelling shell that I’ve been gifted for this short amount of time, but, at the same time, it’s ‘don’t be a slut’, you know? I felt really strongly while writing Fleabag that there was no such thing as a slut.”

Sluttiness is in the eye of the beholder. Judging someone, out loud, for a consenting sexual decision they have made is baffling. We might not want to do the same thing, but why would we choose to use a shaming name for an act that ultimately has nothing to do with us? Yet, Waller-Bridge’s words are frighteningly insightful. We live in a world where we hear that, as women, it’s imperative that we look as sexy and desirable as possible. But when we dare to be sexual, on our own terms, there’s a sharp intake of breath. I watched nearly every episode of Love Island this summer, and lost count of the number of arguments I’d had with people who had never seen the programme, but thought it was “disgusting” that young women would have consensual sex on TV. Last year, contestant Zara Holland lost her Miss GB crown for having sex on the show,  but I can’t remember the name of her partner. When Holland’s story was reported, his name was rarely mentioned. No one is especially interested in giving men a public sexual profile. “Sluts” are always women, and there is no true male equivalent.

No one is especially interested in giving men a public sexual profile. ‘Sluts’ are always women, and there is no true male equivalent

Like many people, I had a lot of casual sex in my twenties. Sometimes it was brilliant, and sometimes it was bleak. I used the word “slut” about myself, thinking it might be empowering to reclaim the pejorative. I’d been brought up in a strict Catholic family, and grew up hearing that sex was bad, and especially bad for women. It would be my responsibility to curb my own temptation, as well as the desires of any potential partners. Obviously I “failed” within the parameters of religion, so once I’d had sex once, what was stopping me from having sex ten times, with ten different people? I thought that being a self-described “slut” was a way of celebrating my freedom, but that label didn’t release me from any of the shame or anxiety I felt. Looking back, I know I had several sexual encounters that I regret, simply because I felt that my chosen label made my choice for me, once I’d decided that “slut” was my personal brand. Deciding who to have sex with should be a personal choice. When we use the word “slut”, it doesn’t matter whether we’re describing ourselves or someone else. We’re taking that agency away.

“Slut” isn’t ever a kind word. By arguing for its removal from the universe, Waller-Bridge is advocating for a greater kindness around sexual behaviour. There is nothing loving or joyful in making a cruel, sneering judgement about a sexual choice a person has made. If we’re kinder to ourselves, and give ourselves the space to be as sexual as we’d like to be, I think we’re far less likely to have the sort of sex that leaves us feeling unmoored and uncertain about ourselves.

I used to believe that by calling myself a slut, I was liberating myself from other people’s judgement. However, I was simply queue jumping, and wanting to hurt myself first, before anyone else had the chance. Every time I thought of myself as a slut, I was reinforcing the idea that I didn’t know how to cherish myself, and that I didn’t matter. I do regret some of the sexual choices I’ve made, but only because I didn’t seek out kind partners, as I wasn’t being kind to myself. When we stop using the word “slut”, we start to permit women the same freedom to enjoy their bodies as men are afforded. If there’s no such thing as a slut, there’s no space for people who believe women don’t deserve this freedom.

@NotRollergirl

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag
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