Fag Bashing & Slut Shaming: It’s About Policing Gender Roles


When the topic of slut-shaming comes up, it’s often said that there is no equivalent for men. After all, the terms used for men who have a lot of sex or a lot of sex partners are things like ladies-man, stud, or Don Juan. They lack the negativity of slut and I’m certainly not going to claim that there aren’t different rules for men and women when it comes to sex. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone called a stud to try to shame him into complying with gender roles or to punish him.

At the same time, it’s often overlooked that there is a comparable dynamic that affects men. Boys and men who act in ways that don’t fit within the rules of masculinity get fag-bashed. And just as with slut, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with one’s actual sexual preferences, desires, or behaviors. All you need to do to be fag-bashed is step out of line.


Slut gets thrown at women who are expressive about wanting to have sex. Fag is used against men who don’t constantly display a desire to have sex. In many ways, a woman is a slut if she acts too much like a man is supposed to and a man is a fag if he acts like a woman is supposed to. And both terms are used to shame people into compliance with gender rules, no matter how unrealistic or inauthentic they are.

Another similarity between the two terms is that violence is often used to punish those who are tarred with either brush. When we step outside the confining rules of gender, we risk being seen as a target for physical, emotional, and sexual assault. On the flip side, both slut and fag are labels that are often attached to people who have been sexually assaulted, which forces silence and secrecy in order to avoid being attacked or assaulted again.

Further, being a “pure woman” and being a “macho man” both require constant vigilance to avoid the risk of a tarnished reputation and the stain of impurity. They each force people to set aside whole portions of their inner selves and limit their actions in order to avoid being tainted. And both slut and fag are used as a smokescreen to try to convince other people that “I don’t have a problem- it’s that person over there.”


Now, I’m not going to argue that there aren’t any general trends in gender differences, although I do think that many things that we usually consider masculine or feminine are culturally based. Even for the things that show a statistically-significant difference between men and women, there are still plenty of people who have characteristics that are less common for people of their sex. People are not bell curves.

This is why we need to stop judging women for being open about their sexualities. This is why we need to stop shaming men who express emotions. This is why we need to stop using words like slut, gay, whore and fag to describe someone or something we don’t like. This is why we need to make room for gender diversity. Not only isn’t gender an either/or, it’s not even on a spectrum. The spectrum model, while allowing for more possibilities, still presents it as a zero-sum experience. It makes it seem as if, the more you have of one, the less you must have of the other. That approach reifies and reinforces the idea that there’s an opposition.

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In reality, any of us can have any of the characteristics that our culture defines as male or female. Each of us is a unique mixture of these traits and rather than being scared of that, we can embrace it, we can celebrate it, and we can enjoy it.

What would it be like if we each got to have whatever personality traits, characteristics, and gender expressions we wanted? What if we could let the different facets of our psyches out, without fear of violence, shaming, or attack? What if we didn’t need to learn arbitrary rules of what boys or girls are supposed to be?

And what if we could stop using words like fag and slut to keep people in line?

11 Responses so far.

  1. J- says:

    This is such an awesome article. Seriously. I’ve almost always liked the word slut. To me it was only a negative thing the first few years I heard it. Then I got over it. It’s basically the same letters as Stud. Slut Stud. They seem like the same word, I never understood why one was negative and the other one not.

  2. Charlie says:

    Mostly, IMO, because of the idea that women aren’t supposed to have sex and men are. Which only makes sense if we can get rid of homophobia. 🙂

  3. James says:

    Superb!

  4. Charlie says:

    Why, thank you!

  5. Ted says:

    TBH, if more people knew about the negative symptoms and prevalance of stis such as HPV, being a Stud would likely have the same negative connotation. I don’t know an educated girl that is actually attracted to a male that sleeps around.

  6. Charlie says:

    I’m not sure that’s true. There’s still more stigma associated with STIs for women than men, even among people who know about the rates and risks of STIs. At least in my experience.

  7. Anne says:

    I agree with Ted, guys that sleep around too much I refer to as man-sluts and are in no way desirable. And with man-sluts they don’t have to deal with the consequences of pregnancy the way a woman would so it’s perhaps even worse. Though stud is still a pretty bad term if you think about it. It’s like a drone bee, you use it for breeding and then leave it out to die in winter since it’s not useful for anything else.

  8. Jude says:

    What’s with all this sex negativity?
    ” I don’t know an educated girl that is actually attracted to a male that sleeps around” — because only dumb women are unable to discriminate by sexual history?
    ” guys that sleep around too much I refer to as man-sluts and are in no way desirable” — Because sex is, what, evil?
    The attitudes in the comments are just what the article is trying to confront. The point is that the amount of sex you do or do not have/are percieved to have is used as a moral issue.
    Sex done right–with protection and consent–is not wrong, and generally has a low rish of physical or mental harm to the people who participate, no matter what their gender.

  9. Wow to Ted and Anne. No. Just, no. Ted, I am very highly educated and am pretty much *only* attracted to very highly sexual men, many of whom have slept around a lot (as have I). Anne, that’s a really awful, dehuimanising thing to say about men who have a lot of sex. There’s some really muddled-up thinking going on there, how on earth did you end up on Charlie Glickman’s blog? (But stay awhile! Read! Learn!)

  10. […] collapses the complexity of another person onto a single dimension. But even more so, given how slut-shaming is used to control and shame all women regardless of their sexual practices or desires, it conflicts directly with respecting them. If you […]

  11. One_Third says:

    While I agree most of the time, I want to point out a certain misunderstanding:
     
    “In many ways, a woman is a slut if she acts too much like a man is supposed to and a man is a fag if he acts like a woman is supposed to.”
     
    This is correct for the term “fag”, but not for the term “slut”. Although promiscuity is typically viewed as a male property, people do not thing of sluts as being too manly. But a fag is typically viewed as a womanish guy. There even is a word for this: “effeminate”, where the origin of “feminine” is clearly visible, but which also means “being weak”.
     
    And at the core of the fag-bashing I have always noticed some half-conscious fears that the men could become weak, that they may not be able anymore to thwart aggressive male intruders or conquer foreign regions if necessary. The strength, the wealth, even the survival of the country is considered as completely dependant on the masculinity of the men. A “faggot” thus threatens the foundations of the country and is treated as an enemy or a traitor. It is not surprising that “faggots” are often violently attacked as if they were enemies.
     
    The slut-shaming has a completely different origin. There may be religious dogmatic reasons, or the reluctance to allow women their own sexual wishes, or simply envy. But it is not due to them being to manly. Masculinity normally is a positive trait, femininity is a negative one. So a woman may adopt male behaviors (like aiming for carrier) and are less punished than men who adopt female behaviors. Easy test: Buy your daughter some LEGO-Robot stuff, and your son a Barbie doll, and watch the reactions of the environment.
     

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