Redefining Sexist Slurs: How Women Can Rewrite the Rules on Labeling
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Redefining Sexist Slurs: How Women Can Rewrite the Rules on Labeling

Why it’s important to not only destigmatize sexist slurs, but to change the meaning altogether.

Redefining Sexist Slurs: How Women Can Rewrite the Rules on Labeling
Just Jared

Ladies, think about the last time someone called you a “slut” or a “bitch.” Was it thrown your way after you didn’t respond to some strange group of men's catcalls on the street? Did you hear someone murmur it under their breath after your brilliant idea trumped everyone else’s at work, or perhaps when a co-worker stage-whispered to you what was written under your name on a stall in the men’s bathroom? Or maybe you and your girlfriends regularly pass it off as a term of endearment while together on lunch break or curled up in someone’s apartment with cocktails in hand?

Either way, for quite some time labels like these have been walking a tightrope-thin line between derogatory slurs and casual nomenclature between friends. It really has come to depend on the speaker and audience to determine which is which. But if we as women have the power to transform an insult into an empowering expression, why aren’t more of us doing it? Redefining what a patriarchal society unfairly deems as weaknesses in our gender sounds like something everyone should be on board with, but honestly I still have to think twice before my lips form the words “slut” or “bitch” to make sure it doesn’t come off as offensive in the wrong company. Because even though this type of slang is usually reserved for people whose friendship runs deeper than Facebook, there is still a crowd of people out there who view feminists openly putting a positive spin on these labels as eccentric and radical.

To those people, I say let’s start by examining the origins of some examples of demeaning language directed at women. Where did these words even come from? According to one eye-opening article on Today I Found Out, the terms “slut”, “dame”, and “broad” were colloquially used for centuries before morphing into insults. The article reveals that in the 17th Century the word “slut” originally referred to maids or servant girls who were “‘messy, dirty or untidy’” and later mutated into a negative description of promiscuous or ugly women and even waste receptacles – no kidding, a snippet from an 1862 English newspaper once hilariously noted, “There are a good many slut-holes in London to rake out.” The article goes on to establish that the word “dame” once described a woman in power, like a wife or mistress, and the word “broad” once defined a woman with loose morals. Fast forward to today and you'll find that these word meanings have also branched off into offensive territory. For example, even though Urban Dictionary defines the modern use of "dame" as "a classy, beautiful woman," the word is also negatively associated with slang like "dame bamaged" ("when a woman fucks up your head") and "dame brainage" ("The obvious cerebral injury suffered by most women functioning in today's society"). Likewise, the word "broad" is charmingly referred to as, "Less respectable than a lady but much more respectable than bitch."

"Bitch Magazine." Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

Language is more influential than any other form of negotiation. The way we address and communicate with one another dominates what pop culture deems as appropriate and for too long language has been used against racial, sexual and gender minorities to make them feel small.

That’s why within the last twenty years or so, some women have campaigned to ‘take back’ loaded words like “bitch” and “slut” and resell them as shameless descriptors of brave women. In a candid 2014 interview, co-founder of Bitch Media Andi Zeisler explained how arguably the most celebrated and boundary-pushing feminist media group today got its name 20 years ago. While rocking adorable cats-eye glasses, Zeisler illuminated how in the late ‘90s the word “bitch” was primarily targeted toward, “women who spoke their minds, who said things maybe people didn’t want to hear and who stood up for themselves.” Zeisler and her co-founders latched onto this idea as a way to promote smart, opinionated women who deserve a voice unencumbered by a patriarchal choke hold.

Amber Rose at Slutwalk 2015. Image courtesy of

In a similar vein, pop culture icon Amber Rose has worked to end the concept of “slut-shaming” with her annual free feminist event Slutwalk in Los Angeles. This one-day festival has been spreading awareness about sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality since 2011 when it formed, according to the Slutwalk website, after an ignorant Toronto police officer told a group of college women; “Women shouldn’t dress like ‘sluts’ if they don’t want to be sexually assaulted.” As a former stripper who was first slut-shamed at age 14, Amber Rose recently spoke up about embracing the word “slut” because she felt it gave her power back: “I embrace the negativity; that’s my thing, that takes the pain away for me.”

It should be noted that women aren’t the only minorities redefining labels, but they certainly seem to be turning the most heads by doing so. It’s common knowledge that in the African American community, the “n-word” has been reworked from its original offensive connotation into an expression of friendship used between black people. On the other hand, the word “gay” is sometimes casually thrown around by younger generations to mean “stupid” – i.e. “That’s so gay.” The fact that people are still creating negative connotations for minority terms like this is even more disturbing to me than people recycling the same derogatory remarks.

I believe the language we use holds the most power in determining how we choose to treat each other. If more women can see the importance of how redefining words like “bitch” and “slut” – terms society view as flaws – into something empowering, then we become in control of how we deserve to be seen. By not only removing stigma from sexist slurs but changing the meaning altogether, we take away the ammo used to keep us down by ignorant people and become bulletproof in at least one more way to sexual injustice.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Robert Bye on Unsplash

I live by New York City and I am so excited for all of the summer adventures.

Keep Reading... Show less

The invention of photography

The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.


The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?


Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments