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News & views

Slew of slatterns and sluts on slippery slope

[20 Aug 2014] Quite a media storm over whether Michael Fallon, the newly appointed male defence minister, called the Daily Telegraph’s female columnist Bryony Gordon a slattern or a slut at a party in the Houses of Parliament a few years ago. ‘Resign, you sexist brute’ has been the cry from some on the moral high ground.

Gordon first wrote about the incident in 2010 without naming her accuser. At the party, it seems Fallon didn’t recognize her and asked whether she knew the slut who wrote the Single Girl About Town column, which chronicled her activities between the sheets with every kind of Single or Married Man About Town. Yes, she said, it’s me (or possibly, it’s I, if she was trying to disarm him with grammatical virtue). A certain chill fell over the conversation at this point.

Gordon has just published a book describing her unrestrained nights in the saddle, so the tale is all very topical and good for sales. Not that it is entirely clear what words were used, though. In her 2010 column, Gordon said the epithet was ‘slattern’, her editor deeming ‘slut’ too offensive. But now, according to her piece on 29 July, she’s quite certain Fallon said ‘slut’. Either way, you’d think the feminist thing to do would be to reclaim the derogatory nature of ‘slut/slattern’ and wear the badge with pride.

The New Shorter Oxford dictionary gives ‘slut’ (origin unknown) as ‘a woman of slovenly habits or appearance’ but also ‘a slovenly or promiscuous woman’, and gives ‘slattern’ (origin uncertain) as ‘a dirty, untidy woman’. While ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘tart’, ‘harlot’ and ‘trollop’ apply exclusively to women or girls and tend to be derogatory, the words for promiscuous men tend to be envious and admiring, eg ‘stud’, ‘fanny magnet’ and ‘studmuffin’. That’s sexism for you. [cont]

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