SLUT!?

According to various dictionaries and encyclopedias I have visited, a slut either means a “dirty, slovenly woman” or “a woman who is promiscuous and immoral”. It is often used as a derogatory term, an attack on a woman’s character because of her sexual practice.

Well, being the feminist that I am, I obviously object to the use of this demeaning term against women, as well as the double-standards that glorify male sexual prowess and condemn female sexuality as dirty, sinful, or “immoral”. Sexuality is a human quality, and indulging in one’s sexuality is simply being human. So is there such a thing as “slut”?

Without going further with this discussion, I must admit I have fallen into the “slut” trap. Yes, I called somebody a slut, although that somebody is fictional. Out of frustration and annoyance I did. I used that word mindlessly; I used that as a derogatory term. After three people pointed out my use of the word “slut”, I began to think.

I am probably not as much of a feminist as I claim. But then again, what exactly is a feminist? I studied feminism, but I’m not an expert in feminism. I care about gender constructions and relationships, and I care about gender equity, the deconstruction of patriarchy, etc. In short; I care. I guess I am a feminist?

The reason for this “slut” discussion is…I have recently finished reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh yes, I read that book. I wanted to see myself, to understand why it’s popular. Researching and sampling, if you will. Before you take me to be condescending, know this first: I do not condemn erotica or anything sexual in its literature. As I’ve said, I believe sexuality is human, so what’s wrong with being human? But I also believe that female sexuality should be portrayed and regarded positively–which is the primary reason for my hatred towards Anastasia Steele, the protagonist and narrator of Fifty Shades of Grey. If you’re curious to see how immensely annoyed I was, you can check out my tumblresque book review via GoodReads. There are some swearing involved, and keep in mind that it’s more like a rant.

Why do I hate Anastasia? To be honest, it is difficult to determine the origin of my distaste and condescension. After reading the book, I am registering so much negativity in my brain, I couldn’t properly articulate where it all came from. Writing this post is a process to help me figure out what exactly is wrong with Anastasia–or rather, why do I find her so incredibly faulty as a character? And most importantly–have I been slut-shaming–an act that utterly contradicts my beliefs?

From my book review:

Ana, the female protagonist and narrator of this novel, has no dignity, no sense of self as a woman and as a person. I’m sick of her “subconscious”, and I’m sick of her “inner goddess”. Her “love” for Christian Grey is nothing but a fetish for unruly hair, just like Christian’s love for her is an obsession with unconscious lip-biting. Why does he affect her so much? She is oh so confused. Wha–? He’s attracted to me? He can’t live without me? Girl, get a grip of yourself and close your fucking legs. You can most certainly discard your ambiguous feelings aside, because in short and truth to be told, you’re basically a SLUT.

My first batch of reasons for disliking her: as I favour strong, independent female protagonists with a strong sense of self and purpose, in that light, Anastasia is

  1. lacking a strong sense of self
  2. has low self-esteem
  3. willingly degrading herself and subjecting her to the whims of the abusive, egotistic and misogynistic Christian Grey
  4. subjecting herself as the “submissive” in the BDSM relationship in exchange for Grey’s love, a potential “normal” relationship”, and information about Grey’s past.

Of course, the reasons are subjective. From an objective perspective, Anastasia is:

  1. shy, self-conscious, has low self-esteem
  2. sexually inexperienced and ignorant
  3. apologetic and dependent (as she submits to Christian in their relationship)
  4. outspoken (only during random, thoughtless moments, or during a conversation that is not face-to-face)
  5. playful (pulling jokes on Christian and ends up challenging his Christian’s limits as a control-freak)
  6. witty and sarcastic (only towards Christian, a trait not visible when she’s around her friends or family members)

In conclusion, she has a collection of qualities that are inconsistent and contradict each other. How can she be outspoken, playful, witty and sarcastic when she consistent has issues with her self-esteem? It would perhaps make sense if she is more at ease with herself when she is around her best friends and family members, she only displays these traits (that would essentially define her as someone with a great self-confidence and a strong sense of self) when she is around Christian Grey, the man she desires. The fact that she has low self-esteem and her inexperience most likely cause her to be both emotionally and physically dependent on Grey. Her submissiveness comes slowly but naturally. However, at the same time, she does not submit to him completely with her various acts of rebellion, yet, she is utterly emotionally overcome by Grey and ends up blaming herself for everything that happens between them. She is conflicted; she doesn’t know if she wants to be completely submissive in every detail and aspect of her life, yet she is a slave to her emotions to Grey, no matter what he has done.

To me, to say this kind of characterization is intentionally paradoxical seems a bit of a stretch. Therefore, I deem that the incoherence and illogical combination of personality traits are a a result of the author’s lack of consideration on character design.

Now, question: is she a slut?

Is she sexually promiscuous? Well, she has had one sexual partner in her twenty one years of life, so I suppose, no. Is she immoral? The answer is also no. To say that she ventures into and grows to enjoy BDSM is immoral is unreasonable. After all, what she enjoys doing and what she desires after are her business. Anastasia Steele is, by definition, as a fictional character, is not a slut.

Sigh. Indeed, calling her a slut is unreasonable and rash on my part. Yes, I am extremely annoyed with her because she is submissive to Grey, and she can’t seem to free herself from her desires and love for him no matter how selfish and how uncaring he behaves towards her. Her hope to see him change seems foolish to me, and her love for him, really, boils down to how hot he is. Her narrative is honestly unbearably annoying. And her narrative, is a product of E.L. James’s horrible writing.

There, I have at last calmly figured this out. I called Anastasia a slut because I hate her, and I hate her because E.L. James can’t tell a story without using “I flush” every three pages, or referring to the voices in Anastasia’s head as “my subconscious” or “my inner goddess” every other page. I hate the meaningless e-mails, back and forth and back and forth. I hate the inconsequential characters; her best friend, the male friends that try to hit on her, her family members–none of them are distinctly important to linger in my memory. They are there to populate the world of Anastasia and Grey, and a buffer to their boring sexual endeavours. I hate this book because the writing is utterly crappy.

I will stop myself before I start ranting again. But in conclusion, despite the anger and frustration I felt reading this book, it did give me the opportunity to look more into the gender norms and expectations in a world of patriarchy, as well as the loaded terms that must be carefully considered before they are used.

In short, it has been a negative experience with a positive outcome.

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