Thomas Sutcliffe: Where's the male equivalent of 'slut'?

Social Studies: Men are esteemed for their conquests, women are esteemed for fighting them off

I was trying to think of male equivalents for the word "slut" the other day – prompted by reports on the Slut Walk protests around the world. If you've been away, these were sparked off by a Canadian policeman's suggestion – during a safety talk to university students – that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised".

As preventative measures go, that remark was about as effective as throwing a cup of water on to a chip-pan fire. There was an impressive explosion of feminist rage, and suddenly streets were thronged with young women wearing bustiers and fishnet tights.

And then there was a kind of muted back-blast as other women – though equally furious at the implication that women might be regarded as complicit in their own violation – took issue with the attempt to detoxify the word "slut". Couldn't be done, one side said, because it was simply too saturated in male misyogyny. Had to be done, the other side replied, as a way of insisting that women's sexuality was their business ... and theirs alone.

I wasn't sure what I thought and was trying to find a male equivalent to see what it might feel like to brandish it as a badge of pride. And you won't be surprised to learn that I had some trouble. Nothing, anyway, that pressed directly on the question of sexual continence. You're spoiled for choice when it comes to women: tart, slapper, slag and slut ... all of them vicious and all of them suggesting that women shouldn't really be having sex at all (unless, obviously, it's with the person doing the name-calling). But an exclusively male pejorative for someone who just can't keep it in his pants? I was having trouble.

And then Dominique Strauss-Kahn came to my help – or rather the newspaper coverage of his arrest on a charge of attempted rape. And it wasn't DSK's guilt or innocence in that matter that supplied the vocabulary, but the attempts to characterise his longstanding reputation with regards to sexual appetite. "A well-known seducer" was one formula, employed (I think) by a friend. "Womaniser" was another, and I saw "libertine" somewhere. These, I realised, were the closest you were likely to get to slut and slapper. Words like "roué" or "swordsman" or "playboy" – none of which convey much sense of moral contempt and several of which are tinged with admiration.

It's an ancient inequity, of course. Men are esteemed for their conquests, women are esteemed for fighting them off. "Men are naughty by nature," as Hugh Grant puts it. And although, theoretically, quite a few of us have moved on from this crude account of sexual relations it remains embedded in the language and embedded in our thinking. That's why a policeman could find himself telling young women that it was their responsibility to make themselves less provocatively attackable. And why some men think any woman they desire is fair game for an attempt.

I'm not a fan of sexual censoriousness, and I absolutely hate words like "slag" and "slapper". But perhaps if we had some exclusively male epithets that conveyed the same contempt for lack of sexual restraint, women would be a little safer – whatever they were wearing.







History according to Huckabee



"My heart says no," said Mike Huckabee, announcing that he wouldn't be standing for the Republican presidential nomination. Instead his heart seems to have told him to launch a company called Learn Our History, to sell educational videos to American schools.

Huckabee promises to offer animated history lessons which counter the "blame America first" school of historiography. The preview of an early instalment – "The Reagan Revolution" (http://tinyurl.com/4xy7h45) – is such a perfect satire on the far-right gestalt that it's almost impossible to believe it's in earnest. And the impetus for this new venture? Huckabee's indignation at the way that some teachers have been using classes as a "soap box to promote their own political opinions and biases".







Not even my fears included 'planking'



When my first son was born I was so overcome with a prospective terror of the hazards he would encounter in life that I briefly contemplated compiling a scrapbook of senseless and avoidable death – to be handed to him as soon as he could read. The idea was that he would never be without a warning of the ways in which youthful exuberance can go wrong. Page after page would be filled with well drownings, accidental asphyxiations and tree falls. There would be yellowing newspaper reports on doughnut-eating contests that resulted in fatal chokings, on dressing-gown cord and washing-line stranglings, on tomb-stoning paralysis, glue-sniffing casualties and train-surfing electrocutions.

In the end I decided that it might be better if only one of us spent the next 20 years in a state of dread, but even thinking about the project was an education in the zeal the young bring to the task of endangering themselves. Back then, though, I would never have imagined that "planking" would be one of the threats – the craze for photographing oneself in a rigidly horizontal posture which has just claimed a life in Brisbane, after a young man tried to "plank" on the balcony of a seventh-floor flat.

A policeman optimistically described this as "a wake-up call which exposes the potentially lethal dangers of the craze", but I'm willing to bet the next few days will see an increase in extreme planking, rather than a decrease. That was the other reason for scrapping the scrapbook. It would only have given him ideas.





t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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