2013

Slut is oldest line in book

Anastasia Prikhodko 

It began in the Middle Ages and ended with the future of young women when the senior curator from Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Rachel Kent, questioned a group of experts about women in medieval times, their position in society and the contemporary media’s representation of the female body.

On the panel were New York-based visual artist Wangechi Mutu, novelist Emily Maguire, medievalist Dr Juanita Ruys and author, feminist and academic Catharine Lumby.

Rachel opened the discussion by putting a description to them: “In medieval times a women could be a virgin, wife, nun, or widow, if you were none of those things then you were a prostitute.”

“Yes, there was no concept of a single women who was sexually active,” said Juanita, who teaches issues of sexuality through the Middle Ages at Sydney University.

“A single woman was synonymous to a prostitute. Men were seen as the ones who were in control and the font of reason, with women being unrestrained, out of control.”

The audience laughed at this comment, as nowadays that belief has been reversed.

Juanita Ruys

Juanita Ruys

Emily, who has written four novels and two non-fiction books, continued with the theme of women’s oppression: “the public role of women has changed, but in terms of them as sexual beings there is still a very narrow space for them to be right,” she said.

“Girls can’t be frigid and they have to show that they are responsive in some way but if they step over the invisible and ever-changing line they are then seen as too sexual and therefore, a slut.”

With the mention of that invisible line comes the issue of girls being blamed for getting raped. “Sex scandals are interlinked with sexual assault as it is usually framed in a way to make the girl appear too sexual for making advances on a man who couldn’t control himself,” said Emily. “The woman is often seen as a sexual predator who goes out and traps a man; there are some really messed up and confused ideas there.”

Catharine expanded on Emily’s statement.  “In the 1970s the word slut used to be thrown around all the time by boys and girls, and it is very sad to see how little that has changed.”

“Slut is the oldest line in the book,” added Emily.

The rise of technology brought on sexting. With an already overabundant emphasis on women’s bodies throughout the media, sexting is another issue where the attention is strictly on the girl and her body. However, Emily said, “These girls are simply experimenting with their sexuality, and it is a sexual expression.”

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu creates collages that focus on the representation of black females in popular culture. Rachel asked her to discuss how black women were viewed through the gaze of white men.

Glossy magazines, which increasingly advise women how to improve themselves, convey very distorted ideas and images, and when portraying African women, says Wangechi, magazines “tend to focus on her bottom, curves, and her hair would be straightened, it is very artificial looking, almost erotic, like soft porn.”

After some research she found out why this was happening. “The majority of the employees behind US magazines were white males. Therefore, they were duplicating and replicating what black women should look like,” she said.

Emily wanted the media to move in a different direction: “Magazines need to show what women’s bodies can do, instead of which category they fit into,” she said.

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