Fag Bashing & Slut Shaming: It’s About Policing Gender Roles

When the topic of slut-shaming comes up, it’s often said that there is no equivalent for men. After all, the terms used for men who have a lot of sex or a lot of sex partners are things like ladies-man, stud, or Don Juan. They lack the negativity of slut and I’m certainly not going to claim that there aren’t different rules for men and women when it comes to sex. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone called a stud to try to shame him into complying with gender roles or to punish him.

At the same time, it’s often overlooked that there is a comparable dynamic that affects men. Boys and men who act in ways that don’t fit within the rules of masculinity get fag-bashed. And just as with slut, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with one’s actual sexual preferences, desires, or behaviors. All you need to do to be fag-bashed is step out of line.

Slut gets thrown at women who are expressive about wanting to have sex. Fag is used against men who don’t constantly display a desire to have sex. In many ways, a woman is a slut if she acts too much like a man is supposed to and a man is a fag if he acts like a woman is supposed to. And both terms are used to shame people into compliance with gender rules, no matter how unrealistic or inauthentic they are.

Another similarity between the two terms is that violence is often used to punish those who are tarred with either brush. When we step outside the confining rules of gender, we risk being seen as a target for physical, emotional, and sexual assault. On the flip side, both slut and fag are labels that are often attached to people who have been sexually assaulted, which forces silence and secrecy in order to avoid being attacked or assaulted again.

Further, being a “pure woman” and being a “macho man” both require constant vigilance to avoid the risk of a tarnished reputation and the stain of impurity. They each force people to set aside whole portions of their inner selves and limit their actions in order to avoid being tainted. And both slut and fag are used as a smokescreen to try to convince other people that “I don’t have a problem- it’s that person over there.”

Now, I’m not going to argue that there aren’t any general trends in gender differences, although I do think that many things that we usually consider masculine or feminine are culturally based. Even for the things that show a statistically-significant difference between men and women, there are still plenty of people who have characteristics that are less common for people of their sex. People are not bell curves.

This is why we need to stop judging women for being open about their sexualities. This is why we need to stop shaming men who express emotions. This is why we need to stop using words like slut, gay, whore and fag to describe someone or something we don’t like. This is why we need to make room for gender diversity. Not only isn’t gender an either/or, it’s not even on a spectrum. The spectrum model, while allowing for more possibilities, still presents it as a zero-sum experience. It makes it seem as if, the more you have of one, the less you must have of the other. That approach reifies and reinforces the idea that there’s an opposition.

In reality, any of us can have any of the characteristics that our culture defines as male or female. Each of us is a unique mixture of these traits and rather than being scared of that, we can embrace it, we can celebrate it, and we can enjoy it.

What would it be like if we each got to have whatever personality traits, characteristics, and gender expressions we wanted? What if we could let the different facets of our psyches out, without fear of violence, shaming, or attack? What if we didn’t need to learn arbitrary rules of what boys or girls are supposed to be?

And what if we could stop using words like fag and slut to keep people in line?

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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