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Slut and Faggot: Gender and Sexual Images

by Gert Hekma in History & Politics , 18 december 2010


The most common swear words boys and girls use for one-another are slut and whore for the girls, and homo, faggot and poof for the boys. What do these terms say about the Dutch sexual and gender culture? To answer that question I will successively address sexual differences between men and women, political concern over girls’ sexual life, sexual behavior of gay men and lesbian women and prejudices about faggots. I will finish with the question where these practices and perspectives come from, and where we have to take them.

Knowing What’s Nice

Gay & Lesbian Studies researchers wonder why gay men are so much more visible than lesbians, and why they experience more discrimination in the public space. The main answers to this question lie in the sexual and gender distinction between men and women. Although many differences between the sexes might disappear, in sexual aspect they don’t. Sexual statistics show that men still have more sex than women. Men today score in most fields exactly as high or low as they did during the sexual revolution: gay and straight sexual contacts, masturbation, et cetera. Their sexual behavior has hardly changed, but women however, have been catching up in most erotic options.

Still, there remains a gap between the sexes when it comes to sex. Most people think this is because of biological differences, but there’s no evidence of a difference in experiencing lust. Before the eighteenth century biologists thought that both sexes had equally strong desires, afterwards they attributed them to men mainly. Most sociologists explain the difference through social factors such as the notion that motherhood prevails over sexual pursuit, or that women can’t be slutty. The sexualization of society has not been paired with a thorough break with traditional gender patterns.

Women are still often passive while men claim more erotic leeway and take initiative. It’s a cultural difference between women, who can’t be sluts and men, who have the liberty to operate like a player. That player is exactly what a slut is, and what women are not allowed to show: someone who knows what’s nice and who has an appetite. When it comes to sex, a “good” girl shouldn’t display knowledge or appetite.


Sexualization of Public Space

A few years ago Holland was in turmoil over black girls, who’d have sex with men in return for a ride home, a restaurant dinner, or even a breezer (alcoholic lemonade). Girls who liked to frottage with boys on the dance floor.

Columnists and politicians screamed murder over such “sexualization,” which they’d also spotted in erotic billboards in the streets. They spoke of men on chat sites talking girls into exposing themselves. Relevant minister of the time, Ronald Plasterk, was shocked and addressed this “sexualization” in his emancipation paper.

Research showed however, that girls rarely engage in sex for just a breezer, and that situational sex amongst youngsters hardly occurs and showed no remarkable increase. No one asked the question what was wrong with such intimacies. Girls who are stupid enough to take off clothes while chatting deserve a better sexual education and their counterparts on the chat site don’t always deserve to be punished.

According to Christian Democrat MP Henk Jan Ormel, upset by the horny girls, sexual education needed to be aimed at the necessity of combining love and sex. Apparently he forgot that sex in the Christian tradition equals filth, only acceptable as a means to procreate. It was only allowed in matrimony and had little to do with love. Sex and love were considered opposites in the way that love was something between equal partners while sex implied inequality of the ones taking part.

In contrast to what Christian and socialist moralists suggest, an ongoing sexualization of the public space and especially the educational system will stimulate girls’ emancipation and autonomy. Because whoever’s familiar with sex will not be so gullible as to be fooled by loverboys, internet stalkers and other obnoxious guys chasing them. Teach youngsters how to say yes and they’ll understand immediately when to say no, but if you only tell them to say no, they will not know when to say yes. Knowledge of sexuality is very useful for their future situation at work, in the public space and at home, so that they are not so surprised the first time they’re confronted with a gay colleague or customer. Plasterk’s fears, and others’ as well, had mainly to do with “innocent” girls, who were not supposed to turn into sluts.

Such puritan politicians show how deep prejudices on sex and gender are rooted in society, and how they hamper the erotic emancipation of girls and women, who are perfectly capable to shape their own personal sex life. Sexual education shouldn’t pose a norm, but lead to knowledge and the possibility to make one’s own choices. So girls and boys need explicit and clear sexual education which focuses on social and historic rather than the biological aspects of being physically intimate. Sexual understanding of society leads to self-knowledge and to think seriously about gender, lust and pleasure prevents the wild growth of nonsense and prejudice.

Gay Men Are Sluts

The socially produced difference between men and women is expressed in figures of sex research and such media hypes (highlighting the differences even more), as well as in the sexual infrastructure. Sexwork (prostitution) is a service by women, and sometimes men for men, while straight women rarely use the services of gigolos. Lesbian women are sometimes found in prostitution, but they’d never have a lesbian customer. The gender distinction is evident in the gay scene. While gay men have intimate institutions like bars with dark rooms, saunas, beats and escorts, as well as all the new possibilities of high speed internet, lesbian women hardly have or use any of these. They’re doing it in public, like straights, but it’s all less concentrated than with gay men, and more lesbians have moral judgments on situational sex.

Gay men do it in public in areas that are more or less institutionalized and sometimes marked off as such, like in the Kralingse Bos (forest) in Rotterdam and the Nieuwe Meer in Amsterdam. Although erotic taboos like moral objections against sex in public have also been ingrained in gay men, they seem to care less about it than lesbians do, or straight people. They don’t have the problem of female partners, who are concerned about their “reputation.”

Gay men are sluts amongst each other and some are not afraid to be honest about it – think of author Gerard Reve and politician Pim Fortuyn. On the straight side no woman will ever want to be known as a slut, in word or deed. The increasing normalization of homosexuality unfortunately makes it harder for young gays to have the rich sexual life of the generation before them.




A Normal Gay Is OK, Not a Flaming Faggot

Although gay men have the sexual opportunities other men can only dream of, in gender terms this backfires. Straight men think gay men are feminine, they’re “sissies.” Lesbian women, dykes, are considered masculine. This has certain consequences, because straight men reject gay men as they’re passive effeminate wusses who want to be penetrated, they find butch dykes acceptable as a mate. They think feminine lesbians are hot, rather than intimidating. Disgust and rejection by men is aimed at queens, not at dykes, and on the straight side at sluts. “Boys should especially avoid being called ‘homo,’ ‘faggot’ or other related terms by other kids, especially other boys.

Girls have to make sure they’re never referred to as a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore,’” according to the recent study on acceptance of homosexuality of the Social Cultural Planning Bureau called “Steeds gewoner, nooit gewoon” (Increasingly Normal, Never Normal). A recent study of anti-gay violence in Amsterdam, “Als ze maar van me afblijven” (As Long As They Keep Their Hands Off Me) by Laurens Buijs (2009) shows that (potential) perpetrators, mainly young men of all colors, claim they accept gays as long as they’re not too effeminate, sexual or visible. You can be a normal gay but not a flaming faggot.

The gay boys in the schoolyards, having been called smelly sissy or dirty faggot often enough, adopt this rejection of girlishness eagerly, just to protect themselves. They develop an aversion for unmanliness and explicit sexual behavior they prefer to attribute to an older generation – they’re not like thát.


Straight women can turn against masculine girls like dykes, but much more so towards sluts, who are the subject of their gossiping and stirring. They don’t seem to mind the gay boys, according to the SCP report: “Straight girls see gays as feminine, but to them that’s not negative – quite the reverse, sometimes. They’re not afraid of being seen as a ‘lezzo’ or ‘dyke.’ ‘Slut’ or ‘whore’ will cause the alarm bells to go off though.” Most straight men avoid the sluts as well, except for a casual fuck. Many boys from ethnic circles think white girls are nice for sex but want to marry a modest virgin from their own environment. These judgments don’t offer a firm basis for sexual democracy or intimate citizenship because they exclude sexual and gender diversity.

In Holland there is still a clear distinction between men and women and those who differ like faggots and sluts are confronted with negative reactions. Only very few gay men and straight women will identify with these roles. Gay men would rather die than be seen as a wuss, and women avoid displaying slutty behavior. The active man and the passive woman remain the generally accepted sexual models for the Dutch and they form the basis of a hetero-normative moral which excludes sexual variation and diversity. In this order there is no room for faggots and sluts, or for masochist men or self-conscious sexworkers.

Increasing Control of Perversions

Why do faggots and sluts have such a bad name in Western society in general and Holland in particular? Why don’t they share in the universally praised tolerance of The Netherlands? Why does the sexual autonomy of women remain unacceptable for straight men, and even for many straight women? What’s wrong with a faggot that makes straights and gays so negative about them? It’s part of eighteenth century projections of gender and sexuality which haven’t been amended or changed during the sexual revolution, and which are very close to traditional Christian ideas. They come to us from the Enlightenment, which wasn’t a unity by the way, and which knew critics from developing sexual practice and perspective. But while for Christians marriage remained the norm, after 1800 it turned more and more towards heterosexuality, closely connected to the established roles for men and women.

The divine Marquis De Sade, philosopher and novelist, spend half of his adult life in jail because of his boundless behavior and rebel ideas.
The utopian socialist Fourier didn’t dare publicize his philosophy on poly-amorous love and sex – seize the sexual day.

They were both in favor of gender equality and erotic freedom with acknowledgment of all variations in wishes and desires, but the mainstream of the Enlightenment went the opposite way: the sexual distinction between men and women only became sharper and sharper and erotic freedom was sanctioned with legislation and scientific interferences.



At the time of the French Revolution criminal legislation consisted of four articles aimed at “decency” as they called it; since then the number of articles and propositions has steadily gone up. Psychiatric insights led to an increasing control of what was identified as “perversion.” From the eighteenth century a web of supervision developed around children to keep them in a state of innocence. Then it was aimed against masturbation, nowadays there’s a youth dossier predicting and preventing each minor derailment.

A Long Way To Go

When politicians today praise their secular enlightened ideas, it’s not in the tradition of Sade and Fourier, but one of heterosexual norms and sexual narrow-mindedness. It’s strange that a nation that prides itself on sexual freedom and tolerance even sees this as a special acquired quality, it fails to take a stand and sexually demotes women and faggots to second-rate citizens. A nation that rather keeps kids innocent than educate them. It’s staggering that politicians and scientists hardly want to think seriously about sex and love, and that most citizens can’t talk about it in a clear, professional way, let alone have the flexibility to do it. At the same time they beat their chests about being so tolerant and free. To paraphrase Marquis De Sade: Dutch people still have a long way to go to practice the sexual freedom they preach.

This article was written for a theme issue on “gender” of the Dutch online magazine “Blind,” online on www.ziedaar.nl. The text has been edited.



 







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