SLUT is another word for SURVIVOR

Trigger Warning; mention of slut-shaming, rape, abuse, sexual assault.

Hard rock and the frizzy perms ruled. Blue eyeshadow matched the colour of the bluebirds tattooed on the cool girls’ arms. We dabbed musk perfume on our wrists and behind our ears. It was the early 1980s, I was 14 and I was a ‘slut’.


During the school holidays, I’d visit my father. In my eyes he could do nothing wrong and I loved him. But he caught me smoking one day. And boys were starting to pay attention. Whistles, catcalls, slowed cars followed me everywhere. Dad wanted me to stop wearing ‘those short shorts’. I was asking for it. I should dress more conservatively. The unspoken message was, ‘Stop behaving like a slut.’

I was angry that I had to stay inside and clean the house while my brother played cricket and picked mangoes from the big tree down the road. My stepmother said it was because I was a girl and I had to learn. When reasoned arguments against inequality fell on deaf ears, I resorted to tantrums and swearing. I made an enemy of my stepmother that year. And she put her foot down.

When I got back to Mum’s, I received a letter from my father. I was too ‘bad’, too ‘wild’, too ‘much’ he said. I couldn’t visit him anymore. Wasn’t welcome. Not until I was a good girl. My heart broke.

The fallout of betrayal

It makes sense to me now that I wanted love. Craved male attention that wasn’t a torture or brimming with painful abandonment. But back then, when I was roaming the streets with a gang of boys, kissing too many, being promiscuous, being sexually assaulted, I was only ashamed. I was called a slut many times. And every time it hurt. But I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know why. 

Fast-forward to late 2019 and I’m reading the tarot for a glorious young woman, just turned 18. Over the course of the reading, she told me she’d recently been drugged and raped. Almost as bad as the rape, she said, was that people hadn’t believed she was drugged. They thought she was just trying to cover her tracks, that she’d been drunk. She was a liar, they said. She wanted it, they said. She was a slut. And with that word came dismissal and ostracism and disempowerment.

We talked, huddling over the cards, spread like jewels before us, symbolising centuries of women’s stories and hopes and fears, the spilled blood of wrongly accused ‘witches’.

I shared with her a quote from a Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I take this quote to mean, you can’t do anything to control anyone else’s words or actions. The only thing you can control is how you react.

We are not alone

For days that young woman’s story stayed with me. ‘What can I do?’ I wondered. ‘I’m only a writer.’ But then I thought, ‘Hang on, I’m a writer! I’ll put together a collection of stories from women who’ve experienced slut-shaming. And maybe other women who read them will feel less alone.’

I’m smack-bang in the middle of that book now, overwhelmed and inspired by the many, many stories from amazing women who’ve had to walk that path of shame alone. And yet, they are part of an army of women, marching side by side. Not alone. Ashamed, afraid? Maybe. But not alone.

Many were sexually assaulted at a young age. Of these, almost all turned to promiscuity in their teens and 20s to self-soothe. Some of them are ashamed of what they did. Others say it was empowering, but they have to deal with the fall-out of being thought a slut by anyone who knew them ‘back then’. They have to put up walls. Tell themselves they’re okay and that other people don’t understand.

Other women struggled with being called a slut by their parents if their skirts were too short or they got drunk or looked sideways at a boy. And so they shut down. Curtailed their spirits to ‘fit in’. Became less than who they truly were. Most of these have come out of that wilderness and blossomed, found their own people, those that love them for who they are, not the cowering, socially castrated thing others want them to be.

Knowledge is power

It took me years of therapy to work through the conflicting emotions and the pain. It took me even more years of study into philosophy and humanities to understand how and why society has made the word ‘slut’ into such a terrifying weapon.

My hope is that, by sharing our stories, we can be buoyed by the knowledge that we’re not alone and we are not without power. Slut is not a dirty word. ‘Slut’ means we chose our own path, stood up for our souls, looked after ourselves when society would not. ‘Slut’ is another word for ‘survivor’.

Cheryl Fitzell is a senior copywriter, editor, published author and award-winning short-story writer. If you ‘d like to share your story of slut-shaming, search her up on Facebook and shoot her a PM. Absolutely anonymity is promised.

Illustration by Nell Willmott

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