Hiskey, Daven — Why Are Women Called “Sluts,” “Dames,” and “Broads?”

Hiskey, Daven. “Why Are Women Called Sluts, Dames, and Broads?” Today I Found Out RSS. 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2015

This article is written in response to a reader’s question: “Why are women sometimes called sluts, dames, and broads?  Where did these words come from?” The author objectively gives the original meaning of each word with examples of some of the first usages and then a timeline of when and how the words’ definitions began to change.

The exact origin of the first word, slut, is not determined, but the author speculates that it “may have come from the German schlutt, meaning “slovenly woman” or the Swedish slata, meaning “idle woman”. In his diary written in the late 17th century, Samuel Peyps uses the term slut when describing his housemaid: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better.” This is because the term “was commonly used with the original meaning, that of a ‘messy, dirty, or untidy’ woman or girl.” It was not until modern times that the word slut took on its well-known meaning as a slur towards “promiscuous” women.

The word dame popped up in the 13th century, as a French word meaning “wife / mistress,” which in turn came from the Latin domina, meaning “mistress of the house, lady.” The term was also synonymous with “female ruler.” However, Hiskey says, “Around the early 20th century in American English, dame started to be used as synonymous with the generic word woman and gradually over the course of the last century in American English has come to have derogatory connotations, despite its illustrious origins.”

Later in the 20th century, the word broad began being used to describe women, perhaps due to their “broad hips.” In the 20th century, broad was also slang for a meal ticket, and would later be used to refer to prostitutes in reference to them being “a pimp’s meal ticket.” According to Hiskey, the word “gradually changed somewhat in the century since with broad slowly coming to be less used as a derogatory term and more used just to be synonymous with ‘woman.’”  This change is evident in a quote from Frank Sinatra where he said “Calling a girl a ‘broad’ is far less coarse than calling her a ‘dame.’”

The article ends describing the recent movements where women have tried to “take back” the words slut and broad and put a more positive spin on the derogatory words.

The article by Hiskey is helpful in explaining the origins of harmful words which perpetuate violence against women. It raises the question as to why initially innocuous words used to describe women are constantly spun to be used against them as time progresses. It is almost as if women are not allow to be described in a positive light, such as with the original meaning of the word dame which was used to empower women. The grandiosity of that word was taken and instead used to denote ordinary women as if they could not be powerful or “female rulers.” It is also disturbing to learn that when being referred to as a broad a woman is in reality being called a “meal ticket,” as if she is nothing but another piece of meat. The word slut is especially prevalent in modern society to describe women deemed to be “promiscuous.” Based on the original definition of the word, it can be interpreted people see women’s sexuality as something dirty. However, the word slut is commonly used even if a woman is denying sexual advances, so perhaps people think women are dirty no matter what? Perhaps if people understood the origins of these words they would come to a better understanding of their connotations. It is especially interesting that women desire to “take back” these derogatory words. If women are trying to take back these words, it means we generally accept their current derogratory meanings.

The three words are used to demean women and keep them at a lower status than men. Apparently, being called a “woman” is too respectful, so some people found a way to take the pride out of language. The replacement words are damaging to a woman’s self-esteem and identity. The word slut is especially harmful in a modern context. The slur is an overused way to label a woman and make her feel shame for doing something a man would not be reprimanded for. Women will go to extreme lengths of inhibiting themselves, by such ways as choosing not to wear an outfit they like, or talking to certain people, especially men, just so that they will not be categorized as a “slut.” This is violent by keeping women from reaching their full potential. Every woman who has ever been called a “slut” is a living, breathing human being shut down by another person for doing something that person finds unacceptable.

–Ashley Stant

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