Inside ... Gender politics
Published 19/05/2011 | 08:00
I was trying to think of male equivalents for the word 'slut' - prompted by reports on the Slut Walk protests around the world.
If you've been away, these were sparked off by a Canadian policeman's suggestion that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised".
As preventative measures go, that remark was about as effective as throwing a cup of water on to a chip-pan fire.
There was an impressive explosion of feminist rage and streets were thronged with women wearing bustiers and fishnet tights.
And then there was a kind of muted back-blast as other women took issue with the attempt to detoxify the word 'slut'.
I wasn't sure what I thought and was trying to find a male equivalent to see what it might feel like to brandish it as a badge of pride.
You're spoiled for choice when it comes to women: tart, slapper, slag and slut - all of them vicious and all suggesting that women shouldn't really be having sex at all.
But an exclusively male pejorative for someone who just can't keep it in his pants? I was having trouble.
And then Dominique Strauss-Kahn came to my help - or rather the newspaper coverage of his arrest on a charge of attempted rape.
And it wasn't DSK's guilt or innocence in that matter that supplied the vocabulary, but the attempts to characterise his long-standing reputation with regards to sexual appetite.
'A well-known seducer' was one. 'Womaniser' was another. I also saw 'libertine' somewhere.
It's an ancient inequity, of course: men are esteemed for their conquests; women are esteemed for fighting them off. "Men are naughty by nature," as Hugh Grant puts it.
And although, theoretically, quite a few of us have moved on from this crude account of sexual relations, it remains embedded in the language and embedded in our thinking.
That's why a policeman could find himself telling young women that it was their responsibility to make themselves less provocatively attackable.
And why some men think any woman they desire is fair game for an attempt.
I'm not a fan of sexual censoriousness and I absolutely hate words like 'slag' and 'slapper'.
But perhaps if we had some exclusively male epithets that conveyed the same contempt for lack of sexual restraint, women would be a little safer - whatever they were wearing.