A Teen Analyzes Today’s Derogatory Teen Slang

There are lots of dirty words reserved for females, particularly those of high-school age. But there are three words that, arguably, epitomize them all. As has been shouted down many a junior high hallway: “You are just a fat, slutty, lesbian.” This is enough to make some girls cry, others defiant. They have a notable effect on girls of my generation as a whole.

Many of these words are used as terms of endearment among certain clans of females, but others find them dreadfully offensive. The words’ meanings fluctuate based on by and to whom they are said. Still, the fact that these words have such a significant effect makes a point about the values of the next generation of young adults.

So, it appears that the worst things for a female young adult to be are overweight, sexually promiscuous and homosexual.

Huh?

The only reason for someone to remark upon someone else’s weight, arguably, is for health reasons, and for that you would really have to care about him or her. Because of the stigma of obesity in our society, though, it’s almost impossible to make this statement without being utterly offensive. And even if it is for health reasons …  well, if you possessed an acquaintance who never ate any fruit or vegetables, would you yell down the hallway after she did something awful,“You lousy non-fruit eater!”?

The non-fruit eater, to eliminate association with this label, might increase her fruit intake, which could improve her health. Similarly, someone called “fat” might try to lose weight. With teenagers, often unaware of and impulsive about such issues, the seemingly easiest way to lose weight is to engage in an eating disorder. And it’s likely that anorexic or bulimic behaviors would be far more damaging to her health than being (over)weight would. The (coughcough bullshit coughcough) beauty standards shown everywhere–television, the Internet, magazines–already torture tons of girls about their self-image, causing many  to think that they are “fat” when they are at a perfectly healthy weight. And if they were overweight to the point where it negatively impacted their health, there shouldn’t be societal condemnation; there should be support. Weight certainly doesn’t impact who someone is as a person.

Now for slut, which according to Merriam-Webster is “a slovenly woman,” “a promiscuous woman; especially: prostitute” or “a saucy girl.” Many girls who are branded as sluts wear things that are more revealing and sexually provocative than do other girls, but is that slovenly? Today, the word slut does pertain to promiscuity, but when this term originated it was a synonym for prostitute. Although some teenage girls called sluts may be sexually active, it’s unlikely that there are large sums of money changing hands. And a saucy girl–really? Saucy can mean simply intelligent, but, less flatteringly it means “amusingly forward and flippant.” Are “forward” boys called any term that has been degrading since 1500? No. This term exemplifies not only the sexual double standard but also persisting intellectual sexism. Sexual promiscuity does not define the goodness of a person either; unless peoples’ feelings are being hurt or health being damaged, is this truly a judge of one’s character?

Finally, “lesbian” or “gay.” In the immortal, YouTube-sanctioned words of John Green:

So, I thought this was pretty widely known, but I guess I have to explain what gay means. Being gay means that you’re attracted to people of the same gender. So, a video can’t be gay because it doesn’t have a gender … Gay will never work as an insult because it’s not bad.

Why and how has our society managed to marginalize yet another minority and turn a simple word for identity into a volatile slur? Although evidence points to sexual orientation being genetic or biological, even if it isn’t, how is someone else’s life anyone else’s business? As Green pointed out, why is any object that is considered bad called gay? Because teenagers are horrifically misinformed about these issues. It’s basic human rights that are being violated each time the words gay or lesbian are misused.

Every person who uses these insults, whether aware or not, is affirming society’s definitions of what is correct. But there is no “right” body type. There is no “right” sexual activity. There is no “right” sexual orientation. This youth generation is blindly succumbing to the adult-constructed media; we are not even thinking for ourselves. If we want a progressive society, we’re going to have to make quite a few changes within our own generation.

Alexa Salvato is 15 years old. This post originally appeared at the fbomb.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user d.loop under Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself! What a bright and strong young woman!

  2. Awesome. I wish I'd been this educated when I was 15.

  3. cherryblossomrain says:

    this article is amazing. I wish I was this confident and clear-headed at 15.

  4. DFTBA, Alexa. DFTBA.

  5. This article is wonderful.

  6. Nicky, crezzy, cherryblossomrain, Alyssa, and Marian– thank you so much!!
    And Marian– DFTBA to you too!! ;)

  7. This is an awesome post! I’m in high school too and there is so much sexist language used against girls all the time that it tends to be ignored/not seen for what it really is: totally offensive. Also, what can be equally offensive are the disses used against boys which, surprise surprise, are most often actually words to describe a girl, like well… “girl.” “He throws like a girl, he talks like a girl, he walks like a girl, etc.”: The ultimate insult.

    I am starting a zine called Grrrl Beat and am looking for contributors! More information here: http://www.grrrlbeat.com.

    -Sophie

  8. I really appreciate your article, Alexa. I am 14, and bisexual, and it bothers me so much when teen girls call each other lesbians. Just because you dress in a certain way, or like to play sports, doesn’t mean you are gay. I wish more teenagers would be as smart as you, and understand what they say better.

  9. Sophie Rae- thank you! I agree about the guy insult thing– Jessica Valenti writes about the same idea on the first page of the book Full Frontal Feminism. It’s an enormous problem. And I’ll definitely check out your zine; thank you! It sounds awesome! (I loved your piece for The F-Bomb a while back, by the way :) )

    Maxie- Thank you! I am so glad that you liked the article. I don’t know why people can’t realize that an individual’s personality leads to what s/he likes, not necessarily his/her sexual orientation.

  10. “The (coughcough bullshit coughcough) beauty standards shown everywhere–television, the Internet, magazines–already torture tons of girls about their self-image, causing many to think that they are “fat” when they are at a perfectly healthy weight. “

    I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. But it is the choice of words that I have to comment upon. While it may be powerful to say so, beauty standards are not “torturing” anyone. They cannot do such a thing—not only are standards of such a sort inanimate objects, but they are intangible at that. Far from having the ability to “torture” anyone. Sure, this sentence sounds compelling, but it does nothing but add more fuel to the burning fire when what is needed is to extinguish this whole mess. We should not be speaking out to garner support from those who already stand behind us. We should be speaking with calm reason so as to open the minds of those girls you refer to who are blindly succumbing to the status quo. When we lose ourselves in rhetoric, we get away from the meaningful part of an argument. There is a place for flowery language and metaphor, but it is important in these instances that it is used sparingly.

    The media that propagates an ideal beauty standard is not the evil villain here. None of us is more at fault than any other human being. The “Media”, for going to such extremes to construct an empire of superficiality. But also those of us who lack the wisdom and maturity to simply turn the other cheek to such nonsense rather than become enthralled in the madness ourselves. Yes, there will always be a beauty ideal. It is absurd to consider otherwise, or to try to erase such a thing. But no, it does not have to be put on such a pedestal and no, it does not have to be hammered into young girl’s brains that their sole purpose is to attain such an ideal. Imagine if you were to confront a woman who insisted that a girl is worthless unless she is fit for the cover of Vogue. You could engage in a heated debate with this individual, waste your breath and your energy on a mind set on its beaten path, or you could raise your head high and move on with your own life, believing in what you hold true and important (character, intellect, individuality, etc.)

    As for, “This youth generation is blindly succumbing to the adult-constructed media; we are not even thinking for ourselves. If we want a progressive society, we’re going to have to make quite a few changes within our own generation.”, you really hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, human beings have been blindly succumbing to the status quo for as far back as our history goes. We only change our paths when strong-willed individuals like yourself are lucky enough to know better and smart enough to do something about it. So thank you for your prudent words and please do carry on, but with less finger pointing and more leading by example, which I’m sure you already do plenty enough of.

  11. Amanda- I attempted to call out societal beauty standards as more of an aside; my goal was to focus on the messages that pass between teens every day instead. I hope that was clear. Regardless, you’re right that parts of my article are wrongly rooted in feminist rhetoric- when I wrote it last year, the whole idea of this rhetoric was brand new to me. I’ve since learned to be less dependent on it. Thank you for your commentary!

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