Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa via Unsplash

A history of the manwhore

By Haris Votis

Haris explores how terminology in relation to promiscuity has changed.

If you time-traveled back 60 years and called a man a “slut”, then a strong violent reaction would probably be gathered and chaos would erupt. People were much less open-minded and tolerant towards conflating terminologies used across genders. Of course, people were also much more abusive, sexist, homophobic and transphobic 60 years ago. The first Gay Pride Parade was held in 1970 in New York, and that can be considered a turning point for the open expression of LGBTQ+ people and the defending of rights for people which didn’t fall within the heterosexual category. Glasgow arrived a bit later to the party, hosting its first Pride Event in 1995. It is safe to say that Western civilization appears to follow a trajectory of acceptance and inclusion in the past six decades or so. 

This trajectory can also be observed in the increasingly-advocated notion of gender-fluidity. People are becoming more aware of the notion that gender is a spectrum and not a binary, and this has various effects socially, politically, as well as linguistically. Terminologies used to refer to women in the past have come to be applicable and socially-acceptable as being used for men, as well. An example can be the term “slut”. Its significance had previously been confined to describing a promiscuous woman. However, in the past decade and the recent expansion of gender-fluidity, there has been a linguistic phenomenon called ‘significance broadening’ under which certain words obtain a wider meaning than they held previously. An example of this is the word “mouse” which used to exclusively refer to the cute rodent before the invention of PCs, but from their invention onwards, that word came to represent the apparatus used to move the cursor on the monitor. Therefore, there has been a broadening in its significance. 

Similarly, the word ‘slut’ was once used to apply exclusively to women, but has now come to be used in describing men as well. Although its usage is not as common, there has definitely been some expansion in its significance to denote male promiscuous behavior. One simply has to make a quick search on the Google n-gram which categorizes word frequency across time in order to ascertain how much more widely the word is now used compared to 20 years ago. However, there are other terms used to describe a promiscuous male which can currently be argued to be more commonly used than ‘slut’. These are terms such as ‘fuck-boy’ and ‘man-whore’ which self-identify themselves, clearly elaborating that their usage is meant for men due to the use of a hyphen and addition of ‘man’ and ‘boy’. 

The acceptance of hyphenated compound words (‘man-slut’, ‘man-whore’, ‘fuck-boy’) as the most common words to describe male promiscuity implies the fact that promiscuous behavior is not commonly associated with men. Instead, a gender-specifying word is needed to associate the term with a man. The distinction made between male and female promiscuity descriptors indicates that applying the word ‘whore’ or ‘slut’ to describe male behavior is bizarre and uncommon. This, however, is ridiculous. Men are just as capable of promiscuous behavior as women are, and perhaps even more so. It just happened to be more socially acceptable for men to chase and lust after women. Women who become romantically involved with various partners come under societal scrutiny due to their actions, whereas men are viewed with more respect and admiration for their achievement of bedding several women. 

Finally, the use of terms such as “slut” in reference to men also allows for a greater societal balance to be drawn between sexes. Male promiscuity is being perceived on a more equal level to female promiscuity, as various movements such as “MeToo” have come to upset societal power structures between men and women. This power subversion is not only apparent in extreme cases such as the reporting of sexual abuse, but can be observed in daily phenomena such as linguistic expression. The rise in frequency of usage and broadening of significance for certain words such as “slut” indicates this slow change in power dynamics where women cease to be viewed as inherently more promiscuous or overly provocative. Instead, male behaviour relating to these qualities is becoming more normalized and socially observed. 


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