Why I Love Sluts: the Influence of Sexually Promiscuous Female Identities within Media Culture

I’ve always loved sluts.

I’m not sure if this is nature or nurture, as I was raised with a plethora of female role models whose ‘empowerment’ was predominantly derived from their sexuality. Being born in the early 90s, I experienced the world post-sexual revolution, mid third-wave feminism, all in full-colour through a somewhat grainy television screen.

When I was first navigating gender roles during the close of the last century and dawn of the new, various cultural shifts had already cumulated over the past few decades. The advances of female sexual liberation had already faced capitalist appropriation; female sexuality, finally being widely acknowledged and accepted in contemporary western culture, had long since become highly profitable, represented and reproduced for mass-consumption in restrictive and patronising portrayals. At the same time, female identities in popular culture had become more explicitly sexually aggressive, asserting their needs at the same time as projecting a prescribed desirability.

Since childhood, I’ve always been most interested in projections of sexually promiscuous female characters. That’s not to say I’ve loved all representations of sexualised females (of which there are many of varying motivations), but rather, that I like characters who project sexual confidence and experience without reserve.

At a young age, I remember watching sitcoms such as The Nanny (1993-1999), Just Shoot Me (1997-2003), and Will And Grace (1998-2006) with a strong mix of admiration and excitement, all with respect to one similar character in each program. These characters were of course Fran Fine, Nina Van Horn and Karen Walker; all older, sexually rambunctious women who drank, smoked and swore – characteristics other forms of media had lead me to view as masculine, and I respected these characters for ‘conquering’.

This character is one which has had a role in entertainment for thousands of years. From the early Italian form of theatre Commedia dell’Arte, comes one of the most prominent examples of this stock femme fatale character: ‘La Signora’, a manipulative and flamboyant older, sexually experienced woman. This character has been replicated indefinitely in a range of genres and contexts in mass-media.

These characters loved sex, with many different men, and often, and were not afraid to admit that. Their sexual appetites and behaviours were as relentless as those of the alpha male character, the womaniser that media consistently venerates. These women are all also very superficial. I associated (and still do) authority with dressing well – using femininity and flamboyancy as a front to what I internally deemed masculine traits. Womanliness, as masquerade, one might say.

As a teenager, I discovered musicians such as Missy Elliot and Peaches, who projected sexuality in a way I hadn’t seen before in a female identity. Similarly, Azealia Banks, and Lady (Yankin’, Twerk) present similar characteristics.  This image of female sexuality is one most significant to me, but also one of the most problematic to consider in such succinct terms. In terms of their standing in media culture, I would like to consider this grouping with reference to the Greek tale of the Trojan Horse.

This category describes individuals who project their sexuality without reserve or reproach. This differs from other musical artists, such as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, as it extends to a prominent (though not always complete) disregard of physical desirability to the lover (consumer) through adherence to physical standards and expectations. This, I believe is the ultimate empowerment – an acceptance of sexuality and the right to sexual fulfilment which is not dependent upon desirability or entrenched in romantic motivation. However, I also consider this a ‘Trojan Horse’, as identities who project this brand of unapologetic sexuality (through lyrics or characterisations) often adhere to prescribed physical standards of desirability in much the same way as the aforementioned La Signoras of Prime Time television, making them accessible to mass-media audiences.

It is impossible to deny that these stock standards of what we may call the ‘slut’ identity are without their downfalls and all adhere to contrived behaviours. Indeed, they conform to one thing; an identity branded, and heavily based upon an emphasised sexual presence, downgrading other aspects of personality for the profitable, titillating carnal appetite of the masses. I would argue, that while these one-dimensional representations are not ideal, it is inevitable that to enter mass-media, a level of accessibility must be reached. From Fran Fine, to Azealia Banks, there is a reinforcement of female sexual independency and control that operates as an affront to the standard heteronormative prescriptions of masculine and feminine sexual behaviours.

1 Comment

  • brownie says:

    To be honest I do not admire any of the characters cited in the article. I do not identify sluttiness to be a characteristic to be admired either in men or in women, it disgusts me, it cheapens the whole conceipt of sexuality. Those women are not really liberated, they follow a stereotype, just as other women in other eras followed other stereotypes and adapted to those roles. Without much thinking that is to say. So how is it that they are liberated? Because they treat sex as if it is the same as taking a piss? Because they badly imitate Casanova? I don’t like promiscuous men, why would I appriciate promiscuous women? It would make more sense if men started imitating women rather that the other way around. I have lived with promiscuous women in my college years (room mates) and the distruction they create never gets the right attension in the tv shows, does it?

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