Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Science of Sluts - Readers Go Wild

The reaction to my story on Rush Limbaugh and the science of the "slut" insult led to a reaction that I found sociologically interesting.

The Science of Sluts – Readers Go Wild

In Wednesday’s paper, I wrote a this piece questioning why we think sluts are bad, and why we think they’re particularly bad if they’re women but not if they’re men. The reaction was prolific, vehement and sociologically interesting. In addition to the 68 comments on Philly.com I got an earful over the phone and quite a collection of bile in my inbox.

The reaction revealed two kinds of people out there and they don’t neatly divide up along liberal/conservative lines. Instead, there are people who intuitively grasp and enjoy “why” questions, and ones who don’t. This difference could inform discussions of science illiteracy.  

Many readers chided me for not mentioning that Bill Maher used the dreaded c-word to describe Sarah Palin. This newly popular meme is irrelevant since the story was about sluts and why the term is an insult when applied to females. The c-word is a slang for female genitalia.  There probably is a piece to be done examining why in the English-speaking world women are insulted by a crude slang for female genitalia, and men are insulted by crude slang terms for male or female genitalia or anal sphincters. But that’s a completely different story.

Several readers also blew a fuse over the paragraphs in which I explained that man generally don’t lose any status over accusations of sluttery. I had a caveat that men can be harmed by accusations of sexual harassment or in some cases infidelity, as happened with Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. I heard from many readers who thought I should also have mentioned some liberal sluts, such as John Edwards. Okay, John Edwards was a slut while his wife was dying of cancer! Happy now. Others suggested Clinton and JFK – even though the whole piece is emphasizing that there’s nothing wrong with being a slut. This is a typical example:

I am wondering if you could help me find the column you wrote when Ed Schultz called Lara Ingraham a slut.  Or, if you could direct me to a copy of the article you wrote when Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a c**t and a t**t.  What’s that?  You didn’t write a column when those liberal icons attacked conservative women?  Shocking.  And, in your column, would it have been too much to ask that you mention such liberal “sluts” as Bill Clinton and John Edwards (two men I’m sure you adore)?  Just absolutely fascinating how you selected Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich to further the faulty premise of your column.

Unfortunately, this is just another instance of the hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of you and the Inquirer.  Nobody needs to wonder why, within 5 years, the Inquirer will be a thing of the past.  Pathetic.

If we’re going to delve into history, then I think the point can be made by discussing Benjamin Franklin, around whom there have swirled rumors of sexual exploits. If it came out that Ben Franklin had sex with every woman in Paris, we would love him no less. We’d just wonder where he found the time.

What I found fascinating was that some readers failed to understand the question I was posing in this piece – why the term “slut” is so degrading to women but not men. I thought perhaps such a question didn’t make sense to social conservatives, in whom it may be deeply ingrained that female sexuality is evil. For them, asking why sluts are bad is like asking why murderers are bad.  

But some liberal types failed to understand the question either. This reader thought I should have pummeled Limbaugh, which is what the conservative readers thought I did:  

With regard to your "Evolution and an insult," piece, I must tell you that its content was hardly a revelation.  After all, that gender double standard to which you allude, has been around since Broad Street was a prairie.

It goes back to teenage years.  If a "son" confided to his father that he had relations with a female, well....ol' Dad would likely give him a "way to go; that's my boy" kind of a proud papa slap on the back.  Conversely, if his daughter revealed the same thing, he would likely severely punish her.  Double standard?  Of course. 

Did your column require the expertise of an "evolutionary psychologist" (you've got to love that job title), to accentuate the obvious?  Hardly.

Instead of writing something that was essentially, "you know that night follows day, don'tcha" kind of piece, you should have, instead, concentrated on the daily ravings of this lowlife shock jock - who keeps finding new bottoms in which to plunge.  Limbaugh is the same mean-spirited bastard that once mocked Michael J. Fox's Parkinson-related spasms. 

In this reader's opinion, you missed the mark by a country mile, Ms. Flam.  It was akin to writing an article about Chris Brown's music - complete with a musical critique by Dan DeLuca - the day after his girlfriend, Rhianna, was photographed with a grotesquely-swollen face - fresh from a Chris Brown beating.  

I suggested to him that you don’t ask a physicist whether the sky is blue. You ask a physicist why the sky is blue and then you may learn something you didn’t know about light scatting. He was not amused.

One reader did send me this essay, which goes a step further than I did. Rather than question whether being a slut is bad, she asserts that it’s good and sluts should be proud.

 No Fluke: The Planet Needs More Sluts, Less Rush - National Modern Love | Examiner.com

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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