THERE has never been a worse time to be a slut.
Our essential nature is being ridden over roughshod by the proliferation of gadgets developed to make life - that is, domestic life - easier.
Forty years ago you were a slut if you didn't starch your husband's collars and dust daily behind the wall hangings. Now, the onus is on a strict personal grooming routine and encyclopedic knowledge of the colour charts of Messrs Farrow and Ball.
Loading article content
I say slut and I mean it in its purest sense. Not the American perversion that has robbed the word of its original intentions and given it power to abuse women who conduct themselves as they choose, and as is their right. Like High Fructose Corn Syrup and the cotton gin, there are American inventions that have done no good for anybody, and the rebranding of "slut" is certainly one.
Slut as a descriptor for women of a slipshod nature has become so long forgotten that children's fairy stories are not even immune from the word's modern slander. In Australia, the Aldi supermarket chain has removed Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes from its shelves after complaints from customers about the use of the word "slut" in the author's take on Cinderella. "Who's this dirty slut? Off with her nut! Off with her nut!"
Women have literally marched for the right to reclaim the word slut from the grip of misogyny, but the word has more than one meaning and its original provenance is to be defended.
The journalist Katherine Whitehorn wrote in 1963 that a slut was a woman who safety-pinned her hems and used India ink to fill in the holes of her stockings. The threshold for slovenliness was much higher in 1963. The proliferation of disposable fashion means darning, now, is seen as a madness when one can replace an entire outfit for £7.50, including shoes.
There is less to iron, less to scrub, dishwashers, vacuum storage bags and online shopping. The modern slut must truly stand her ground to stand apart.
This is the woman who forgoes a four-times-weekly waxing regime to run a razor and talcum powder along her legs, takes tights back out of the wash basket and uses a spitty finger to resolve spills.
Nail polish is removed by peeling. Hair is always wet until around noon, when it has dried in the air.
A slut is either late or spends a fortune on taxis attempting to catch her tail. She does not own an iron or a Hoover or any such mechanical conveniences. She does not know where items belong or what colour they originally were.
She makes her dinner, perhaps a spaghetti alla puttanesca, in one pot with one utensil and eats it in bed or over the stove.
The slut never does dishes until she has run out of clean ones. It is an everyday existential crisis: a symbol of the repetitiveness of life. ("It's not existential, it's clatty," says my friend Janet, tidy to a fault.)
A slut is born, not made. I have seen fellow sluts try to tidy their ways to impress a man, to trick him into thinking he is interested in an entirely different brand of female. This always fails in the end.
The thing about sluts is we are always busy juggling plates, not cleaning them. We could schedule time for ironing or pedicures but we're dashing to our next appointment before the previous one is finished.
Removing a book because it uses an old word with an old meaning that might offend modern sensibilities is to allow the heart to rule the head and then, like a true slut, you've lost control.
Of course, you may use the word slut as an insult if you wish, but your target will not be listening, she will be busy elsewhere. She will always be busy, and better, elsewhere.