With respect to Guy Aoki, Asian women do not want to, nor should they be called sluts. Guy’s column “Is It OK for Asian Women to Be Sluts on TV?” in the July 14 issue caused quite a dust-up here at the office. First the women on staff, and then the men, were all in agreement on this one: “slut” is an offensive term. In the litany of offensive words, I’m not sure where it ranks, or even if ranking slurs is a relevant exercise. In my opinion, if the group being discussed (in this case, women) takes offense, then don’t use it.
In this Jersey Shore, Nancy Grace era, the perception of women in the media still comes down to those old tired tropes and double standards: saint, mother, whore. Women are still judged on their sexuality in a way that men are not. When a woman takes control of her sexuality and sleeps with different men, she is “loose” or a “slut.” A man doing the same thing? He’s a stud, a rock star, James Bond in a tuxedo.
The boorish behavior of our former governor towards women only became a political problem for him when it was revealed earlier this year that he had fathered a child with his housekeeper. A Los Angeles Times expose in 2003 featuring the accounts of numerous women who told of being groped, fondled and harassed by Arnold Schwarzenegger did little to dent his image, nor hurt his political ambitions.
It is hard enough for Asian American actors to find work in Hollywood, but to be characterized as “sluts” within our own community must be disheartening. And yet, while I disagree strongly with Guy’s usage of the word “slut,” at the same time, I hesitate to say he doesn’t have a right to use it if that is how he feels. At one point during the discussion at work, we talked about changing “slut” to something more palatable. But to me, it would change the tone and intent of Guy’s article, even if I personally find it offensive.
Language and its uses have certainly been the topic lately. Over breakfast with George Yoshinaga and Iku Kiriyama, we discussed JACL’s resolution approving the use of the term “concentration camp” over terms such as “relocation center” for the camps. George, as he has written on many occasions, is against the notion. Even as JACL has passed resolutions, I don’t think it can possibly resolve the issue, since language is such a subjective, evolving experience that reflects the viewpoint of the person who is using it.
I have seen older Nisei who use the word “concentration camp” to describe their wartime experience, and also others who prefer “internment camp” or “relocation center.” The words we choose are the ones true to our experiences. It would be fascinating if George Yoshinaga and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga would jointly discuss their points of view on the whole “concentration camp” controversy. This debate about language is healthy and it shows our community taking ownership of the ways we interpret what happened so many years ago.
As for “slut,” some young women have taken action and sought to redeem the slur as a term of empowerment. SlutWalk protest marches started in Toronto in April, after a police officer told students at a local university to stop “dressing like sluts” to avoid sexual assault.
The comments sparked outrage that it was law enforcement blaming victims who “had it coming” because of how they dress. During these marches many of the women dress, yes, like sluts, as a protest against sexual violence. SlutWalks have spread throughout the U.S., Europe and recently to India, where a chapter has opened in Delhi.
For me personally, I’m not sure if marching in miniskirts and bikini tops proves the important point that no woman should be victimized for who she is or how she looks. But if these women choose to call themselves sluts and retake that term, then more power to them. For everybody else, you too, Guy, calling someone a slut is just not cool.
Gwen Muranaka is Rafu English editor-in-chief. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.