Whores of Babylon

Marc Barnes has a fantastic post up on the incredibly degrading “fag-hag” relationship that seems a necessary accessory for aspiring Carrie Bradshaws everywhere.  He’s already said everything that needs saying better than I could, so I won’t repeat him. Interestingly, though, much of the comment box discussion centers not on the actual post, but on Marc’s use of the word “whore”  to describe a promiscuous woman. People seemed genuinely confused at the umbrage taken: to condemn immorality,  must we not call its perpetrators by their proper name? To all the genuinely confused and the wilfully blind, let me explain.

We do not call men who sleep around whores–if anything at all, we call them man-whores. That’s the first problem–women’s poor sexual choices are neatly packaged up into a descriptor that refers to their entire persona; their identities get wrapped up in their sexual behavior in a way that men’s do not. When we apply this standard to men, we feel the need to add the qualifier “man,” since being a whore seems a specifically female trait– a man-whore is one whose behavior is so outrageous that it passes into feminine sexual territory.*

More importantly, though, a whore is someone who trades in his or her own body–who sells sex for money. This is simply not what most promiscuous women are doing, and to link two distinct kinds of sexual immorality under the same pejorative only reinforces the myth that women are not really interested in sex for its own sake. It both assigns a calculation and degraded desperation to women’s sexual license never ascribed to men’s, and minimizes women’s agency. Women become both the locus of sexual immorality and incapable of sexual action without commercial incentive, and all women suffer from this objectifying double bind.  Just ask any women who’s been told either explicitly or in so many words that she should be a prude to the world and a whore for her husband.

Meanwhile, actual sex workers and prostitutes get tarred with a brush of carefree promiscuity that has little to do with the often grim reality of their lives.  The participants in our sexual saturnalia are protected from a serious moral confrontation with their choices by a cheap stereotype that cannot engage with the agency and desires of promiscuous women, and the victims of our sex-obssesed culture are conflated with those who thoughtlessly perpetuate it.

The solution, of course, is to treat women as people  rather than one face or another of the Madonna-whore Janus. And I don’t want to come down too hard on Marc, because he’s a wonderful and thoughtful writer who seems to really like and respect women, but calling them “the crown jewel of evolution” and otherwise putting them on a pedestal only adds to the problem.  According to romanticicizing rhetoric, women are the poet’s inspiration, the most beautiful beings in creation, the eternal feminine, holy vessels….or they are whores. They are certainly not complex, ambiguous, individual sinners who require as nuanced and thoughtful a treatment as men from well-meaning culture warriors.

But wouldn’t it be something if they were?

*This is actually how antiquity shamed promiscuity in men: by calling them effeminate.


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