3 Reasons Why I Don’t Mind Being Called A Whore

Photo by Mélanie Berliet
Photo by Mélanie Berliet

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. There may be no proverb less true. I would argue that words are often the most effective way to invite suffering on another human. They can be the sharpest, pointiest little fuckers in someone’s arsenal of resentment, bitterness, and hate, causing deep, sometimes irreversible, damage.

Thanks to the Internet, you don’t even have to be within earshot to launch a missile of an insult anymore. Agony inducing words can be cast, anonymously or not, from the comfort of a troll’s home without facing any of the typical in-person repercussions, like having to watch someone cry, or getting smacked. It’s a bully’s Shangri-La out there! Even those who never indulge the itch to talk shit are bound to be on the receiving end of disparaging comments now and again.

Luckily, however, there’s something we can all do when attacked with the negative lexicon: We can take back any word we want!

Consider the gay community’s eventual embrace of queer, and all the ladies who refer to each other affectionately as bitch, or slut. In the same vein, Joan Cusack’s character in the Showtime hit Shameless tries to rally support for Retard Nation, an organization devoted to helping the mentally disabled reclaim retard. Some viewers denounced this story line, but I appreciated the underlying message. There’s dignity in taking ownership of a word so you can reframe it, transforming what was once degrading into something purely ridiculous, or even empowering.

This strategy doesn’t just apply to provocative and politically incorrect terminology. Most successful entrepreneurs, for instance, don’t consider failure a dirty word. People like Elon Musk, the Paypal founder who nearly lost his entire fortune after investing it in Tesla Motors, which came dangerously close to bankruptcy, know better. Musk and other moguls view failure as a rite of passage, because to fail is to learn and to avoid risk-taking for fear of failure is to guarantee mediocrity. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” said Thomas Edison.

For reasons cultural, psychological, or accidental, some terms are shrouded in a negative connotation they don’t deserve (e.g. pussy, cunt, dick, asshole), which makes them easier to wield as weapons. Other words are just plain vulgar or impolite by definition. No matter what, we get to decide what we hear when rudeness is hurled our way. All you have to do is scrape beneath the surface of defamatory language to unearth something more palatable.

Below is a three-step guide to deconstructing an attempted character assassination centered on the word whore. I’m focusing on whore because, like many a female writer with an Internet presence, I’m often called one.

1. Shatter negative associations

When people snap, “she’s such a whore,” their vibe is almost always hostile and dismissive. The beauty of most words, however, is that they start to sound different when spoken aloud several times in a row, especially if you play with tone. Eventually, repeating offensive language cheerily rather than in the punitive voice with which it’s associated makes it sound harmless.

So the first step to owning whore is to say it again and again, happily. You can do this while preparing a French toast breakfast or staring in the bathroom mirror. After a while, screaming “I’m a whore!” is more likely to make you laugh than frown. If you happen to be more visual, whip out some colored pencils and doodle the word surrounded by butterflies or rainbows or unicorns or whatever else delights you, and then post it on your wall. This should help you separate whore from any pesky negative emotions.

2. Consider the context

A girlfriend of mine recently taught me how to translate a word after placing it in its proper context. In her case, her husband’s ex-wife constantly refers to her as “immature.” Since Wife Numero Uno is someone who’s given to lying about her age, it’s safe to say that she resents my friend for being 10-plus years her junior. The meaning of immature, then, becomes “young and intimidatingly hot.”

People who rely on whore as an insult often do so out of desperation to establish a sense of moral superiority. This same group is generally guilty of confusing morality with legality. Prostitutes are humans. In fact, many are professional sex workers by choice who provide a slew of services in exchange for money—just like you do, unless you’re unemployed. Policies regarding prostitution are not all that progressive in the U.S., but a recent study showed that when prostitution was accidentally legalized in the state of Rhode Island (from 2003 to 2009), rape and gonorrhea infections decreased sharply.

Whether or not you’re in favor of decriminalizing prostitution, I think we can all agree that professionals are better at stuff than their amateur counterparts. So calling someone a whore says “you’ve got skills in the sack,” or “your sexual prowess threatens me.”

3. Share your conquest

Once you can embrace a word like whore and assign it new meaning, the accomplishment is worth sharing. I admire those who post the hate mail and negative comments they receive to social media channels rather than pretending the opposition doesn’t exist. There’s therapeutic value in flipping an attack this way, and it’s helpful to let others know they’re not alone in fielding such ickiness.

If you’re too shy to publicize an attack, however, you can always call up a friend and laugh with them about it in private. After stripping whore of its toxicity, you might as well invite your nearest and dearest to refer to you this way, which should discredit the term as an insult within your universe once and for all. TC mark

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Image Credit: Photo by Mélanie Berliet

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