She called me a “manwhore”

When he dumped his ex, she told everyone that he was easy. Now he wants to know: Can a man be "slut-shamed"?

Topics: Am I Normal?,

She called me a "manwhore" (Credit: T Anderson via Shutterstock)

You know this contemptible practice of “slut-shaming”? Well, I was wondering if it was possible for it to be done in reverse to a man. Or if there is a different terminology?

I was with a girl once and she ended up cheating on me, so I ended things. That made her a little bent out of shape. She told her friends I was a manwhore, and even shared pictures we’d made together. Now, they were flattering, but I still felt that it was a) a total betrayal of trust, and b) even if complimentary, the implication given was still I was easily acquired and of loose moral standing.

I remember trying to voice my discontent about it to some female and male friends who said, basically, “That’s terrible, but hey, she’s making you look good!” Furthermore, there was an assumption (mainly by the girls, oddly) that being a “manwhore” was acceptable and brag-worthy whereas being a slut was not. I found that curious too.

It’s true, women are the typical targets of slut-shaming, but your experience proves that it can happen to men too. (For the uninitiated, the term “slut-shaming” describes any behavior meant to punish someone for their sexual appearance, behavior or reputation.) Your ex-girlfriend was hurt by your decision to break up with her and, possibly reflecting her own feelings about herself and her recent infidelity, she tried to use your sexual behavior (real or imagined) to insult your moral character and humiliate you. (You sure you wanted to end that? I kid.)

This isn’t to say that it’s the same for men as it is for women. Jaclyn Friedman, a feminist author and activist, told me in an email, “The difference is that the slut-shaming he experienced didn’t come with an inherent threat, the way it does when it’s targeted at women. It didn’t mean that anyone can do anything they want to his body without his permission, or even over his objection,” she says, referencing the classic use for slut-shaming: excusing sexual assault. “It didn’t come with the long history with which most women are intimately familiar, of friends, family, police, courts, churches, doctors, schools and reporters blaming any woman to which the word ‘slut’ can be even tenuously attached for felony violent crimes perpetrated against her body.”

Hugo Schwyzer, a gender studies professor, agrees. “Men can’t be slut-shamed the way women are slut-shamed simply because the word doesn’t have the same pejorative power in men’s lives,” he says. “If we want a word that shames men with the same force as ‘slut’ can shame some women, we have to look to terms like ‘fag.’ Accusing a man of being promiscuous just doesn’t have the same corrosive impact.” He’s most likely to be seen as a stud, a playboy, a ladies’ man — the flattering adjectives quickly pile up, and that’s just not the case for women who get around.

That said, “It doesn’t mean men always hear it as a compliment on their sexual prowess,” he says. “We live in a culture that sees male promiscuity as a developmental phase. The older a man gets, the more he’s expected by his peers to become discriminating in terms of whom he sleeps with.” After a certain point, it’s seen less as a passing phase and more as a personality flaw or romantic liability. “Just as men were said to do in the past, women today are likely to distinguish between the hot guys with whom they might hook up and the men with whom they might risk an enduring commitment,” Schwyzer says. “A woman who might be happy to go to bed with a ‘man-whore’ would never take him seriously as boyfriend material, as the presumed risk of infidelity is just too high.”

I guess you could call it the husband-manwhore dichotomy. Oh, equality.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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