Every day as she gets dressed, my roommate slips a simple metal necklace over her head. It's silver, with a thin chain and a metal bar stamped with the words "kinda slutty." On days when I plan to sleep over at my girlfriend's house, she points to the necklace and jokes, "I'm kinda slutty, but you're just a slut."
While women once upon a time would balk at the idea of proudly calling themselves "slutty," many of us are now emblazoning these words on our chests as tiny badges of honor. But how did words like "slut" and "bitch," which have been used for generations to cut women down, become slogans of empowerment?
"If you want to change how something is perceived, one way to do it is to change the way you refer to it with language," says Sali Tagliamonte, PhD, a linguist with the University of Toronto. Women tend to lead changes in language, she says, because it often shifts the balance of power in their favour.
So, as much as the "sticks and stones" pre-school rhyme wants us to believe the contrary, words do have power — they have the power to make us feel small or, if we take them back, the power to build us up.