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Can We Please Cancel The Term ‘Prostitute’?

Posted: May 23, 2021

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I was a 16 year old in love and trying to reach my boyfriend, with whom I had just broken up. He shouted the word ‘prostitute’ at me for my pains.

Trigger Alert: This has abusive language and violence against women, and may be triggering for survivors.

“You’re a prostitute!” Someone screams at you, and it changes your life!

~ ‘Do you want to be like those prostitutes out there dressing up like that?’
~ ‘Stop screaming like a prostitute!’
~ ‘You look like a prostitute! Cover up a bit! People of decent families don’t dress like this.’
~ ‘Don’t be so clingy like a prostitute.’
~ ‘You are a wife not a prostitute!’

These are some regular comments we’ve all come across, in our real lives or on television screens.

I remember the amount of shock, anger, fear and frustration I experienced at the age of 16 when my boyfriend yelled the word at me.

We had broken up a month before because I knew he was cheating on me. But, I longed to hear his voice so desperately that I called him from a local STD booth that night.

A desperate attempt at trying to catch a glimpse of him

It was Durgapuja, and I couldn’t control the urge of sneaking into his hangout spots. If only I could spot him from somewhere, I would imagine myself with him, and my puja days will be happier. But, I failed at repeated attempts to catch a glimpse of him or his friends, and it was getting difficult to convince friends to visit the pandals again and again.

So, that evening I called him and, he shot back furiously, “Why are you calling me, you prostitute? I told you I have moved on! I have nothing to do with you now. Since you want to get laid so badly, I’ve distributed your number among my friends. You will start receiving those calls shortly. Good luck! Leave me alone now!”

I was devastated; doubting myself

I wanted to say so many things that my voice choked up, and everything collapsed right away.

Everything seemed blank. I started reasoning with myself. I started reflecting on my mistakes, the red flags everyone had pointed out, but I had ignored them. And there it was, it was my fault again. Everybody told me I was the one with blind faith in him. Now, random people were fantasizing about me and calling me ‘slut.’

I have spent my early twenties dealing with these insecurities. It was too much for me, because all my life I was taught about my family reputation. My mother was the one who introduced me to my new body and told me I was supposed to keep myself ‘pure’ until I got married! And then suddenly, the unknown calls, “Are you lonely? I heard you just had a breakup? Wanna make friendship with me?”

I started doubting myself. Was I doing something wrong? My worst fears were coming true! I was too scared of losing my mother’s respect and affection, but I knew I had done nothing wrong. So, one evening I sat down with her and told her everything. I decided to change my SIM card and move on to a new life.

The word ‘prostitute’ became a trigger

But the word ‘prostitute’ became a triggering element for me. Everywhere I would see the word, I would engage in brawls; whenever I heard a woman being called the same, I would go through the trauma again and again.

Growing up, I realized that the word ‘prostitute’ or ‘call girl’ is not such a scary thing as it appears to be. Perhaps, it’s because of our internal fears and perceptions that we take this word a bit too heavily.

I mean, in this 21st century, haven’t we cancelled words like ‘slut,’ ‘callgirl’, etc. yet? And, who decides what should be the priority for a woman?
Who decides whether a woman has the right to enjoy equal pleasures as men?

When there’s no such term for men? And even if there are, they sound rather fancy!

So, why is the word ‘prostitute’ so traumatic for women?

Recently, I saw a video of actor and TV presenter Mandira Bedi, who broke down to tears on MTV Troll Police because someone called her a ‘prostitute’ when she posed in a bikini in one of her Instagram photos. The episode was aired in March 2018. Honestly, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. Even after reaching this stature and fame, she had to experience the same trouble and trauma as us, and it still bothers her. It always bothers us, but we try to brush it off.

I don’t know why; every time I read someone’s post on the closed groups, it’s the same word, in just different languages! I know everything changes for a woman when they are compared to or referred to as a ‘prostitute.’

Perhaps, because the word carries generations of trauma and oppression. Perhaps because we don’t want to look at the dirty slice of the reality or the messy version of ourselves. Perhaps, we try to play moral police to hide our worst fears. It’s there, deep inside us, but we try to conceal it from the outside.

Character assassination is a regular event for women, especially on social media. But it still triggers me when I read random women calling other women ‘prostitutes!’ Will this ever stop?

Image source: a still from the film Kabir Singh

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