The recent hubbub about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke and whether or not she qualifies for the classification of slut is, to put it mildly, a dreary display of what happens when time and language and social mores interact. By Fluke’s own and candid admission, she enrolled in Georgetown in order to engage in birth control activism. This is detailed by Ezra Klein in a WaPo post here.
Fluke came to Georgetown University interested in contraceptive coverage: She researched the Jesuit college’s health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included. “I decided I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care,” says Fluke, who has spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue.
The personal choices inferred in an unmarried person needing a degree of birth control necessitating the subsidization of insurance points to a substantial amount of procreative activity (my fastidiousness has forced me to write a dreadful beast of a sentence, yes). In another time, not so long ago, the mores of our society would define that behavior as that of a slut. If you’re blind to history, you may choose to argue that, but I’m uninterested in spending the time proving that point. Time changes social mores and language, and we’re seeing that in action here. The modern perspective on the word “slut” has altered, largely depending on the demographic you belong to.
What has this to do with writing fantasy books and composing melancholic songs? Everything. Absolutely everything. People are readers and listeners. I strive to engage them in both capacities. To do that, we have to share language. But language isn’t just words. Why is that so hard for people to understand these days? Language is so much more than words. It’s history. It’s the grand, shabby, glorious, wretched train of history, hurtling along through the night of time, carrying with it every last bit of luggage the human race has ever packed. There’s language for you. Words are just paint and gilt on the train.
We also have to share, to a certain degree, a commonality in what things like love, romance, honor, family, etc., mean. If a reader, for example, is reading from a personal foundation that contains a very different concept of romantic love from what I’m using when I write, then my story will mistranslate in his mind. It will almost assuredly lose power. The reason why the Knight rides off to war weakens. In some cases it might even become nonsensical.
Would he ride off to war for a slut? No, probably not, despite Julia Roberts and Richard Gere attempting to present a contrary case in Pretty Woman. Interestingly enough, the only real compelling philosophical case for the Knight behaving in such an odd way exists within the confines of judeo-christian thought. The story of Hosea and Gomer presents that choice, but it only survives due to the relentlessness of God. In other settings, this kind of story cannot survive. The archetypal prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold does not exist, and, thus, the Knight does not ride off to war with her handkerchief over his heart.
The Knight will ride off to war for honor, family, for true love, for love of country. But what happens when the understanding of those concepts becomes something quite different in the minds of those who read? If the divide between understanding ever becomes a wide enough gulf, well, I’m afraid the Knight will have to put away his armor, hang up his sword, sell his warhorse to a local farmer for pulling a plow, and then, perhaps (God forbid it), get a job pushing forms and pencils and applications around a desktop at the local DMV.