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Grey’s Anatomy: Why it’s cool Arizona reclaimed the word ‘slutty’ for women

As is typically the case with Grey’s Anatomy, there was no shortage of drama this week. Meredith lost a patient, Amelia stepped out of her brother’s shadow and the mystery of Owen’s sister began to unravel. But the moment that stood out most for me may have been the simple, candid conversation between Arizona and Richard near the episode’s end. 

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As Arizona emerges dressed and ready for her date with a casual dalliance only known to us as “Artisanal Soap” for the lovely smell lingering on said woman, something is obviously nagging at Richard.

Richard tenders, “Someone like you deserves someone very special, a quality person. And I worry if you squander your heart with all of these many, many more frivolous…”

Naturally, Arizona stops him there. You can’t be a wing man and a father figure, dude. Then the good lady doctor delivers by far my most favorite line of the night: “I’m too young and too fun to spend the rest of my life alone, and I was too scared to try. But you helped me remember what it was like when I was open and fun and confident and a little… slutty. You helped me be slutty again.”

Oh, Arizona, how I love thee in this moment. Here’s the thing about Arizona’s use of that specific word — it was intentional. It was spoken with intent by her character and it was written with intent by the writers.

Is it a word that can be polarizing? Sure, but that’s precisely why her use of it is so very relevant and important. In using the term in such an empowered way, Arizona reclaimed it. She is shifting the paradigm of power back in women’s favor.

Bear with me for a minute while I draw an analogy here. There’s a line in one of my favorite movies, Practical Magic (come on, you know you love it, too), where Sheriff Hallet says, “Curses only have power when you believe them.”

This principle can be roughly applied to sexist and derogatory terms used against women. When used with malicious intent, these words can carry weight — if we let them. I say roughly, of course, because this in no way excuses or justifies the use of these words as weapons against women.

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But what if we take those words back when opportunity presents, as Arizona did? An intended barb from someone does far less damage when the insult they’re slinging is a term we’ve flipped the script on. A good example of this in everyday vernacular is the term “bitch.”

Whereby bitch was once solely viewed as an expletive of sorts aimed at women, we’ve taken to using it with each other almost as a term of endearment. Or as a compliment, i.e. “She’s a bad bitch.”

So what is the definition of slutty? Merriam-Webster defines the adjective as “having loose sexual morals.” But, really, what does that even mean? Who defines what sexual morals are loose?

The movement to reclaim this specific slang term has actually been underway for a while now. In the book The Ethical Slut, the word is defined as “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.”

In this context, a slut is simply a person who is in control of their sexuality and refuses to conform to societal standards as opposed to doing what feels best and is best for them as an individual.

In my opinion, one of the most refreshing things about this season of Grey’s Anatomy is the sense of sexual liberation among the women. Sure, in the past there have been many steamy sexcapades in the on-call room.

However, there was always the hint of impropriety in regard to the women who were sexually brazen. This season, there is no stigma. As the conversation between Arizona and Richard so smartly illustrates, being “slutty” doesn’t make Arizona any less of an “outstanding surgeon” or “extraordinary woman.”

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She is a grown-ass woman who enjoys sex. Why is that an issue for some people? A woman can still be virtuous and, in many ways, demure and still enjoy sex. Just look at April Kepner. Most would consider her character to be perhaps the most conservative on the show, but she has had her fair share of hot romps — yes, even before marriage.

The fact that Arizona chose to use the term slutty in such an innocuous way goes to show that it doesn’t have to be pejorative. Here, it’s simply a slang descriptor. The implication has migrated from negative to positive.

Just think of it as the female equivalent of, what’s that they call sexually experienced men? A playboy? A stud? A Lothario? Yeah, it’s like that.

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