Women As Muses: What Is Our Place in the Modern World? Or Are We Just 'Slut Girls' Today?

Pablo Picasso’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter served as the inspiration for his 1932 painting “La Rêve.” I suspect that muses don’t have a lot of appeal to contemporary feminists, who argue that being an empowered ‘slut’ is far more important than being a muse.

Even I must admit that muses are sort of a mixed bag, existing to inspire others, rather than themselves.

In history and also in mythology, muses germinated the male brain to great heights of achievement and accomplishment.

In today’s world, women want more than to inspire; we see ourselves as doers. And yet, it seems to me that there’s value in arousing others to reach for the high bar in creative self-development and personal achievement.

A modern muse, in the form of a Smart Sensuality woman, can inspire, while advancing her own self.

The current Metropolitan of Art show 'The Model As Muse' was a lackluster performance for me, in making the connection between fashion models and their impact on either creators or the general public. I went to the exhibit, hoping to see the equivalent of Greek sirens, given the sexualization of modern fashion media. Instead, exhibit attendees were greeted a sea of very, very pretty faces.

Where was their female power? Will these muses have impact on culture and civilization centuries later? Will they live on through art, drama, buildings and other testaments to human creativity?

Probably not.

Modern muses like fashion models exist, so that we can all imitate her. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that this reality would make the original muses “run for the sacred hills”.

The original muse could not have been further from an exemplar of style. Her function was not to inspire imitation, but to create new insights and new artistic forms. She was effectively invisible, a gust of divine wind that blew through the human vessel lucky enough to be graced by her attention.


‘The Nymphaeum’ by William Adolphe Bouguereau’

Perhaps it’s time to go back to square one on the role of muses in our lives. Beyond the excellent WSJ article Where Have All the Muses Gone? I propose a stop at Paleothea: the Ancient Goddess.

Committed to unearthing the true tales of ancient goddesses, many of whom served as muses for (wo)man’s greatest achievements, the author reminds us that Artemis was truly fierce, in a way Tyra Banks will NEVER understand. Nor did Hera just shrivel up in a body of nationally-televised tears on Oprah, when Zeus cheated on her.

The muses and ancient goddesses understood and employed revenge and denial. They were strong, activist, potent women, although the author of Paleothea cautions us that the symbolism of the goddesses is perhaps more powerful to us than the ancients.

Women’s lives were already eclipsed in 5th century BC Greece.

Females have spent endless centuries trying to get off the limitations of muses pedestals and onto an even playing field with men. We also refute the idea of being objectified, a fundamental aspect of being a muse. Surely there are certain psychological benefits to being physically and emotionally needed and desired.

‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ by John William Waterhouse

‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ by John William Waterhouse

Returning again to the Smart Sensuality woman, she is comfortable with her role as a source of inspiration. In fact, being a role model inspires her to further achievements. She rejects pedestals because she’s far more comfortable being in the thick of the action.

The Smart Sensuality woman wants to be real — as Michelle Obama is vividly a woman most of us can relate to. But she does not feel compelled to become one of the guys, to reject her femininity and sexuality in the pursuit of self-development and personal authenticity.

Enjoying a bit of musedom is just fine for these woman. How else will she elevate, rather than desecrate civilization?

These are lofty words I know, but if modern life is all about imitation, then I argue that our role models should not be ‘slut girls’. This opinion puts me at odds with major segments of young women’s feminism.

I understand and supported the incubation of the Riot Grrrl movement and third wave feminism. But I also believe in the psychological power of words.

Riot Grrls

The badge of honor that third wave feminism women adopt in calling themselves ‘sluts’ is likened to African Americans defusing the power of the N-word by using it on themselves.

Words have meaning in the popular culture. Our brains and psychological wiring are not so sophisticated as to be able to use a demeaning word as a badge and convert it into a positive source of personal inspiration.

Bottom line, I know and understand fully the power of words. “Do not ever call me a slut,” I say to men.

If third wave feminism has converted ‘slut girls’ into a form of empowerment, then we should see revealed the term so revealed in the popular culture.

Sensuality vs Slut

I won’t turn to Webster’s Dictionary, as I did the day last year when I was stunned to read the dictionary’s definition of ‘sensuality’:

1. pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly.

2. lacking in moral restraints; lewd or unchaste.

3. arousing or exciting the senses or appetites.

4. worldly; materialistic; irreligious.

5. of or pertaining to the senses or physical sensation; sensory.

6. pertaining to the philosophical doctrine of sensationalism.

English-speaking society is so ambivalent about the meaning of sensual that I have a wide-open opportunity to work hard to reinvent the meaning of the word sensuality. Getting an easy-to-understand url is next to impossible these days, and yet I had no trouble registering SensualityNews.com last week.

I will own the term ‘Smart Sensuality’, as Faith Popcorn owned ‘cocooning’. I argue that the emerging Smart Sensuality woman will be as big a factor in the consumer marketplace, as ‘cocooners’ ever were.

Given our national ambivalence over sensuality — a gorgeous, empowering, inspiring word that defines me, even if it’s loaded up with far more baggage than I ever imagined — how do third-wave feminism women believe that ‘slut’ is an empowering word?

Urban Dictionary: Slut

If they’re right, urbandictionary.com will confirm the revised definition of the word ‘slut’. For starters, there are 32 pages of definitions for the word ‘slut’. That’s a blow out!

The far and away winner of the definition of slut, based on 33, 763 votes is:

1. Slut: a woman with the morals of a man.

Got it, although I’m not sure what the ‘morals of a man’ means.

2. Slut with 12,564 votes

Someone who provides a very needed service for the community and sleeps with everyone, even the guy that has no shot at getting laid and everyone knows it. She will give him a sympathy fuck either because someone asked her to or she just has to fuck everyone she knows. These are great people, and without them sex crimes would definitly increase. Thank you slut, where ever you are. “Dude, did you get laid after the party.” No, I fucked Megan, the slut.”

3. Slut with 5865 votes

A derogatory term.

Refers to a sexually promiscuous person, usually female.

One who engages in sexual activity with a large number of persons, occasionally simultaneously.

Also refers to one who engages in sexual activity outside of a long-term relationship within the duration of said relationship.

These sexual activities include but are not limited to: passionate kissing, manual stimulation of genitalia and/or breasts in the case of a female; oral stimulation of these parts; sexual intercourse.

In some cases, used to refer to a woman who is wearing “skimpy” or tasteless clothing.

Less commonly, used as a derogatory term by one female for another during periods of conflict.

Synonyms: whore, tramp. Derivations: slutty (adj.), sluttier/sluttiest (superlatives). Related Adjectives: easy; immoral; loose; cheap. “That slut has slept with every man in this room!”

“That girl is such a slut—I can’t believe that she cheated on her boyfriend with his best friend!”

“Look at that slut in her mini-skirt! She is not wearing any underwear!”

“I don’t want to talk to her! I hate that slut!”

“That slut is easy like Sunday morning.”

4. Slut: with 4011 votes

A girl thats fucked so many guys she cant close her legs anymore

look there she goes, delilah the slut

5. Slut: with 3317 votes

1. a girl who has sex but does not enjoy it, who is used by guys and lets them do it. She does not have the self respect to make them stop.

2. a girl who likes sex, so she does it. She probably is not in a relationship, and she equalizes herself to guys by treating sex the same way they do.

The difference between the two examples of what society labels as “sluts” is that one has self respect, the other does not. No one should be called a slut anyway, especially when the name “slut” is a purely judgmental and stereotypical one, and no one really knows the real story behind it all, which is pretty much always the case.

“She has sex…therefore she must be a slut.”

I completely disagree with that, but that’s how society sees it.

Conclusions on the Word ‘Slut’

A slut has the morals of a man. Technically-speaking, the definition isn’t confined to sex. Here’s where I am standing in quick sand, because I refuse to jump to the conclusion that men have no morals, even when it comes to sex. What do you think?

It is correct to say that the ‘slut girls’ model themselves on the standards of men. This point of view becomes becomes a bit confusing for second wave feminists like myself, who sought to rewrite the rules and laws of social engagement and civil law, created by men.

Because I am very supportive of men today — believing that they’ve made major progress in the last 40 years — I would feel better if so many ‘quality’ men of every age and occupation didn’t tell me that they are dogs.

I’m deadly serious here. Men speak very freely to me, because they understand that I don’t judge them and I’m generally supportive of their progress.

Are Men Dogs?

“Men are dogs, Anne,” they say.

“Stop it,” I respond.

“No seriously, Anne, men are honest-to-god dogs. We’re not complex like women. Mostly, we want a piece of available ass.”

“But men have made so much progress,” I respond. “Men are far better fathers. They do lots more housework.”

“We’re better, Anne. I agree we’re better. But you must understand what you’re dealing with. Don’t give us credit for being what we’re not.”

Progress Defined

Perhaps they are right; life is never perfect. I awoke this morning to a message on my Blackberry, a carryover from last night’s dinner invitation. He continued:

He: ” I’ve been hanging out in Geneva.”

Me: “For pleasure? You want to move there? Biz oppty?”

He: “I’m getting an apt in Geneva.”

Me: “Ok. That is good. You can tell me over dinner.”

I went to bed.

He: two hours later: “Yes baby. I would love to fuck you Thurs. night.”

Reflecting on his words, seven minutes later, He wrote: “I am very sorry for the very explicit exchange.”

Reading his words at 5am this morning, pre-French Roast coffee and not intending to write this Journal article, I paused and reflected. He is a good man and a good friend.

In fact, he’s a pillar of a man, in terms of honoring his responsibilities to a fault.

Pausing, I wonder: “Am I ‘a slut’ to him? Is that why he felt free to speak to me that way? We haven’t seen each other in weeks.”

Reflecting on other men I know, I asked myself the same question.

This business of being the ‘slut girl’ is on my mind, because I’ve been reading a lot of Jezebel and the new Slate website Double X.



Writing about the opening salvo between Double X and Gawker Media’s very popular Jezebel last week, I must have sounded like a little old lady.

I was astonished that one of Jezebel’s editors called herself the ‘Slut Machine’.

Fallen Angels

Is this the state of modern musedom? I remind myself not to be judgemental.

I marched for the right that Tracie could own Gawker Media, not just write for it.

If she wants to be the ‘Slut Machine’, I support her decision. And I admit that I don’t really know how many twenty-something women identify with her and with the ‘slut machine’ moniker.

Young girls call each other sluts … and then they lie sobbing in bed at night, as if adolescence isn’t challenging enough.

If Tracie truly feels empowered in this photo, then who am I to say that she’s not?

Truth Serum

So where are we at with this ‘slut business’? I do know that I can’t blame men for saying “I want to fuck you, baby” when my younger sisters are arguing that being a ‘slut’ empowers me.

No wonder men are confused about what women want.

This ‘slut identity’ is a women’s issue that doesn’t involve men. If we women can’t agree on the most fundamental planks on how we are viewed by society, then we can’t blame men for being so direct in expressing their sexual thoughts to us.

Returning to UrbanDictionary one more time, I seek further clarification around the most approved definition of ‘slut’ as “a woman with the morals of a man”.

UD posts related words in blue boxes at the top of the page. The empowering words should appear in this related zone, as words that reinforce the most popular meaning of ‘slut’.

The blue box words for slut are: 11 sounds, whore, bitch (see Morey Safer interviewing Anna Wintour about being a bitch), skank, hoe, cunt, sex, prostitute, tramp, hooker, fuck, girl, slag, easy, pussy, ugly, vagina, ass, dick, dirty, cock, cum, penis, trick, gay, loose, slutty, nasty, fat, woman, asshole, stupid, pimp, std, sexy, loser, fag, shit, cum dumpster, blowjob, tart, anal, twat, store, hot, female, promiscuous, paris hilton, head.

Summoning of the Muse

My dear young Jezebel ladies. I’d say you’ve got a ways to go on your mission to make ‘slut’ an empowering word, even in your own age group. Why exactly do you want to own that word?

Perhaps ‘slut’ isn’t an equivalent of African Americans using the ‘n-word’. The power of the ‘n-word’ comes from blacks knowing that the majority of whites are afraid to use it. This is not the case with ‘slut’.

Good luck, but I honestly wish you would change course. Smart Sensuality is far more redeeming and a real chance to regain a manageable amount of muse status.

Building a Curb-Height Pedestal for Women

I, too, feel that a pedestal is confining. But getting down off the pedestal doesn’t mean that we abandon everything of value in womandom. A man thought twice before messing with any of the ancient muses. And like it or not, men turned to the muses for the advancement of civilization.

Surely we can agree on some elevated, modern-day elevated plank for women that celebrates our bravura without covering us in mud.

I suppose that’s a tricky concept, too — the advancement of civilization — but then we all know that I’m not the most egalitarian woman on the planet. No apologies for being me, but lot’s of love to all of you. Anne