A Vocabulary Lesson: The Real Meaning of ‘Zorra’

While on two separate dates in Mexico, with different men, they each found a moment in our conversations to point out how a woman they knew was a ‘zorra‘ (meaning slut). Immediately, I was turned off. First off, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to me? Second, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to them? And thirdly, why are they telling me? I didn’t ask. I’ve never been on a date and have, or even considered, pointing out to a guy and saying “hey, that guy is a slut”. But there is a reason why.

Personally, I don’t care. Life is difficult, relationships are complicated, and your body is yours to decide what to do with it. Sometimes we regret our use of it, but most of time, we own up to our own choices. But this concept of choice does not play similarly between men and women, or even those that straddle the gender binary. In conservative communities, like mine in Mexico, those distinctions are not only harder, but more explicit. There’s use of rhetoric familiar to all of us from there: Zorra (Slut) for women and Mujeriego (Womanizer) for men. The important thing to recognize is that those two terms both have significantly different meanings and significantly different repercussions. Let’s break them down.

Zorra refers to a woman being an easy lay. Mujeriego refers to men as being untrustworthy and promiscuous. From experience, I believe zorra is thrown around more loosely than its counterpart. Men use it; women use it. I’d like to point out that I’ve heard of instances of women I know being called zorra even when they hadn’t even slept with anyone yet. This does not happen with men. A woman’s self respect and integrity is immediately put into question when it becomes known that she has a lot of male friends. This brings up a lot of issues: First, it brings up this issue of whether or not women and men can be around each other in a non-sexual context. If you argue that men always sexualize women and therefore will always think of them as a sexual objects, then that’s one problem. We don’t think of it that way when its one guy with several women. Many actually question the man’s sexuality because of it. Not only that, but as an outdated insult (god forbid you hang around estrogen). Second, what does a woman hanging around men have to do with self-respect? In a way, it actually portrays men negatively. If she is surrounded by them, does it mean she’s putting herself in harm’s way? Pegs the question. And thirdly, being surrounded by the opposite sex does not have to be about sex. To set that label on the situation from the outside actually means that you are responsible for doing so, not the woman. You don’t know what the situation is and by choosing to sexualize it…well, it says more about you than her. 

Firsty, there’s a difference between “an easy lay” and being promiscuous. ‘Easy Lay’ suggests that attempting to have sexual relations with a woman won’t be difficult. Promiscuous implies that a person is often looking for casual sex. But the word ‘easy’ implies that it is up to the man to make it happen. It happens to the woman and she lets it happen; she’s easy (god forbid she may actually want to have sex). By being promiscuous, well, you like casual sex and have a lot of it. True, zorra is also used as a way to describe promiscuous women. But it doesn’t work conversely for men. Therefore, it empowers men and desinfranchises women.

The next thing to look at is their social meanings. Zorra does not only mean that a woman is an easy lay. It means that, again, she has no self-respect. The link society gives between self-respect and sex, I believe, is one of the most catastrophic things  to ever happen to women. When a woman has consensual sex as a single, her integrity as both a woman and person is automatically questioned by both genders. For a mujeriego, he is noted as untrustworthy to women (not men), but, his having sex is not the problem as much as the lying connotation. I’m not saying men don’t suffer stereotyping but the results are different and the social response is damning. “She was supposed to wait for marriage”, “How does she just give it away?”, “No one is going to want her now.” “He’ll cheat on you.”, “He’ll hurt you.”, “He’s a boss.”, “He can get any girl he wants.” Women are viewed as unmarriageable used socks (a comparison abstinence programs actually use!) and men are viewed as untameable by women and heroes by men. This idea of self-respect chastises women and elevates men.

The way we use these words are dramatically different. Both men and woman use zorra to denigrate her person. Her whole being is automatically tarnished. In my experience, calling a man mujeriego is usually in the context of warning a woman about a man she may show interest in. We want to protect her from harm; worse, her reputation. But the problem is, her reputation should not be on the balance on the basis of her personal sex life. Times have changed. No longer do the rules of society keep women from depending on men. We no longer marry at 20 (well, many of us) and we no longer are deprived from joining the workforce. This has dramatically changed sex dynamics. We have had women in the past fight for our place in the world and retaining outdated use of language is not only a disservice to them, but to us.

My experience living in New York as a woman is significantly different from that of Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of misogyny here. Women get cat-called constantly, they’re objectified in the work place, and taken advantage of in plenty of social situations. But there’s a difference: I’ve never heard the term ‘slut’ in my social surroundings. I have never heard of a woman being chastised or reprimanded for being sexually active. I have never worried about what the opposite sex thinks or believes about my personal experiences. It doesn’t even cross my mind. Let me be clear: I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to some degree. But the degree in which it occurs in my country is shameful. The institution of traditional marriage is still held very tightly. And that’s fine. But we must adapt the changes that are occurring in society and quit chastising women for changing with the times. Times are changing and holding on to outdated conservative labels causes more harm than good. I’m not attempting to tell anyone when, how, or with whom they should be sleeping with. I’m simply saying that at this day and age, calling a woman a zorra, says more about you than it does about her.

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