A few days ago I used a neologism which caused a lot of disagreement. I knew exactly what I meant and I was also clear about what I didn’t mean. However, difficulties do arise if for other people, for whatever reason, it comes to mean something else, particularly if that causes hurt. I’m genuinely sorry for that and hence I’m not going to use it here, but I do want to write about what lies behind it. To me it refers to something important (and whatever it ends up being, I still think we need a word to describe it).

Funnily enough, I don’t have a position on whether one should be openly discussing sex or having lots of sexual partners or none at all. I don’t see why I – or, in an ideal world, anyone else – should. I do, on the other hand, have strong opinions about objectification and about how we weigh up the cost of broadcasting particular messages within an unequal, patriarchal society. It’s a cost that isn’t necessarily offset by the free choice of individuals to participate in the creation of these messages, at least if these messages risk having a far broader impact on the freedom  and safety of others. I think this should be fairly obvious (regardless of the final judgment one reaches) and yet when it comes to campaigns such as No More Page Three, Lose The Lad Mags and banning rape porn, somehow it isn’t.

This is something I was recently discussing with a group of fellow feminists. We all shared the same fear of saying the “wrong” thing on these matters and of the comeback from a particular group of feminists and their (surprisingly misogynist) male supporters if we did so. That’s when “that word” first came into being. Not through a fear of other sexualities (we are not, in any case, all heterosexual) but through a basic resentment of the way in which responses to female sexualisation are being policed by a certain group of people: those who deem themselves to have shagged their way out of the quagmire of prissy feminist privilege and on to far greater heights of sexual awareness.

And there they stay, looking down on the rest of us privileged fools, making sage observations such as “No More Page Three feels like a synecdoche for the shortcomings of a particular flavour of liberal, bourgeois feminism” and “[Lose The Lad Mags and NMP3] soothe the anxieties of conservative men and bolster patriarchal, sexist and religion based ideas about women”. Anyone who disagrees is over-privileged and unable to think for herself. And why would she be? After all, she’s clearly a woman who just hasn’t had enough fucks.

The knee-jerk way in which the terms “slut-shaming” and “whorephobic” are applied to women who don’t play by the rules of the self-appointed sex positive elite has become deeply disturbing (and of course has very little to do with choice, or indeed being positive about sex). The intimation is that it’s impossible to have a rational, logic-based argument against hardcore pornography or Page Three; the objector is, rather, in some way lacking, suffering from a type of sexual dysfunction that requires remedy. What’s your problem – are you frigid or what? The stereotype of the grim-faced, repressed feminist, who simply needs a good seeing-to to sort out her issues, is embedded within the words. Of course, whorephobia and a pathological hatred of overly “sexual” women exists –  they are real phenomena. However, this problem does not lie with mythical feminists who are “a bit funny” about sex. It’s rooted in misogyny and a far broader antipathy towards female sexual responsiveness of any kind.

Muddying the waters of any critique of this phenomenon by suggesting that it is motivated by polyphobia, biphobia or queerphobia misses (at times quite deliberately) the point. If anything, it reinforces normative ideas of appropriate sexual conduct by defining them as the fixed counterpoint to any form of activism. The working-class NMP3 campaigner cannot be a radical but, by contrast, the sexually adventurous middle-class woman is, not by virtue of doing but simply by positioning her sexual experience as type of currency. The more sex you have, it is assumed, the more of a voice you have earned on all matters that lie on the margins, regardless of your own privilege and personal investment. The more unusual you can make your sexual habits appear through fanciful description, the more authoritative you become (regardless of how mundane said habits actually are). Those who question this are somehow defined as “white feminists” by the equally white (but dare I say less feminist) avant garde. It is, in short, not just a cop-out, but a repressive, disingenuous one at that.

This kind of approach is the would-be radical offshoot of Katy Perry singing about kissing a girl and liking it, or Robbie Williams boasting about swinging both ways. It’s not that the experience is necessarily inauthentic (although in those two cases it clearly is), it’s that it’s being used to sell something else: records, calendars, misogyny, status, or a substitute activism that still doesn’t require you getting out of bed. It’s prioritising shocking those oh-so-privileged observers instead of laying your own privilege on the line. It’s self-differentiation at the expense of others, masquerading as inclusion. It’s Madonna kissing Britney Spears, accusations of appropriation and lesophobia drowned out by cries of “LOOK at ME!” It’s telling women they have to approve of every sexualised message that surrounds them, no matter what the context, because it’s all a test: are you anti-porn? Are you a prude? Are you a slut-shamer? If so, then you are privileged, conservative, sexually repressed, and you have no place in our movement (and don’t dare protest, or we’ll pathologise your objection by diagnosing a phobia to boot).

Feminists should not be afraid that the consequences of discussing the sexual objectification of women is to be considered bad or mad by those more openly expressive than them (people who may be so for no other reason than disclosure privilege). When I wrote this piece about slut-shaming – thinking not of No More Page Three, but of police responses to the Yorkshire Ripper – I was desperately fearful it would be misunderstood. It’s rare that men are called slut-shamers these days. It’s not the done thing. We point the finger not at those who rape, murder and mutilate women’s bodies but at those who question the positioning of these bodies within a deeply unequal social structure. To do otherwise is considered a little bit second wave, a little bit rad fem, hell, a little bit too “privileged” for the liking of the sexual world’s Common People.

I’m not particularly precious about coining words or phrases and guarding them with my life (just as well, because all evidence is suggesting I’m crap at it). If people see words I’ve used differently to how I intended, then I’d rather discard them than perpetuate the damage. But women who’ve been pushed back by thinly veiled accusations of prudery, frigidity and sexual failure due to their feminist position need a word for the attitudes they’re facing. They need a word for the way in which they are dismissed as both overly privileged and lacking in authority regarding the sexualisation and objectification which affects their lives, too. They need a word for the ways in which they are talked over, belittled and laughed at.

If there’s no other word available, I’d go back to misogyny. Because that is, after all, what this is.