Why We Should Ban the Term "Tramp Stamp"

I hate the term “tramp stamp” — you know, the term used to describe the tattoo a (usually young) woman gets in the curve of flesh at the base of the spine. This term has become so commonplace, so accepted, that I recently heard a female radio announcer list among the “don’ts” for going to meet a band backstage, “Don’t show them your tramp stamp!”

Ugh. Enough is enough. Here are my reasons for wanting to get rid of this ridiculous term:

1. It reinforces rape culture. The term “tramp” itself, like the term “slut," is an insult about sex, part of the sexual double standard in which a woman who enjoys sex is denigrated and a man who enjoys it is elevated. The Urban Dictionary definitions of the term include many horrible descriptions, one of which includes the phrase, “These are the girls you take home and bang.” So…a woman gets a tattoo in a sexy spot, displays it while dancing, and the men around her assume she wants sex and no respect.  Yep, that’s rape culture.

2. It’s about branding. A woman chooses to get this tattoo herself, but the cultural attitude toward it has turned it into both a literal and a figurative brand. Her “brand” is sexual availability for the disdainful pleasure of others, and it is carved right onto her skin. This is not a woman's intent in inscribing herself with a tattoo — no matter where it is on her body.

3. I’ll admit it, I’ve thought about getting one. I don’t have any tattoos and probably won’t get any, but in my tattoo daydreams I imagined one in just that spot, before I knew anything about the term "tramp stamp."  It’s a sweet spot, an independent spot between the public and the private.  It’s one of my favorite spots on the human body. No wonder so many women want tattoos there — not to brand themselves, but to be comfortable in their own skin.

4. It's the site of sacred, sexual energy. Here’s one most Westerners don’t know, but Eastern religions describe it more completely. That spot, at the base of the spine, is the site of a dormant, sacred sexual energy called kundalini. When this energy awakens, it moves through the energy centers in the body to allow a fuller connection with the divine, clearing out any obstacles in its path. Kundalini is feminine energy — in Hinduism, it is described as Shakti. Inscribing this spot should be a form of honor to the body and the spirit, not dishonor.

The term tramp stamp, like so much in our culture, is a symptom of our dysfunctional attitude toward female sexuality. It shows how far we have to go before women can be their full, sacred, and sexual selves. So the next time you hear it remember all this — and ask the person who said it not to do it again.

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Liz Hall Magill

Author of Yo Mama (www.elizabethhallmagill.wordpress.com), a blog that explores politics, religion, and pop culture from a feminist perspective. I also teach writing and gender courses at Longwood University in Farmville, VA.

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