It’s funny, but I think that there has been an acceptance of vulgar language in our society. People routinely drop words like “bitch” or “asshole” as if those words are no big deal. Even fuck” and “motherfucker” are common enough to have lost a lot of the impact they might once have had.
But there is one word that still seems to elicit shock when it is uttered.
For reasons I do not understand, the C-word is apparently one of the last profanities that still freaks people out. It’s the verbal equivalent of an atom bomb, and can silence a room when it is used to refer to a women.
I’m a man, so some will question my right to assess the hurtfulness of a word, but I’ve given this a lot of consideration simply because it seems that the outrage over being called a cunt often exceeds that of other similar profanities. It’s as if people just decided that it’s somehow worse than other vulgar words.
There is understandable anger over the use of vulgar words for female genitalia. Sexism is alive and well in our culture, and women have been and still are oppressed because of their gender. I can understand the anger that many women have when they hear a word like “pussy” used to indicate a state of weakness.
But there’s a difference with the word “cunt.” When a woman is called a cunt, it usually seems to be because she is powerful.
The following is from a very good article on this subject from the website Jezebel by Katie J.M. Baker:
“As Laurie Penny argues, “there are no other truly empowering words for the female genitalia” besides the c-word. “Cunt” isn’t scientific, it’s erotic. “Cunt” doesn’t refer to a baby cat or a treasure chest. It conveys purposeful sexual power, not submission. It’s mature. Women get called cunts when they reject sexual advances and assert themselves in the workplace; in other words, when they don’t play nice.
People who use ethnic or racial slurs propagate long-held systems of oppression. But “cunt” doesn’t have the same type of larger, disturbing historical context. Slate ran an etymology explainer post yesterday explaining how the word went from street name-suitable in the 13th century (“Gropecuntelane.” Nice.) to vulgar (Francis Grose’s 1785 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines “cunt” as “a nasty name for a nasty thing”) to scoring the #1 slot in a 2000 BBC ranking of the most offensive words of all time.
Seriously? Why do we let “cunt” retain so much negative power? The only possible explanation is because so many people still think the worst crime a woman can commit is to be unapologetically sexual.
I can understand the argument that calling a woman a “cunt” is akin to telling her that is all she is: a brainless hole that needs to be filled, etc. But since so many politicians and comedians and cops and college kids seem to think that anyway, the solution isn’t to be afraid of the word and therefore scared to admit we have cunts — and are capable of acting like cunts, if the situation calls for it.”
At one point, use of the word seemed rare in America, and “bitch” was generally used more commonly. But now, “bitch” has been assimilated into popular culture and speech to the point of it losing most impact. Seeing some middle classed mom wearing a “Super Bitch” shirt at Walmart illustrates its fall from power as both a curse word, and as an indicator of a female that doesn’t submit to any old authority. It’s basically the equivalent of some elderly man in a “Grumpy Old Fart” shirt these days, and since men are often referred to as “bitches” now, it’s not exclusively aimed at women. The same can be said for “cunt” really.
But when used derogatorily towards a woman or group of women, “cunt” still feels like an indicator of power, not weakness, to me. I think that by embracing that attachment as a power word, women would rob the creeps that use it to insult them of a lot of their power. You know what scares sexist men? Women that don’t back down and don’t let things like unmentionable words upset them.
I also considered the other commonly used slang terms for female genitalia, many of which are used as insults. “Twat,” “pussy” and “snatch” all sound worse than “cunt” to me. One indicates a small cat, the others just sound gross. Cunt sounds warm and pleasant by comparison. Even “vagina” sounds horrible to my ears. It’s just an ugly sounding word. It’s also Roman slang for a sword sheath. Sort of the equivalent of “pussy” somehow becoming the preferred scientific term for lady parts after a couple of thousand years.
I’m sure I’m getting written off of some of my female friend’s Christmas card lists for writing this, because as a man how dare I take a position on the use of a bad word for female genitalia? But all I’m saying is that allowing the word to have such negative power really just arms the sexist assholes that are most likely to use it to try to “put a woman in her place.”
Besides, I kind of relish the idea of seeing middle aged women wearing “Bitchy Cunt” t-shirts at the local mall in a few years without the cops getting called on them.
The Jezebel article I quoted: