Reclaiming Words: CUNT
Cunt. I think the best way for me to begin this article is to just come right out and say it. The C- Word, c**t, “the rudest, crudest and most taboo word in the English language” or however you want to refer to it – it’s a four-letter word surrounded by a whole lot of controversy. It’s a word we all know and a word many women (and even men) refuse to say. For some, it leaves a nasty taste in their mouth and a sick feeling in their stomach, it makes them squirm, shiver, cringe and gasp. How does one little word have such a strong ability to shock? Or rather, why have we as a society become so worked up about it?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary definition, the first usage of the word “cunt” in the English language dates to 1230 – the street that was home to London’s red-light district at the time was very literally called Gropecunt Lane. The word “cunt” was a common word used for female genitalia; nothing vulgar about it, nothing insulting about it – just another word for vagina. It began to be publicly associated as a more sexual term with writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Bitch Magazine writes, “these early literary uses were saucy and irrev- erent, but not exactly forbidden.” Going up to the 20th century, an era dominated by repressive Victorian customs, the use of “cunt” shifted to being viewed as obscene and worth of a trial – just ask James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence who were both prosecuted for their use of the word.
Somehow, the word has slowly evolved into an insult which men use to sling at one another (and at women); an insult that is demeaning, crude and offensive to many. But why? Why have some swear words become so commonplace, whereas “cunt” has become so taboo in our modern day culture?
Kathleen Deveny, a writer for Newsweek magazine, notes that female genitalia are not the only genitalia to be used as swear words. I can not even begin to count how many times I have used, or heard someone use, the word “dick” without the slightest hesitation. So why is there such a drastic difference? Deveny suggests that the difference in reception may be derived from the male perception of female sexuality.The derogatory term for vagina just seems so foul, so dirty, so … down there. But wait: isn’t the perfectly neutral word “vagina” enough to send most men screaming from the room? Our aversion to the C-word may simply reflect our cultural aversion to the C.
Throughout history, female sexuality has been something entirely misunderstood by men. It is described throughout countless works of literature as mysterious, dangerous, a force to be reckoned with, a source of witchcraft – you name it, it’s been said. Women have often been written as using their sexuality to take control of men; in essence, women’s sexuality has been vilified. Lindsay Zoladz of Bitch Magazine writes,
”The vilification of “cunt” doesn’t just cast female genitalia as something that should remain unspoken (as did “nothing,” a popular and proto-Freudian slang term for lady parts back in Shakespeare’s day), but it erects restrictive boundaries around expressions of female desire—remember that the more “polite” word, vagina, does not encompass the part of the cunt responsible for pleasure.”
What Zoladz suggests is that the word “cunt” derived its negative and distasteful meaning through the vilification of women’s sexuality and through the fear of something which men did not understand. In today’s society, it is no stretch to say that the reason the word “cunt” and “dick” do not hold the same bite is due to the persisting inequality between men and women.
A “cunt” is sexual, it is strong and it is something still that isn’t understood by many men. Many view women’s acceptance of the term as them accepting defeat – feminism breathing its last dying breath, unable to continue the fight. Others view it as giving into misogyny and allowing men to continue to demean women. I disagree. I advocate continuing to use the word “cunt” without fear and without shame. I advocate using the word with pride. As women, we need to accept the term cunts exist, they are ours, they are our sexuality. As long as women can grow to love the word “cunt” and realize the power and strength behind it, then one day we may reach a point in history where the word “cunt” isn’t something to cringe because of.