Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Reclaiming our front bottoms

The "c" word, like "queer" and the "n" word, has been reclaimed - not once, but twice. And no one told me.

My intermittent use of this word is a source of secret shame, since I've often felt it makes me a bad feminist. I don't pull it out in polite company, use it to describe women, or even use it to name a body part, for that matter. I do, however, use it to describe objectionable men, and even shout it at the telly from time to time (although less so since George W relinquished the presidency.*).

Having said all that, the way the word is used in the US - exclusively to denigrate women and women's sexuality, as far as I can see - makes me cringe. My Irish sister-in-law was horrified to hear the "c" word so frequently when she first came to NZ, so vile is it in her homeland. Since then, though, she's told me that she's actually grown to rather like it. Nothing expresses her admiration for someone these days like calling them a 'f*@!ing good c#nt, eh".

The Salon article I linked to above asks that age-old question, why is it so much worse to call someone a c#nt than a dick? (In my vocab, a dick is a slightly comical loser, and a c#nt is someone unpleasant - a bit of a hierarchy, I guess).

Salon answers its own question:

In a larger sense, "c#nt" does not equal "dick" in our culture because "woman" still does not equal "man." This is also why "nigger" remains more offensive than "cracker." And as long as women are the second sex and African-Americans are the second race, slurs that target these groups will have greater power.

What do you think, THMers? Should the "c" word be reclaimed and celebrated as an anatomical term, tolerated as an insult, or consigned to the linguistic dustbin?

* Which reminds me of a pink placard I once saw on an anti-war protest: 'The only Bush I trust is my own'.


Anonymous said...

My 3 yr old daughter has a what we call a cunt and uses the word frequently, lately shes been saying that she has a tiny "pee-pee/penis" inside her cunt, though she's talking of course about her clit.
Cunt is a great affirming name. Women parts are powerful.

Boganette said...

I think of cunt as a brilliant insult. And I use it.

I don't ever think of it as being a vagina. Or having anything to do with women really.

It's a great insult. It's like a full stop to a fight.

Anonymous said...

Whether "cunt" is used as an insult or in an affirming way depends on the mind set of the user, as the first Anon and Boganette demonstrate clearly.

pipi said...

I love the word cunt it’s right up there with twat. I love it used as a friendly gesture or better, a friendly insult. I agree anon 2, I’d call a mate a cunt for say, not sharing toys. It’s a bondage thing. I’d hardly call someone I knew and didn’t like a cunt.

Frida said...

I use cunt to describe my cunt, because all other words are awful. (Please, 'pussy'? 'Vagina'? 'Yoni'? The headline of your post makes me cringe- 'front bottoms'?)

Cunt is a fine old Anglo-Saxon word. As are 'fuck' and 'cock'. They're strong words and the words I like to use to describe the parts and acts.

That said, I decided a few years back not to use cunt as an insult any more: when I'm describing someone's bastardly behaviour these days I substitute 'cock'.
As in, "Stop being such a cock."
Unbalanced maybe, but I just didn't want to use 'cunt' that way anymore.

Tui said...

I don't mind cunt as a descriptor but I hate it as an insult. Cunt is a powerful insult because it gets its energy from the degradation of women, from the idea of women's sexuality as ugly and dirty and of women's bodies as perverted and different - this is a reason why "dick" is not so strong an insult, because men's bodies are understood as the standard.

Boganette said...

Maybe it's a powerful insult because it's still one of the few words that can't be used on the radio or on TV. It's still got shock value. You can say pretty much anything these days and nobody bats an eyelid. There are few words that still make people flinch.

I would never describe my vagina as a cunt. Because to me a cunt is someone like that guy who protests against abortion outside the Greenlane clinic.

I also think heaps of cuss words change a lot over time. If I call someone a bastard I'm not calling them an illegitimate child. Did bastard get reclaimed? Or does it still mean the same thing?

Frida said...

Can I put in a word here for the book Cunt, by Inga Muscio? It's all about the stuff we're discussing and a whole lot of other good juicy stuff besides.

Brett Dale said...

Actually I think its because of the way the word sounds.

Dick is not a harsh sounding word, so people dont take offensive.

The C word is harsh sounding that is why people take offense.

Danielle said...

For what it's worth, my husband says that his high school students call each other 'cunt' like we'd call each other 'mate'...

Psycho Milt said...

A woman I know declared that it may be a vagina when you're talking to your doctor, but it's definitely a cunt when you're talking to someone who's about to apply their tongue to it - always seemed a good distinction to me.

I was struck by this bit:

...the way the word is used in the US - exclusively to denigrate women and women's sexuality, as far as I can see - makes me cringe.

I've noticed that too. In the States it seems like it's a deadly insult exactly because it's referring to female genitalia. Here you can say a guy's a good cunt and it's a compliment, or you can say you got pissed and made a cunt of yourself and it's just self-deprecating humour. But we generally don't call women cunts - there's probably a whole psychology textbook in there somewhere.

Anna said...

I think 'front bottom' is bloody hilarious - it's right up there with 'tinkle stick' for me.

My partner and I have an ongoing argument about the rights and wrongs of reclaiming words. He thinks offensive words should be dumped. I don't mind reclaiming words so much - although, for a long time, the word 'queer' made me uncomfortable, because it was so saturated with homophobic nastiness where I grew up.

I agree with your distinction, Psycho - it can be a powerful and affirming word in a sexual context - which makes me wonder why I also feel comfortable applying it to losers.

lex said...

I'd like to second Frida... read Cunt by Inga Muscio. Bloody brilliant :)

kitsuchi said...

I'm not used to hearing cunt as an insult - it's just not used that way in my social group, so I'm used to thinking of it as just a name for a body part that you probably don't want to use in polite company but is a good word nonetheless.

I had a wonderful drama teacher at high school who told us that cunt was a word that had originally meant 'beautiful opening flower' - whether or not that's true I don't know, but it was valuable to have such a positive perspective.

Anonymous said...

"Here you can say a guy's a good cunt and it's a compliment"

Isn't that still degrading though? I personally think it is. What makes a bad cunt? It's unfriendliness? It's lack of use? How has one body part been used to sum up a person... There are still connotations. The meaning attached to the word is NEVER separated from the word if the word plays into a power structure, regardless of people's intend use.

And people in NZ use the word cunt to be offensive just as often as describing someone as a 'good cunt'.

"I had a wonderful drama teacher at high school who told us that cunt was a word that had originally meant 'beautiful opening flower' - whether or not that's true I don't know, but it was valuable to have such a positive perspective."

It means "place I/we come from", and is the same root word as kin, country, kind, etc. It is, personally, much less offensive than vagina - which means "sheath".

Anonymous said...

How cute, you used it against W Bush, I used it against Ms H Clark :) I guess it can be used for a variety of people and uses!

Hugh said...

There doesn't seem to be a lot of consensus here, but one thing you all seem to agree on is that, no matter how acceptable 'cunt' is as an insult, it's more acceptable to use it on men than it is on women.

Which is interesting.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I guess men can take it better while women get very upset if its used against them.

cinnamon girl said...

I disagree, anonymous. I don't find it insulting, whereas I find that men do. Maybe it's emasculating or something. So it's used more on men, because if I'm going to insult someone, I want to make sure they're actually insulted.
People have commented before that I use the word cunt more than anyone they know. I prefer it to any other word describing my genatalia. And it's always been a good insult, because it's strong (I disagree with Brett; without the connotation of meaning the sound 'dick' is just as harsh as 'cunt'; it uses the same frictives).

But I am trying to find more creative words to insult people with, because I'd like to reserve cunt for more positive times.