Misogyny in language – The C-Word

The word cunt makes us irrational.

If you’re easily offended over chance formations of letters, look away now (irrational human being that you are).

I had a fantastic teacher for A-Level English Language. We were a small group and, for the most part, she let us get away with murder. We could shout and swear and mess around in that classroom, with only one condition. The C-word was not allowed. As much as she accepted the inevitability of language change, the amelioration and degradation of words, the fact that words have only the power that you give them – she still couldn’t stand to hear us say cunt.

Recently I’ve talked about Stirred Poetry . One of its organisers, the remarkable Anna Percy, was recently part of the BBC poetry slam in Edinburgh, but upon arrival she found out that she was going to be censored. She had to take the word ‘cunt’ out of her poem.

What I don’t understand is why censor her at all? Why is ‘quim’ or ‘vaj’ more acceptable?

Several days before this, I had posted on facebook mentioning that I was writing a poem about cunt. It was a short poem, not-so-subtly focusing on oral sex between two women, and very much celebrating cunt(s). I spoke to my mother on the phone later that day, who awkwardly went about telling me off for using such a word on a public forum. I understand that she meant well, but I proceeded to tell her off right back.

1. My posts are visible only to my friends, so I don’t view it as a public forum. But whether or not it is, that’s irrelevant. If I’m willing to get up and talk about it in a room full of strangers, why not online?

2.  When I make the word visible to my friends, my hope is that they will recognise that I don’t mean any harm or offence by using it. I believe the word should be appropriated and returned to a positive meaning (some debate that it was once a positive/neutral word for women).

3. In her book Cunt, Inga Muscio talks about there being no satisfactory word to describe a woman’s sexual organs. She points out that vagina means a sheath for a sword, and therefore ‘I ain’t got no vagina’. The focus is on what goes in, not what the anatomy itself is or does. So, I call it a cunt.

4. Cunt embodies every part of a woman’s genitalia. Why are we so afraid of, and offended by, a word that embodies and expresses the female sexual organs? Why have we been taught to revile a word that has its roots in life, fertility, freedom, pleasure, kindness and love?

5. And, regardless of all the above, if I want to use the word ‘cunt’ in a poem to celebrate femininity, female power, and female freedom, then I am damn well going to do so.

from amazon.co.uk

from amazon.co.uk

I had a very interesting reaction to reading out my first ‘cunt poem’ at Stirred Poetry in July. There were several cheers in support of the word, but one woman approached me afterwards to say that, while she had enjoyed hearing my poem, she absolutely hated that word (and that word only) and couldn’t stand to hear it. “Call me anything else,” she said, “call me a fucking dickhead if you want, but not that.”

I tried to explain that I don’t like to use the word as a derogatory term, but she was too caught up in hating it, and didn’t hear me. I used to use it all the time to curse: from about nineteen to twenty-four I used it incessantly, for much the same reason as I do now. I believe that overuse will soften its impact, as it has for so many other ‘taboo’ words. These days, I’ve gone the other way. If I catch myself using it as a curse, I take it back, I replace it with something more inventive, something less anti-women. But I still use it a lot.

I think that using cunt in sexual terms is more subversive, but I’m also content with people who use it as a light-hearted insult. The more it’s used, the less power it will hold as a form of abuse.

Suffice it to say, I’m currently ramming cunt into a lot of poems. Maybe after a while I won’t feel the need to. But, for now, I’m delighted to have been part of a ‘cuntlicious’ poetry reading last week.

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About sarahgracelogan

Sarah Grace is an itinerant scribbler and general layabout. She runs a writing group called CAKE.shortandsweet, because any form of procrastination from actual writing is always attractive to the serious author of refined taste. When not distracted by laser pens, Sarah Grace writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, poetry, stage scripts and screenplays. She has performed her work at Stirred Poetry, Bad Language and Tongue in Cheek Manchester. Her first publication, Humping the Boonies is a self-published chapbook available directly from the author, or from Travelling Man, Manchester. You can find more details about her ongoing projects, not to mention a selection of free stories up for grabs right here on her blog. https://sarahgracelogan.wordpress.com/about/ She also likes to talk about theatre, film, books, photography, and especially games and other things that involve collaborative storytelling. Sarah Grace likes feedback, in whatever form it comes.

11 comments

  1. Honestly, it’s my preferred word for the female anatomy as well. I can never say it though, because America is so against it, which is ridiculous. I’d much rather call it a cunt than a pussy (which sounds childish and is also used as a word for being weak) and vagina sounds so clinical (and as you pointed out, the definition is bothersome as well). I wish the stigma would go away. I think I’m going to ask my boyfriend what he thinks of the work next time I see him. I see nothing wrong with it, but clearly the world doesn’t always agree with me.

    • It’s frustrating, so I just keep using it and hoping things will change.

      I actually do quite like pussy – but I also consciously have made efforts to stop myself using it as a perjorative term as you describe. So many words used as insults are also words for female anatomy, especially genitalia, and recently I’ve been trying to cut them out of my speech as insults/curses (cunt, pussy, twat, dickhole – ew, etc). But also as you point out, words have different layers of meaning depending where you are, and so pussy doesn’t have entirely the same connotations for me living in Britain as it does for you.

      Language is so cool 😀

  2. *Peers around the corner tentatively* Want a male perspective?

    Ok then… *steps in*

    I think most people have a problem with the word because it is a harsh sounding word regardless of the context. The “K” and “T” both in such a short word emphasises two harsh sounds. I don’t like “minge” and the more modern “clunge”… (thanks to The Inbetweeners for that one) for the same reasons. Vagina sounds too… someone said clinical but I would go one step further and say it sounds mechanical.so any reading of that word in a sex scene for me is an instant killer.

    If anything, I have more problem with the word “pussy” because as you said, it has become to mean “weak” and “pathetic”. Not though, that I hear that word much. It certainly seems to be an Americanism.

    When I find one I do like I’ll come back to you, haha. At the moment I think I like “muff” as it sounds warm, comfortable and inviting!

  3. Beth

    Hmn, I agree with mgm75 that the sound of it is so harsh – a bit like the word ‘cock’.
    ‘Muff’ is better – not ideal, cos there really is no ideal word that I know of, but it’s the best of a bad bunch.
    But I do agree, Sarah, that words should not be taboo. However words are so powerful, they provoke an emotional response, so we are bound by our attitude to words whether we like it or not. We should always fight the urge to censor, but also understand why that urge is there, if you know what I mean!

  4. Aloha!

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It really made me think (I love language too!) But I agree with a comment made above that as well as the negative connotations of the C word it’s the sound that makes me reluctant to say it out loud.
    Also I don’t think with every historically negative word overuse dilutes the chances of offense. I think it has worked to some extent with the word ‘queer’ but definitely not with the N word which although used by many in the black community is still highly offensive.

    • You’re right of course, but then the N word has very different cultural connotations. I think cunt has been used in misogynistic ways, sure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been used to revile and hold down a whole segment of the population, as the N word has been. Events in history have prevented that word from being ameliorated – and I don’t necessarily think it should be. Although on a related note, I wonder if it’s more acceptable for women to embrace and use the word cunt, in the same way that nigger and queer have been appropriated by their own communities. It’s an interesting discussion.

      Yeah 🙂 It’s just really cool getting everyone’s thoughts on this tbh. I only sat down and started to rant about it after that conversation with my mum; I think everyone’s got their own opinion and it’s not my place to tell anyone they should or shouldn’t like a word.

    • It’s funny you mention the word “queer” because it never had a homosexual connotation in the first place. It always meant “odd” and could be used to describe people or situations. Today we use the word “weird” in that context. “My dream last night was really queer – I dreamt I was a talking marshmallow in the court of Henry VIII” sort of thing.

      The same with “gay” never had a homosexual connotation – it just meant happy. Yet now it has changed again to mean something a bit disappointing or rubbish. “That film was so gay!”

      • I wouldn’t say queer ‘never’ had a homosexual connection. To my knowledge it’s been in use as a gay signifier for at least 50 or 60 years, first with negative connotations in general society, and more recently repurposed by the queer community. I suspect if I looked into it, it was probably used by this community much longer, just ‘underground’.

        Gay is a funny word these days. As you say it’s had a kind of decline as it’s been repurposed by youth culture to be something negative, and I find it really interesting how various members of the queer community either totally revile negative uses of the word, and some embrace it for their own positive AND negative use. Personally I’ve trained myself out of using it as a derogatory term (I was part of the generation that this became a massive thing for) but I do use it as an ironic jokey insult to other queer friends (‘you massive gay! I love you! ‘)

      • In terms of “queer” I was thinking much further back than the 1960s. What I had in mind was Dickens… I believe that Scrooge uses the word “queer” several times, maybe when he talks to Marley…? I’ll have to look into that as I have the complete works on my KIndle.

        I’ve been online dating about a year now and I’ve seen women’s profiles that describe themselves as “queer” – it seems to have changed to mean either kinky and/or bisexual. So I’m not really sure what it means any more if I’m honest!

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