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.
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.