The Other Patrick sent us a link this week, and it’s right in line with some things we talked about a while back in comments: Laura Penny wants to bring the word “cunt” into the light of day. Her basic argument – that it represents female sexuality as a powerful and possibly even threatening element – is intriguing and worth considering. The problem is that the example she chooses of a usage about which people got overly uptight is an incident in which one man called another man a “cunt.”
That usage is never going to be okay. Why?
There are gulfs and chasms and abysses of difference between referring to a part of female anatomy as a cunt and calling an entire person a “cunt.” She thinks because “prick” is a put-down, too, it’s all the same – but she’s mistaken. Being male has never been considered a bad thing to be. Being female has been, and continues to be. Calling a man a prick says he’s a particular kind of man that the speaker doesn’t like. Calling someone a cunt says the person is a woman, period, and any kind of woman is an objectionable thing to be. Additionally, men often call each other “pricks” in a teasing or even affectionate way, whereas “cunt” is always and exclusively an insult of epic proportions [ETA: in the U.S., anyway].
Any term which relies on the agreed precept that a whole demographic of people are automatically worthless just can’t represent egalitarian values.
I do agree that the word works just fine in its anatomical usage. As Penny argues, it possibly the least offensive slang term available for that collection of body parts, and actually beats the proper words because we don’t have a single word for the entire part as a woman experiences it – we only have a term for how men experience it through sex:
the medical descriptor “vagina” refers only to a part of the organ, as if women’s sexuality were nothing more than a wet hole, or “sheath” in the Latin.
Additionally, Penny talks a lot about how powerful female sexuality is, and that argument has never made sense to me. Sexuality shouldn’t be powerful; the power we invest in male sexuality is the whole reason it’s gotten conflated with conquering and controlling. We need to be stripping the power from male sexuality, and then when nobody’s sexuality is a particularly powerful thing, we can put sex in its proper perspective as a non-threatening part of being human.