Jenny Diski had a really interesting piece in the most recent New York Times Magazine, about the word cunt. At least, I’m 99% sure that’s what the “unspeakable” word was that she very cleverly referred to throughout her essay; the Times’ style guide considers the actual word too crude to be printed.
Among the various points raised was the tension between the “grenade of the four-letter word” and the potential to neutralize a charged word by using it in everyday conversation. Cunt isn’t the only word that fits into this equation; fuck, shit, and several of George Carlin’s other seven dirty words have also been in the hot seat. Yet cunt is almost universally held to be one of the most offensive words in the English language, only able to be verbalized as the c-word or the ridiculously cutesy C U Next Tuesday.
I think it’s time to reclaim “cunt.” What should be so insulting about something that means female genitalia (specifically, the vulva)? Is the dislike of the word symptomatic of a larger unease with female sexuality? There’s certainly ample evidence that our culture is more comfortable with terms for male anatomy than female; look at all the euphemisms for male masturbation, and then try to think of even half as many for the female equivalent.
Some words have not survived the events of history all that well—how many people would want to name their son “Adolf” now?—but the reverse is also true. “Queer” was once used to insult gay people, and while that still is the case, the word is also used by as a term of pride and inclusion. And let’s not forget that while Diski may be the most recent writer to explore the word, other writers have taken on the issue as well, most notably Inga Muscio in her book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.
So what do you think? Is it past time to destigmatize “cunt,” or is the word so irrevocably tainted that it should remain verboten?
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.