Does it offend you? To most, the word “cunt” entails foul language, reference to female genitalia, or a way of describing the most despicable of persons. But like religion or politics, most have a strong opinion on whether or not the word is acceptable. I think the exploration of this word is fascinating.
First, turn to Bill Casselman’s “Cunt: Etymology &Use of a Taboo Word,” a lengthy and informative piece on the origin of the word and why so many find it highly offensive. Casselman, a Canadian etymologist and author, writes
When the word’s profane thunder hammers the tin of an English sentence, women hear the hateful and total dismissal of what Goethe called “the eternal feminine.”
He makes the case that interpretation between men and women is highly crucial to the perception of the word:
Men, on the other hand, recognize something dark and redolent of body truth in cunt’s repellent monosyllabic starkness: namely, the male imperative to penetrate, ejaculate, and then make for the hills as quickly as possible in the hopes of chancing upon yet another opportunity to spread their insistent seed. No violins or perfumed love couches hover near the word. Cunt is a sex word with the romantic cloak of mutuality and lovingness flung off. This is also why men employ the word as one of the most frequent insults directed at women.
Unfettered by the extreme nature of the word, Casslemen explores the deep roots of the word, ranging from Ka-t in Egyptian hieroglyphics (meaning “vulva, vagina, mother and women”) to the Chinese Kun which an astute post-doc connected to “women” or “mother” in Ba gua. Both the researcher and Casselman posit that the trailing “t” alludes to a “standard marker for grammatical femininity.”
Still offended? Some want to take the positive slant (who can argue with “mother?”) even further by using the word “as a positive force to unite and empower women.” That would be Inga Muscio, author of “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.” In a Bust review about the book, Ophira Edut writes
At its core, Cunt [the book] is a metaphor for unconditional self-love, a gentle call for women to embrace all things sacred and essentially female. And that’s not just lip service. Cunt does for feminism what smoothies did for high-fiber diets—it reinvents the oft-indigestible into something sweet and delicious.
London-based feminist Kate Allen claims that being offended by it is sexist itself, given our lackadaisical attitude towards “dick” or “prick”:
Opposing the use of ‘cunt’ is itself sexist, because it grants more respected status to a woman’s genitals than to a man’s. The extra level of offensiveness that many people perceive the word to carry implies a squeamishness about women’s bits – this attitude is in itself sexist or even misogynist! We’re beginning to get over that squeamishness, reverting the word back to its original meaning and reclaiming it as a descriptive term. This is a positive action, removing its negative connotations.
To the majority of US citizens, I doubt these arguments will go over well. We’re a society too shrouded in proper English, prudishness, and separate gender roles to unveil a taboo term into mainstrem society as a source of empowerment. But I like to think the movement will gain ground, sparking if nothing else a consciousness-raising effort of why we find some words heinous and others docile.
Note: producing an image for this post seemed crude…or is that my sensibility talking? Google the word for yourself and see what I had to work with.