• Wed, Jul 31 - 1:20 pm ET

Bullish Life: Let’s Reclaim the Word “C*nt” for This Specific Purpose


Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

My mother told me that my grandmother once referred to “the w-word.”

It took me a minute to even figure out that “whore” was a word so bad it couldn’t be spoken. The silent “w” didn’t help my brainstorming efforts, and I was disappointed that the answer wasn’t something much more exotic.

I feel like “whore” has passed its way into our nation’s casual greetings and dirty talk. In a world of SlutWalks (which I support) and “Damn, you’se a sexy bitch” (not my favorite song), it’s hard to see “whore” as all that horrible just by itself, outside of its presence in an already-hateful sentence.

However: cunt. A lot of women really hate the word “cunt.”

I suggest we reclaim it. Not as a casual greeting (“Hey cunt, what’s up with you?”) Nor as an empowering term for the actual anatomy, as per the suggestion of The Vagina Monologues. (The inimitable Laurie Penny makes a better case here.)

“Cunt” still maintains the power to shock, and I don’t think people are going to start finding it sexy anytime soon. And in the US, at least, “cunt” is a deeply gendered word. (In the UK and Australia, and in the movie Trainspotting, “cunt” can be used for anyone.)

So we’ve got a powerful and gendered word on our hands. I don’t think we should use gendered insults for women unless there’s a good reason. I have a good reason.

I think we should reclaim the word “cunt” to describe women who screw over other women, such as by blaming women for their own rapes and murders.

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  • CB

    I like it–I haven’t really considered the idea of situationally specific insulting labels before, but I think this is a valid one and a great way to repurpose a word that I, at least, find generally despicable.

  • http://poorgoop.com/ Samantha

    I’m all for clarity in communication, so I think your proposal is brilliant. That horrible little word can now have real power to elicit change in the right direction.

  • Elizabeth Alexander

    i love the c-word. i pretty much use it as an all rounder like one would the f-word. it has positive and negative uses. I don’t really buy your proposal as the only way to use the word, but i definitely use it that way.
    and just on another note we really should stop considering it to be such a horrible word. because in the grand scheme of euphemisms for the vagina it’s really not that bad. (Gash, anyone? revolting) At least the c-word is strong and powerful. you don’t wanna mess with one and i really like that idea. i get that it’s also used to put women down, but so do many other words that for some reason don’t offend people as much as they do. so yeah, let’s reclaim c*nt!

    • Allison Ruork

      I absolutely agree. I use the c-word all the time (if you want to see something hilarious watch Louis CK talk about it). Gash is awful, I also think the phrase split-tail (referring to split genitalia) is pretty nasty, though I’ve only even heard it used by dickish military guys, so that might just be a contextual thing.

    • Muggle

      The way I see it, we also use slang terms for male genitalia as insults. Using sexual terms as swearwords and insults isn’t going away. Reclaiming ‘cunt’ to me just means taking some of the sting out of it, or ‘dethroning’ it as The Mother Of All Swears.

      Though my favorite means of reclamation is to call any man who advocates for the continued suppression of women ‘cunt.’ It’s their fault the word is considered to be so horrible, after all. I also call homophobes faggots.

  • http://jshdoff.tumblr.com/ jshdoff

    This is not at all like reclaiming “whore.” The use of whore has taken some of the sting out of it, it’s no longer being used just as a pejorative term — at least not by feminists, etc. which is how that kind of reclaiming works. What you’re proposing is taking “cunt,” by definition a slang term for vagina, and using it to describe women who don’t stand with other women. Bad women. Nasty women. Women with no womanly soul. And that’s what you want to associate with a vagina?

    How about we reclaim the term in a positive light, rather than use it in the way the world already uses it, to make women feel bad about being women and having women parts. Those women who betray their own gender do not get to be called something as sweet and cuddly and essential as a vagina, not matter what term you use.

    Once we start referring to our own vagina/pussy/vag/cooch/hoohah/beaver/twat as a cunt, the word loses its power. Not by slinging it around to shame other women.

    • Bedford Falls

      I agree. If there was ever an equivalent to “Uncle Tom” it would be Phyllis Schlafly, EXCEPT SHE’S A REAL PERSON! AAAHH! “Schlafly” should be repurposed into an insult, not c***.

    • Eileen

      THIS SO MUCH. I kind of want to log out just so that I can like it again.

      Reclaiming “whore” is not the same, because the meaning of whore is either a sex worker or a promiscuous woman (“whore” is not the same as “prostitute,” if you ever feel like tracing its roots). The way we use “bitch” bothers me, a little, because as an insult it’s used to mean that a person expresses traits stereotypically found in a woman (think about what it means to “bitch” about something or be someone’s “bitch”: to talk a lot and to take direction from someone else), not to mention that “bitch” will always be a gendered word given its literal definition.

      “Cunt” means vagina, in every country that speaks English, and has for a really long time, and I, for one, refuse to insult anyone by calling her a vagina and letting the implication stand that a vagina is a bad thing to be or to have.

  • Lala

    Soo…we’re going to “reclaim” a word that is really just Anglo Saxon slang for the female genitals, which has been used as a nasty slur against woman for a long time, by…still using it as a nasty slur against women, just women who say things we don’t like? Yeah, sounds legit. I thought one “reclaimed” a hateful word by using it over and over again all the time against people you like in casual conversation, the way some African Americans claim to be using the “n-word.” Either way, fucking stupid.