Many of the words for vagina are sweet, cute, girlish or even just plain stupid, demonstrating, it seems, an enduring lack of ease for that body part.
But in the recent movie Kick-Ass, 13-year-old Chloe Moretz (playing an 8-year-old) broke the last taboo, facing a group of men (men!) during a fight scene and growling, “Okay, you cunts, let’s see what you can do now.” The crowd—and the internet—went wild.
What is it about the word cunt that turns otherwise normal, relaxed, f-bomb dropping Americans into prudish Victorian-era hysterics? It’s used liberally in places like England and Australia, and often in a joking, jocular manner, particularly when a man is addressing another man. However, the word cunt is directed primarily toward women here in the States—when it’s used at all—and so conjures up notions of male anger, disgust and fear toward the fairer sex. (“What’s the worst insult you can give somebody? Why, call them a vagina. Use the ugliest word for vagina, too! That’ll show ‘em! Vaginas are gross! Let’s go drink more beer.”)
I emailed, texted and called some friends, hoping to get their thoughts on the matter, and was surprised by both the discomfort in discussing it—seems they don’t like talking about vaginas, either—and also the incredible level of arbitrary power everybody gives the word cunt. Anybody who’s studied a foreign language, learned a curse word, and then thought, “Well, that doesn’t mean anything,” knows that it’s not the word itself, but the meaning and understanding behind it which carries weight.
Putting “bad” words on shelves and gleefully, angrily pulling them out on special occasions to demonstrate utter disgust only makes them stronger; it seems to me that if you want to take away the power from a certain word (as black people have done with that other terrible, angry, designed-to-mortally-wound word), you must take it back, own it, trample on it, make it common, make it nothing.
The old playground sing-song is wrong. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can hurt even more.
First up, the girls:
“Well, prior to moving to LA, when I was still in the “south” I was VERY offended by this word. If anyone uttered it, I was pissed. Now that I’m used to such things and have many friends in comedy, so watch a ton of “offensive” comedians, it doesn’t bother me as much. However, this is when it’s being used comedically. If anyone called me, my friends, or family that word, I would kill them! I’ve used it when joking around or calling someone that in private, and not to their face. It can be fun, but should be reserved for only the lowest of low scum women. I think using it for a man is weird and I no likey.” R.
“Funny, because I just used this word the other day when referring to an old boss. The c-u-next-Tuesday word is reserved only for EXTREME cases and for dramatic emphasis. It shows exactly how much I really hate someone or something because I really don’t ever use that word otherwise.” T.
“This is such a funny question because my husband and I were just talking about it the other day. We both agree it’s one of the WORST things you could call someone….definitely worse than bitch. I sometimes scream it at bad L.A. drivers. Ha! If someone called me it, I’d be offended. I don’t feel any erotic connotation with it. My husband won’t even say it…he just says the “c” word. It’s such an abrasive word to say, so I think that’s part of the reason it is so negative in my mind.” H.
“I’ve actually always been a fan of the c word, particularly when said with a British accent. In fact when I say it I say it with a British accent. It is empowering but also shocking especially if you don’t typically use foul language. Throwing in a c word shows you mean business.” J.
“Oh, boy. I reserve that one for really special occasions. My gay friends, however, refer to everyone as “cunty” …even a waitress that fails to bring their light beer in a timely fashion.” I.
“I think cunt is best used in a sexy context, though far better for a testosterone fueled, wham-bam session than a loving romp. And I’m down with calling a dude a cunt, though it’s sooo much better with a British accent. As for calling me a cunt off the cuff, context is crucial. For example, the huz saying, “Make me dinner, cunt,” would not fly. Nor would, “What’s up, cunt?” from a girlfriend.” E.
“I’m pretty outwardly conservative, despite the fact that I drop F bombs a lot. The C word makes me ill – I think because of the anger with which it’s generally used. It’s meant to hurt someone and be offensive, so maybe it’s the intention that gets me all upset.” V.
“Oh, I hate it. HATE it. I think it’s especially demeaning when it’s used by a guy to describe a forceful woman. I have used it a few select times, but only if no other word will really describe how awful a woman is. I believe it is sort of like the “n” word. I don’t think men should use it in this country to describe women. I think that the Brit/Aussie way of using the word is fine. . . in England/Australia. It’s not a colloquialism here and therefore should not be used as one. Here it is extremely offensive.” D.
And the guys:
“Hate it. Gross. Vaginas are gross enough as it is, without adding such harsh sounding nicknames. They’re like burritos wrapped in enigmas, wrapped in a burrito. Correction: they’re like a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a burrito.” C.
“I use it only for the worst women on the planet. Like if I just got finished seeing Ann Coulter on TV. What a cunt. But I use it very, very little and never anatomically. It’s not like the N word (which I never use) but certainly more cautious with it than, say, motherfucker (just for example).” B.
“Don’t you think it’s kind of weird that men (and lesbians) put the vag on a pedestal, but then use synonyms for it in a condescending way? Doesn’t really make sense. But that’s a conversation for another time…..” S.
“I hate that word…gross! It is sooo trashy…I only use it if I really, really can’t stand someone.” J.
“Avoid it, unless to use it menacingly toward someone I despise. But in Australia, people say it ALL the time, like “Ohh, he’s a good cunt” or “You forgot the beers, ya bloody cunt.” No lie! And over there, the forbidden word for vagina is “fanny”.” R.
“I personally don’t like the word. But that is more so because I grew up knowing that my mother had a real distaste for it. Once when I was 9 or so I asked my mom about the word and I could tell immediately that she was not a fan. I never cussed around her as it was, but I knew if I did then it had better be any word except that one. Regardless, I don’t like the way it sounds or the way it rolls off my tongue. I don’t particularly like anything about it except the stigma that is attached and how our culture despises the word while others seem to almost embrace it. That’s not to say that I’m offended when someone says it. That’s not it at all. I just choose not to say it and it’s never been a part of my vocabulary. Probably never will.” E.
And finally my friend Steve Hofstetter (http://www.stevehofstetter.com/), a stand-up comedian, writes this: “I have a story about it.
I was in a small town in Ohio, and my opener was getting interrupted by a drunk woman. She just wouldn’t shut up. He dealt with her enough (or so we thought) and then the middle act got on stage. The middle couldn’t go off script, so the drunk woman just kept yelling. When the middle act referred to a vibrator as “a walking penis”, the lush yelled “What’s a walking penis?” over a dozen times. By the time I got on stage, I was so angry when she interrupted me that I said, “Lady, I don’t know what a walking penis is, but I just met a talking cunt.” The place went wild. And I made sure to explain. “I have been performing comedy for 15 years, and I’ve never said that word on stage. Not once. Because I was waiting for the exact right time. For the time when it was the only word I could use to describe the situation. And you, miss, are a fucking cunt.”
She didn’t say another word.”