Friday, March 09, 2007

The C-word


Do you feel the difference?

Women do.

Do you feel the contempt?

Women do.

Do you feel the hatred?

Women do.

Most women call it “the c-word.” Most of us can’t bear the sound of it. Most women think it is the single most devastating word you can use against us.

There is no equivalent insult to a man. None. When you say that the three words shown above are equivalent to “cunt,” you are lying, and what’s more, we all know you’re lying—and you know you’re lying.

When a man calls a woman a cunt, he is calling her nothing more than an object that he can thrust his dick into. "You're a cunt" means "I can fuck you." And when a man calls a woman a cunt in a certain way, he is also telling her that he can fuck her—whether or not she wants it. We hear it. We feel it. We know it. The message is received.

“Dick” has become synonymous with "jerk." Nobody ever uses “cunt” to mean “jerk.” It was a great laugh-line in the first X-Men movie: Wolverine hated Cyclops, Cyclops hated Wolverine, and when Wolverine was asked to prove he was himself and not the [female] shape-shifter, he said, “You’re a dick,” to Cyclops, who grinned and walked away. The audience laughed.

Picture that scene with the word “cunt” substituted. You can’t. Substitute two women in the scene, and then picture it with the word “cunt” used. You still can’t. That is not the way the word is used. The word "cunt" is used explicitly, exclusively, to reduce a woman's entire worth to her vagina, and to make her think that because she is a woman, and has a vagina, she is less than a man.

The purpose of calling a man a dick, a prick, even a cock? Not the same. The power is still there. He is still a man’s man, and what’s more, he is now the instrument that gets thrust into the cunt.

When a man wants to truly insult another man, these are the words he uses:

Cocksucker. Pussy. Faggot. Homo. Queer. Wuss.

All of these words mean: You are less than full male. And one of them is a synonym for—of course—“cunt.”

When a man wants to go for the big insult, this is what he says:

“Eat me.”
“Suck my dick.”
“Suck my cock.”

There is no reverse for a woman. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a power thing. These phrases are so much more than mere insult. When used against a woman, they are threats.

"Eat me." Translation: You are my inferior. Service me.
"Suck my dick." Translation: Get down on your knees and service me, bitch.
"Suck my cock." Translation: I can make you get down on your knees and service me. Bitch.

There is nothing—nothing—in the English language that converts these threats to the feminine form.

The tangents that men go on to prove that cunt is not really that much of an insult are smoke and mirrors. You can talk about etymology. You can talk about the commonality of the c-word in the U.K. You can talk about modern usage changing its meaning. You can talk about other hurtful words, and pretend that people are overreacting about their use, too. And we still know that when you call us cunt, you say it with contempt, and you use it with hate, and your only purpose is to




Spare us the bullshit. Spare us the lectures on getting over it. Spare us the discussion on taking back the word for ourselves. It was never ours to begin with. It was always yours, and it will always remain yours. We don't want it. The hurt, now—that will remain ours, for as long as that word is in use.


Do you feel the difference?

We do.


Stacy said...

well said

gennimcmahon said...

Fabulous, spot-on, EXACTLY.

Elayne said...

Well done, DLG. *applause*

Andrew said...

You can talk about the commonality of the c-word in the U.K.

But if you do, you're almost certainly talking rubbish, you've almost certainly never spent any decent length of time in the UK, and it seems there's a good chance you're basing this truism solely on having seen Trainspotting.

Sorry, I'm repeating myself from Feministe, but I want this myth to die.

(There are, however, two mostly male-aimed insults which are non-feminising and closer to equivalence: bastard and dickhead (which is not equivalent to dick)).

ilyka said...

It’s a power thing.

BINGO! Damn, thanks for getting to the root of it so beautifully.

There are, however, two mostly male-aimed insults which are non-feminising and closer to equivalence: bastard and dickhead (which is not equivalent to dick)

I have a bastard story! I called a guy one once. I meant it--and I know this will sound weird, but I am a weird person--affectionately, i.e. "ya crazy bastard," same tone you'd say "ya big galoot," assuming anyone has said "galoot" unironically in the last 30 years, but I digress.

And the guy got MAD. "You called me a bastard!" And I had to be all, "But I meant it in a good way," and then he was all "There is no good way, I hate that word."

So I did this crazy thing where I quit using the word around him. I know! It's like I respected him as a person or something!


gennimcmahon said...

So I did this crazy thing where I quit using the word around him. I know! It's like I respected him as a person or something!

I'm sorry, I was reading along just fine and then you said the above in, what, Martian? I can't understand what that means. You should warn people if you're just going to switch to some language most of us don't speak, you know. I mean, it's only considerate.

Andrew said...

Ilyka, you're clearly crazier than I could possibly have imagined.

Lesley Plum said...

So I did this crazy thing where I quit using the word around him. I know! It's like I respected him as a person or something!

Was that like the hardest thing you ever had to do, or what? Haven't you felt monstrously oppressed ever since? Don't you just resent the hell out of him because you can no longer use that word in his presence?





mythago said...

"Bastard," like "son of a bitch," is an insult to the man's mother.

Heraclitus said...

Wow, dlg, this is a great post (I thought it was Ilyka up until the end). After reading your first post, I thought maybe you were going to blog exclusively about Big Gay Cock , but I see that isn't the case.

I don't know what planet these people are living on who pretend these words, especially the seaward, aren't verbal violence. I've rarely called women bees, and I don't remember ever calling one a c, but I've called other men both when I was speaking threateningly of them, whether in their presence or otherwise. There's no question what telling another man to shut his little bitch mouth means. And it means something much different from, "Shut up, you fucking prick!" "Why do you act like such a dick, then walk away" is clearly not the equivalent of "Why don't you come back here and say that, you little fucking c***?"

And, by the way, I'm not mentioning any of this because I'm trying to swagger of because I'm proud of having lost my temper or because I think public meltdowns are things of glory. One of the things I've found helpful about reading feminist blogs is seeing how banal a lot of my intuitive or instinctive responses to situations are. So, yes, I'm embarrassed at having been such a tool. But I'm also well aware of what those words mean.

One minor disagreement: from what I've seen, the word "cocksucker" has morphed in meaning into something like "super asshole." When someone says, "My boss is such a cocksucker," I don't think it's equivalent to "My boss is such a fag." Other people may disagree, but I've mainly heard cee esser used to connote extreme aggression, not weakness or effeminancy.

ilyka said...

Wow, dlg, this is a great post (I thought it was Ilyka up until the end).

If she sticks around long enough (i.e. doesn't get too distracted by all the gay pr0n), you'll all figure out pretty quick that she's much better at this than I am. Kind of like what happened with Genni.

(Note to self: Next time invite co-bloggers who are not actually good at this so I will look better.)

daddyslittlegirl said...

Ilyka doth protest too much. I have long admired her writing, probably about as long as I've known her.

Stop talking trash about yourself, girl.

Heraclitus, you were ready to pigeonhole me after one post?

Man, this is a tough crowd.

Heraclitus said...

I wasn't ready to pigeonhole you, dlg, I just thought it was a surprising first post, all about your appreciation of gay porn. I just wasn't sure where you would be going from there.

And I agree about Ilyka running herself down: drop the false modesty, lady.

Eric said...

wonderful post. I'm excited to get yet another great blogger without even subscribing to a new RSS feed. Cheers.

(And it doesn't really matter what you associate with "cocksucker", the meaning is fairly clear. Also, ditto on "bastard" being a mother insult.)

witchy-woo said...

Brilliant post!

I'm so glad I've found this blog.

Righteous Bubba said...

Just so you know, you need never see the word on the internet, at least not in html. The cheapest and easiest method follows:

First, browse with Firefox.

Then install Greasemonkey.

Then go to and pick out a censoring script and install it.

It doesn't mean you have to censor a bundle of other words too: it's pretty obvious how to edit the scripts, so if you'd prefer to leave more valuable profanities in there you can. You should even be able to replace instances of that there word with something like {and here I prove I'm a total idiot} or whatever might be more amusing.

Bitey said...

First of all, can I just say that it astounds me that dudes, (especially?) liberal "nice" guys, even try to pretend that "cunt" is a hatred-neutral insult. Jesus! How dumb do they think we are? Don't answer that.

I've been racking my brains trying to think of an insult that could possibly compare, and the best I can do is to tell the dude, "You're nothing." You have to say it with utter contempt.

Or you can say he has a tiny penis. You know, waggle your pinky at him. Or even call him "Pinky." That's pretty good. They hate being laughed at. I'm sure however, that more than one woman has been sexually assaulted as punishment for this insult. I'm sure many a rapist has convinced himself that this was her way of "asking for it."

Shinobi said...

Great post.

Though I will say, despite being obviously female I tell people to suck my dick all the time.

I figure that way I can be insulting and they can be all "Uhhh..... huh?"

I used to have a giant cock shaped thermos that I kept around just to wave at people in college. But I don't think they'd let me bring that to the office.

Helen said...

Hey Andrew? How about this-I DO live in the UK, my partner is English, his friends are English, my entire team is from England/Scotland/Wales and you know what? They all use the word "cunt". They use it often, in fact, and it's true-it's not nearly as offensive over here as it is elsewhere.

They use it and so do I, and I'm a fucking woman.

So Andrew, don't come in here waving your inflatable dildo if you don't know where the fuck you've been sticking it, man. Just because you use the word "rubbish", it does not make you the voice of the UK.

Helen said...

PS-as a chick, pretty much no term offends me in that "crazy bar talk" kind of way. Bitch? Whore? Cunt? No problem. Much like most guys I know don't blink at dick, pussy, or dickhead. I think it's all in the throwdown, really. I can see how all of those terms can be offensive to some people, but they don't really come across to me as "demeaning to women" so much as simply demeaning.

LornaJay said...

I was just trying to explain this to the SO, and he didn't get it. I'll try showing him the post - you're far more eloquent than I am.

Kristjan Wager said...

Good post.

I have never been able to understand why people can't get the simple principle of not using words that offend other people.
Yes, words have different meanings in different countries and contexts, but that doesn't mean that you can use that as an excuse to use them, when it's clearly is not in a non-offensive context.

One simple example, in Danish we still use a specific word for someone who is half-black/half-white. There is a similar word in English, but no-one would use that any more.

Should I just use it when speaking English, saying that it's ok to use in Danish?
Of course not. Instead, I also avoid using it in Danish as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Helen? How about this- I DO live in the UK, my partner is Scottish, mine and his friends are from England/Scotland/Wales and you know what? None of them use the word "cunt". And why? Because it´s offensive.

So Helen, don't come in here shouting your mouth off if you don´t know what you´re talking about. Just because you use the word, it does not make you the voice of the UK.

the bewilderness said...

Dear Helen,
I would suggest that you are hanging out with asshats and therefore you suck it up and behave like an asshat yourself.
I used to hang with asshats. Now I confine myself to decent human beings.

ilyka said...

New rule! NO ONE YELLS AT OTHER COMMENTERS right off the bat, without bothering to find out something about them first. I don't care if you're drunk, angry, high, or just having one of those days. You can yell at me all you want but for fuck's sake, lay off each other.

As this discussion is occurring on various blogs and is seemingly endless, I've read almost as many Brits say the word's usage is not that serious/offensive/rare in the UK as I have read ones who say it's almost as serious/offensive/rare there as it is in the United States. I see no clear consensus on the matter, so as far as I'm concerned, EVERYBODY WINS! YOU'RE BOTH RIGHT! Because to be perfectly honest, if that jackass Alon Levy hadn't brought it up in the first place, I wouldn't care, because I have my hands full dealing with the mouth-breathers who think it's a fine, fine word on my OWN side of the Atlantic.

Are we clear, Brit readers? Knock it off!

Helen said...

Wow. This has gone downhill fast. I actually took exception to Andrew for his use of calling Ilyka the REAL "c" word-Crazy. That is not on.

Obviously Andrew, Anonymous and some kind of "Bewilderness" are the voice of the post here, and any dissenters are not welcome. Guess I'll go hang with the cunts then, seeing as it's become a bit of a dogpile.

PS-I never said I was the voice of the UK. I simply said someone else wasn't.

PPS-"Asshat" is so over as a term.

Stacy said...

Actually, I love the word "cunt". I love it's sharpness on both ends. Bitch has lost all meaning and cunt is more than a suitable replacement. I use it all the time. Like when I want to identify the less than desirable women in this world. Hmm.

Andrea said...

I have never willingly sucked dick because a "cocksucker" is obviously a bad person deserving of contempt.

Also, how many guys will see a picture of a pretty girl and say "Nice pussy, I'd hit it"?

I've started saying, "Nice dick, I'd cut it."

daddyslittlegirl said...

Speaking of Alon, I forgot to dedicate this post to him.

Better late than never.

ilyka said...

Andrew called me crazy in a sarcastic response to this comment of mine here. He didn't mean it sincerely.

Dissent is fine. Always has been.

Doctor Science said...

I have to disagree with Andrew and with dlg.

I once made a post (under my other sekrit identity) about this very topic, making this very point, and several feminist informants reported that in their local dialects "cunt" is a term of mild to moderate insult from and toward persons of either gender, more or less equivalent to "jerk", in fact.

These informants are from the northern counties of England, Australia, New Zealand, and Tennessee. The Tennessee usage is multiply attested or I wouldn't have believed it, either.

Chris Clarke said...

New rule! NO ONE YELLS AT OTHER COMMENTERS right off the bat, without bothering to find out something about them first.

SCREW YOU!!!!!!1!

Helen, I hope you stick around.

ilyka said...

SCREW YOU!!!!!!1!

aka the finish-this-sentence part of, "You know you're getting worn out by Pandagon trolls when your initial response to all comments everywhere is . . . ."

Wait, that almost sounded reasonable. BALLS TO YA DADDY!!!

mythago said...

I can see how all of those terms can be offensive to some people, but they don't really come across to me as "demeaning to women" so much as simply demeaning.

Do you really not get why a man calling another man 'pussy' is sexist?

Shinobi said...

My boyfriend's friends really take this to a whole new level of creativity actually. When one of them is being particularly whiney the other will usually offer them a tampon. (Which I find mildy amusing, as implying that a guy is on his period does not offend me.) However it does bother me when he says things like "Do you want me to get your purse for you?"

I think I have finally managed to explain to him why this is offensive, and that using this language regardless of his intent still perpetuates the belief that women are somehow inferior to men. Even if he PERSONALLY doesn't think that. (Though I kindof think he does, I blame Rural Indiana.)

He wont stop of course, he seems to think it is universally funny to make fun of people, so it's not just women. The other day he fell in the snow and yelled "JEWISH SNOW!!" the jewish guy at the busstop was not amused. I figure eventually he'll offend someone who is bigger than him and he'll realize not everyone shares his sense of humor.

Doctor Science said...


Please encourage this guy to find his humor by insulting football, hockey, and rugby players. He should feel free to branch out to (male) basketball and baseball players, as well.

If he doesn't think that would be funny, then it should be clear that he's really getting his chuckles by insulting people he doesn't think are as good as he is. Which is your hint to kick him to the curb.

daddyslittlegirl said...

Doctor Science:

So, your statistical sample includes how many people? From what walks of life? What socio-economic levels? What is their percentage represented in the population?

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data."

If "cunt" is as acceptable as you say it is, why is it not used in the women's locker rooms at the fitness centers? Why don't soccer moms tease each other gently by calling one another cunts? How is it possible that so many, many women choose to find the word offensive, and yet, you think we're wrong to say that most women find the word offensive?

I'll tell you what. Next time I go to the gym, I'm going to tell the girls they all look like fat little cunts, and see how many of them laugh. Then I'll try it on line at the supermarket the next time a woman annoys me, and see what happens. Oooh! Oooh! I know! I'll use it on the neighbor that always pisses me off and tell her to stop being such a cunt!

I'll let you know what happens.

Shinobi said...

Dr. Science,

I'm pretty sure he doesn't think ANYONE is as good as he is. You should see him go after the adolescent preppy boys with the popped collars, or the rest of the lazy Irish drunks that he calls a family (his words not mine).

I don't think he actually sees women as inferior to men, his mom wouldn't put up with it. I also make twice as much money as him and am much better educated and he does not care. I just don't think he sees the connection between funny insults and the oppression of people. He does not yet fully grasp why I see calling someone a "pussy" as being insulting to women, though we have discussed it. I think it's just ingrained at this point.

My goal is to teach him to actually give a shit about how other people are feeling and not find quite as much humor in their pain. (I think his goal is to get me to stop squealing at the TV whenever there are cute animals on it.) Both of these endeavors will probably take the better part of the rest of our lives.

Eric said...

I have a question regarding the use of this word and other slurs (gendered, racial, sexual) like it in the context of theatre, and thought this might be a good place to pose it. (If that counts as too much thread drift, please ignore me.)

I am a straight white male playwright, very concerned with the state of things, and many of my plays deal with sexism, racism and violence. I have had the sense that used properly (ironically?), slurs can be used in theatre/poetry to expose the hate behind them.

I don't really care if I end up offending the cultural censors and people in power, but I would rather not end up perpetuating something I should be squashing.

Where is the line? Any thoughts would be appreciated.


Doctor Science said...

If "cunt" is as acceptable as you say it is, why is it not used in the women's locker rooms at the fitness centers?

In New Zealand? It probably is.

The point I'm making is that AFAICT there *is* regional variation in how "cunt" is used, which shouldn't be surprising -- "bad" words often vary a lot between dialects.

Like you, I had expected "cunt" to be "fighting words" everywhere, but I'm just sayin' that it doesn't seem to be the case. What I don't know is what term counts as "fighting words" for women in other dialects of English, which may end up supporting your basic argument.

blondie said...

As far as the c-word being the vulgarity insult de rigueur in Great Britain, I don't see a whole lotta Americans talking about taking the lift to their flat or keeping their pants up with braces or their spare tire in the boot. So why not knock off the British affectation as an excuse to use the c-word?

A lot of our vulgarity insults seem to be directly derived from common usages for genitalia, but this post makes the great point that those descriptive of heterosexual male genitalia are kind of powerful and more-or-less good, while those descriptive of female genitalia are weakening and far more negative, while those descriptive of homosexuality are, again, negative.

Once again, heterosexual male is the standard and those who differ are lesser. Reminds me of MacKinnon's theories on difference and dominance.

girl said...

The way I tend to feel about "offensive" and demeaning words like cunt is this: they aren't offensive unless you choose to be offended by them. Take the word back, ladies. Getting offended and worked up when someone calls you a cunt only gives MORE power to the "prick" that called you a cunt in the first place. I tend to laugh at people that use words like that, which almost always pisses them off b/c they were SO SURE I'd get angry.

ilyka said...

Take the word back, ladies. Getting offended and worked up when someone calls you a cunt only gives MORE power to the "prick" that called you a cunt in the first place.

Thank you for this, Girl, because I think what you say here is the strongest argument in favor of the word's continued usage. (I am also highly susceptible always to the argument that one must never voluntarily surrender personal power to an antagonist, for reasons of mental health and dignity.) Beautifully put!

Where I think its weakness lies, though, is in the difficulty of reclaiming slurs. As piny put it in this post:

When you reclaim an epithet, you take it and use it against its meaning in order to deflate its meaning. You are practicing verbal civil disobedience. You are refusing to maintain the original, hateful sense of the word and attempting to force the word to carry a new meaning, your meaning. Reclamation is the name given to this strategy because it is so frequently practiced by the original targets of the hatred.

About "cunt" specifically, piny quotes a man who swore he was only reclaiming it (aren't they always? So sweet of them), and then shows why it isn't his word to reclaim:

Okay! Now we’re ready to take another look at this argument:

"'Cunt'" is a word that many gay men with feminist poltics out the wazoo use all the time, a word that has been reclaimed by many on the left, though perhaps they’re not the genteel sort of folk you’re comfortable with. Don’t be so delicate, Tom. It’s a big world out there."

Remember, it’s important to be aware of the original meaning of the epithet. “Cunt” is used to insult people, often but not always women. It implies that women and women’s bodies, their genitalia in particular, are inherently disgusting and unpleasant. It implies that a woman should be objectified, reduced to nothing but her body. It also sexualizes women in a crude and demeaning way, and is frequently deployed along with words that insult a woman based on her sexuality. For all of those reasons, it is deeply misogynist.

So if we were to look for a context in which this word was not reclamatory, we would want to find an instance in which it was used as a misogynist insult to describe a woman as disgusting or unpleasant or to imply that women and their bodies are disgusting or unpleasant.

And vice versa: If we were to look for a context in which this word WAS reclamatory, we would want to find an instance in which it was not used as a misogynist insult, was not used to describe a woman as disgusting or unpleasant, and was not used to imply that women and their bodies are disgusting or unpleasant.

In other words, we'd want it to become "bitch." We have had some success reclaiming that one as a label of pride and defiance, as evidence by this magazine, for example.

Laughing at guys who use it, that's a maneuver I love as a strategy--I call that "never let them see you sweat." Don't give 'em the satisfaction. But laughing at them doesn't take the power to silence and shut down out of the word for all women; we have to do something more to accomplish that. Either it must go the way of the n-word and become an automatic marker of degeneracy, or it must be reclaimed. I really don't see a half-measure here that doesn't boil down to "get women to just accept it."

We've accepted enough sex-specific insults as it is--bimbo, slut, whore, bitch, bint, skank--the list goes on and on. Enough!

Anonymous said...

Just reading your comments makes me want to break up with all of you, and I don't even know any of you.