Can we check our cunting privilege?
This is a guest post by Anna Fleur.
I’m a militant feminist. I believe that women should come together to destroy patriarchy and create a society were our gender shouldn’t determine our safety – perceived or actual. I’m also a feminist who uses the word ‘cunt’. A lot.
This is partly because it’s a satisfying word to use, partly because it was a word I heard alot when I was growing up – mostly in the school yard by young people who didn’t have a clue what it meant. I don’t think it’s gendered because some women don’t have cunts and some men do. But mainly, I use it because I’m too busy thinking about all the other, more important feminist issues to give a damn about my language.
Honestly, I’m sure if women who are beaten on a regular basis but have no access to help, women who are having their cunts surgically mutilated in the name of culture, women who are fighting tooth and nail to be allowed to have an abortion after being raped knew how much of our time was devoted to debating about a word and whether or not it is sexist, they’d want to call us cunts. That’s understandable really, isn’t it?
The fact that one of Western feminism’s most hotly debated subject is a word is disgusting. It just shows our privilege, that few issues are more important to us and impact our daily lives. The fact that good feminists spend so much time telling other women that they’re bad feminists for using that word suggests that there’s something very wrong with our priorities.
In my eyes, cunt is a non-gendered term that can be used to describe men, women and objects and makes no judgement about their genitalia. However, some people may choose not to use it, for fear of insulting someone or being labelled a bad feminist. I don’t judge people who just don’t want to use it, but can we keep that decision personal? Instead of stressing about how we throw around a centuries-old word can we get back to devoting time to fighting against the cuts to rape and violence protection services for women, stopping Dorries, 40 days of life and their American equivilants’ attempts to dismantle our reproductive health services and find new ways to support women worldwide who are facing great oppression on a daily basis?
This is a short post, sort of because I have revision, but mainly because I don’t have a great deal to say about the matter. Cunt is a word, and that’s all there is to it.
Zoe, an amazing woman/feminist/friend, gives her view on the word ‘cunt’.
Originally posted on Anna’s blog, which is excellent and we recommend you all read.
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What Dunc said. Although my knee-jerk response to Acanthium was “piss off you pompous nob”, which wouldn’t really have made my case well 😉
“Swearing is usually a sign of immaturity, poor vocabulary, or both.”
An utterly absurd contention. Swearing is sometimes the most appropriate and apposite use of language possible. I’ll wager my perspicacity and erudition against yours any day of the week, and yet I can revel in bawdy banter with the best of them when the occasion allows. To arbitrarily rule out an entire class of expression like this is simply to hobble one’s own mind and tongue.
Swearing is usually a sign of immaturity, poor vocabulary, or both. Arguing that certain swear words should be used as markers for socio-political positions suggests that you think that causing offense, in the name of those positions, will win support for those positions. That tactic may work among those who are immature or poorly educated – but it drives away those who are mature or well-educated, so it probably isn’t worth it. When you grow up, Anna, I hope your vocabulary improves too.
Germaine Greer provides a very interesting historical/linguistic perspective on the word here:
@Gary I thought one of the benefits of tags was avoiding having to choose that sort of thing. A post like this should be in ‘feminism’ AND ‘culture’, for instance; the abortion rights one should be in ‘feminism’ AND ‘health’; and so on.
In other words: ‘feminism’ is a useful categorization that I would like to be able to search by, but putting all women-related posts into a subfolder marked ‘feminism’ would be ghettoizing, if it were in such a way that they are not also duplicated in other relevant subfolders — which it sounds like you’re suggesting?
@Alyson – Yeah that wasn’t fair of me. I was talking in a continuation of a conversation elsewhere way, not really thinking about the whole blog. And this kind of article does really rile me, but again that’s from past exposure to it on sites like the guardian, not BG. So, sorry, that was hasty and unwarranted.
@Beth, I assigned this post the ‘Feminism’ category because I thought that would be the most useful for readers. However, you raise that point at a very helpful time for us because as editors we all feel we have far too many categories to be useful for navigation, and in our next redesign we’ll be moving to perhaps half-a-dozen ‘sections’ instead.
Would readers like to see a Feminism section be one of those, or would that smack of ghettoisation? Would an ‘equalities’ or ‘liberation’ section be better? Or would you prefer that issues arising from these movements and analyses be dealt with across sections – maybe this post should be in a Culture section; posts about abortion rights in Health?
Very interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.
“However, some people may choose not to use it, for fear of insulting someone or being labelled a bad feminist. I don’t judge people who just don’t want to use it, but can we keep that decision personal?”
Thing is “cunt” isn’t just a gendered term, it’s also the most offensive swear word in English (I think). If someone chooses to use an incredibly offensive term that they *know* will exclude some people from the discussion then, well, I am going to judge them.
If nothing else I’m going judge that they have poor judgement and are the sort of person that doesn’t mind seriously offending people.
Personally I think it’s a good quality to try not to needlessly offend people. This goes twice over in political discussions.
I don’t care one way or the other what you say to your friends but if you get up and publicly argue righteous politics in a pointlessly provocative and alienating way then, well, you’re going to have to expect some people not to take you very seriously.
Perhaps you have so many allies you don’t mind turning a few away.
Yeah, maybe it’s an internet tendency, I tend to avoid talking about feminism on twitter.
But lots of internet based or real life with internet presence groups aren’t like people on twitter. On the feminist facebook groups I use, these are the first 3 topics on each page:
1) FGM, media call out for teenage feminists, violence against women in the mayoral campaign.
2) fundraising for an anti-victim-blaming campaign, women’s drama group, fighting fascism as feminists
3) all male mayoral candidates, feminist autobiographies, anti-sweatshop demonstration
I do think that it’s also worth talking about language, probably about the amount that we do talk about it. Certainly not in a policing way, but I’m lucky enough to never have seen that done, and I’ve spent plenty of time around feminists.
Worth remembering that “Western feminists” also suffer rape, verbal abuse and sexual harassment, and being called a “cunt” is a part of that often. In a gendered way. Sometimes it’s used in an apparently gender neutral way, but a lot of the time it isn’t. And because of that you can’t rely on everyone hearing you use it not having experienced it as a term of gendered abuse. Like I say, I use it, but I also sometimes stop myself using it, especially in very public places, because it is problematic. Master’s tools, house, etc. Doesn’t mean I judge other people for using it, unless they’re doing so in an abusive or explicitly sexist way. But fighting class privilege doesn’t have to mean trying to be like a romanticised version of a culturally homogeneous ‘working class’, and lots of left wing men leap at the opportunity to do that over more difficult kinds of liberation struggle. It can play into their hands to dismiss feminist critiques of language as class privileged. We can do both.
Beth – I take offence at you calling this a “token post-about-feminism”, because we do regularly have people writing about a range of feminist issues. Just in the last fortnight we’ve had posts on the right to breastfeed in public, the end of an exclusive male-only student society, and why CCTV isn’t effective at preventing sexual assault.
This is a blog which welcomes feminist writing, but it’s only a part of what we cover. I often write about feminist issues myself, but sometimes I want to write about something else – not because feminism isn’t important to me, but because I have other things I want to say as well.
If you think we’re avoiding the hard issues, are there any that you’d like to write about for us? Or can you suggest themes that you think we should commission a guest post on (or who we should ask to write it)?
I don’t know many teenage feminists, but spend a hell of a lot of time on twitter, where myself & other people (often women) are frequently pulled up for using “gendered terms”.
As I am in real life by other pretty radical feminists. There is definitely a divide between feminists in Liverpool on topics such as this – arguably a class divide. It’s almost a weekly topic here, (at least we’ll rage about being pulled up for it, if not have another tedious debate) which is maybe why my blog is a better place for it considering context.
As regards to gender, I feel like we should be approaching a point in these debates where gender can be separated from genitalia. Not only that, we’d probably do well to consider context. As active feminists we analyse the word and it’s origins, unlike those who throw it around on a daily basis. For most people gender doesn’t come in to it. In most cases it’s not used as a judgement of a person’s gender, genitalia or whether their behaviour meets stereotypes for one gender or another.
I plan on writing a follow up about language, class and culture, because it’s a discussion that needs to happen. I wish I’d touched more upon class and also the language used by people from different areas of the UK in the post, because that’s a definite factor in language use and needs to be recognised. I find it difficult to judge other people’s language because I feel I’m also judging their background.
Thanks for this blog post Anna. As a man i don’t use the word because quite a lot of women, and some men, are offended by it. Some male friends of mine do use it (possibly to try and be more ‘proletarian’, or because they think being vulgar is cool), and sometimes do offend women. I’m happy for women to use it though, as it doesn’t offend me at all, and I think its up to women to decide when/if its appropriate. So, I have decided to be cautious, and respectful of those people who are offended by the word, and just never use it.
OK, bad to be the only 3 commenters, but a further thought:
In the context of your blog, this post wouldn’t particularly have annoyed me, I would have partially agree with bits, slightly disagreed with other bits and read the next article. But I don’t like the editorial decision of isolating this out as a token post-about-feminism on BG. It’s what the Guardian do too, and avoids the hard issues. Your posts on violence against women at Occupy, police brutality, Dorries, or rape culture would, I think, be far more representative of what feminists do talk about.
I’m not a biological essentialist and wouldn’t care to be mistaken for one, but still, I think it’s disingenuous to claim that a word like ‘cunt’ is not a gendered term just because “some women don’t have cunts and some men do”. Of course it’s not my possession of a cunt instead of a cock that makes me a woman. I am a woman (mostly) because when I was little they told me I was a girl and socialized me accordingly. But the REASON that I was raised as such is that when I was born a doctor looked between my legs and assigned a sex, and society matches a gender to that sex.
That is: cunts may not be found exclusively in the bodies of one gender, but they are strongly associated with one gender and not the other, and that is what makes ‘cunt’ a gendered term. Like ‘cock’ or ‘dress’ or ‘beard’.
So, by all means, use the word. I do, and like you I believe it “can be used to describe men, women and objects and makes no judgement about their genitalia”. Swear words are not generally literal, anyway. Callings someone an “asshole” doesn’t mean you think they’re a human-sized, disembodied anus. Calling someone a “dickhead” doesn’t mean you think they have a dick for a head, nor even that you think they have a dick between their legs. But ‘dick’ is still a gendered word; ‘dickish’ behaviour is still behaviour associated with ‘masculine’ sorts of personal foibles. And yet women can be called “dicks”, and men can be called “cunts”, without calling their actual gender into question. That’s how swearing works. It is a magical part of language.
I would have tried to write that more nicely if I’d realised you were 16. Maybe you do have to deal with that kind of language squabble with fellow teenage feminists, but if so they’re really not representative of the rest of us. Whether you get involved in mainstream orgs like Fawcett or more radical groups like Go Feminist, I think you’ll find most organised feminists are doing practical and useful work, not telling each other off for swearing 😉
On the broader cultural issues, I love this blog for talking about them, but without losing _why_ things like words and femininity are important and getting caught up in the privilege games you’re talking about: http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/
Wait, where is this such a hotly debated topic? Not at any of the feminist meetings or conferences I’ve been to, or on any of the blogs I read. Which feminists are calling people on using cunt? I’ve heard the occasional discussion of the word, but almost always in the context of someone, like me, talking about the fact that they use it sometimes, don’t feel entirely comfortable with it, but oh well, life’s not perfect, eh.
And anyway, cunt has nothing to do with gender? Seriously? Say cunt if you please, it’s not that important, but something being not that important doesn’t make it entirely non-existent.
I think these kind of articles about ‘all the other feminists are doing it wrong and want to spoil your fun’ are silly, and annoying, and pandering to anti-feminism, and wrong. Most feminists I know are fighting the cuts, violence against women and discrimination at work. There are important and serious issues and disagreements to work out in feminism, but why not address some of those head on instead of just inventing new ones?