WARNING: This post will contain a LOT of swearing.
Today, I have been reading posts by Harpy Marx, Laurie Penny and Holly Coombe at the F-Word about the word 'cunt'.
Harpy Marx hates the word, pointing out its historically negative connotations and arguing that it should be offensive to all women. Laurie Penny seeks to reclaim the word for women, "as a word of sexual potency and common discourse rather than a dirty, forbidden word". Holly Coombe argues that the word should be neutralised, saying:
"It makes me squirm when men apologise for using the word cunt in front of me. I realise some of those men will be making an effort to respect certain feminist objections to the way the word has been used to oppress women but, in my experience, many more will reveal antiquated and unhelpful ideas about feminine delicacy. This leads me to the strategy of making it clear that I find such ideas far more sexist and offensive than a word for a part of my own body. This isn’t an invitation to be rough-housed or verbally abused to make some boorish statement about so-called equal treatment. Like plenty of other women and men, I don’t appreciate aggression from anyone. I just don’t object to a word that I am all too aware men may or may not use around me in order to prove a point".
So, now I thought I'd wade in with my opinions on the matter.
In my opinion, the debate needs to stop. It is a word.
Yes, it's a word that has historically been used towards women negatively. So what? It's 2011. It someone called me a cunt in 1811, I might object.
No, we don't need to 'reclaim' it, because all that saying that you are reclaiming a word does is tell people that deep down, you are offended by it (because you want to be the only group to be able to use it) and gives people the power to use it against you. Think about words that have been 'reclaimed' by ethic minorities and LGBT groups. Now, if you were a racist, or a homophobe, what words would you use in order to offend them the most?
The word 'cunt' just a swear word. Yes, it is a very strong swear word, but it's just a swear word*. I am not offended by the word 'cunt', any more than I am by the word 'wanker'. I use the word myself, frequently and liberally (much to the chagrin of my parents). I use it to describe men and women. Hell, I use it to describe animals and inanimate objects. I use it as an adjective ('cunting'). I use it as an exclamation ('Oh, cunt!'). However, when I use it, it's not because I'm referring to something as a vagina, it's because I want to swear. Like if I said the phrase "the fucking toaster won't work", I don't literally mean that my toaster is in flagrante delicto, I just want to express my annoyance. If I call someone a 'bastard', I don't literally mean that they were born out of wedlock, I just want to swear about, or to, them.
It's not a word I use more, or less than other swearwords (I like to mix them up - calling someone 'an absolute cunting bastard' is joy unbounded). The fact is, in English, we use sexual swearwords. Whether the swear words are for sexual acts (fuck, wank, bugger, etc.) or for sexual organs (prick, cock, dick, twat, etc.), they are words that, at some point, have been deemed offensive enough to be classed as swear words. They are words we use when we WANT to be offensive. So why leave the word 'cunt' off the list?
If you feel the need to swear, then swear**. If you're offended by swear words, be offended by them because they are swear words. Don't proselytize about how no one should use a specific word because it has, and can, refer to women's sexual organs, because all that does is give it a significance above other swear words that it should not have.
*Obviously the situation is different if the person using the word 'cunt' as an insult is a man using it specifically because the person on the receiving end is a woman and they are using it in a sexist manner - like the word 'prick' is different if a woman uses it to insult a man in a sexist manner.
**Although you probably shouldn't in, say, a job interview, or at your nana's house.