If someone called you a magnificent cunt you probably wouldn’t smile and say thank you. But in the film Inside Man, that’s exactly what Jodie Foster does.
Her character, Madeleine White, is a power broker who is a high level fixer in political circles. She calls in favours from various people in order to resolve situations that most people would called ‘unfixable’. The movie was considered a critical success. But calling Jodie Foster a ‘cunt’ caused many reviewers to revolt. One male reviewer called the use of the word cunt “way beyond the pale” because “A real woman with as much influence as her character had would retaliate massively after being so described.” [IMDB Reviews Inside Man]
Personally I object to someone, anyone, defining the reactions of a ‘real‘ woman as if we ‘real women’ are one person.
And so when four ‘cunts’ were added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – cunted, cuntish, cunty and cunting; they were all of them pejorative. Cuntish – for example – means nasty, highly unpleasant; extremely annoying.
It’s caused a storm [again] amongst feminists because it’s seen as one more nail in the cunt coffin.
The reclaiming of the word cunt as a affirmative force in the sex positive movement began with Lady Love your Cunt (an essay in 1971 by Germaine Greer) and continues unabated by players like Vagenda Mag and Cherish the Cunt. But as cunt was already in the dictionary as a nasty objectionable person in the OED, it was hardly likely that cuntish was going to mean something inspiring great affection, delightful or charming.
That, after all, is the job of words like adorable, not cunt.
There’s no denying that words are powerful… they are thought made manifest. Other people’s thoughts that is.
Because from birth we think in terms of other people’s language and definitions. We inherit the meaning that other people have infused in the words. So if the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that cunt is coarse slang for female genitalia and also a nasty objectionable person, it is unlikely we will think of our own cunt as something delightful and charming. Because – as George Orwell said – if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
We need language to communicate but we communicate with words which are signposts to our own interpretation of life. Sometimes context is important. ‘Handicaps’ can be either good or bad. As can ‘awful’. And ‘strike’. But can cunt?
Although cunt can be a positive word in sex positive circles, common parlance uses it as an insult. So it’s less about the context, more about our attitude. Just because one person intends an insult, doesn’t mean we have to receive it as such. Basically if you choose to be drawn into a fight by the meaning that others have put in the words, it’s your responsibility and yours alone.
Words in themselves are not powerful. They have power when we give them power. And because we have immense power, the power we give to words can be equally immense. But be aware that it’s a choice. As we give power to words, so we can take it away. If we give cunt the power to elicit a prescribed response of extreme insult then it has power to insult us (extremely).
If you believe that the meaning prescribed to the word cunt reinforces negative connotations about a woman’s genitalia (which I believe is true), your best recourse is to start using the word cunt as a positive life affirming word in your daily life instead of never saying it because it is highly insulting. And the powers that be at the Oxford dictionary will – sooner or later – be forced to add another definition to the word.
Cunt (n): A magnificent woman who assumes responsibility for her life and her choices; a powerful all-encompassing word for the female genitalia
But the change is an individual one. Cunt crusades (like any other crusade) are another attempt to get into a battle of power play and right or wrong where there must be a winner and a loser. The magic about the cunt and our sexual organs in general, is that they are the best example we have of how pleasurable a win-win situation can be. Don’t take cunt as a personal insult, because it says far more about the person saying it than the person receiving it. What it says is that the person saying it cannot disassociate the word cunt from something shameful.
But YOU can.
Miss White is a high stakes power broker. She chooses not to be insulted by the meaning that someone else has prescribed to the noun cunt. She knows that the power is hers to create her own life and create her own meaning IN her life. She is indeed a magnificent cunt.
So the next time someone calls you a cunt, what will you do? Will you unleash the full power of its negative taboo and shameful conditioning? Will you perpetuate cunt as the most taboo word in the English language by being insulted?
Or will you just smile knowingly and say thank you.