On Cunts

[Content Note: Misogynistic and homophobic language and slurs.]

So, Pachacutec wrote a post at FDL calling Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher a whore (Zuzu's got a good fisking of the post) with which Tom Watson took exception, pointing out that with the very real possibility the Democrats "will be running a woman for President in less than 20 months" and the reality that Nancy Pelosi is currently the top elected Dem official in the nation, perhaps it's not exactly what one might call wise to rely on misogyny to critique women. He's right, of course—not only does it perpetuate a culture in which women are so easily marginalized just because they're women, but it also cedes high ground we'll surely need while the Speaker is a woman, no less if the Dem nominee is.

One might think that wouldn't be a controversial suggestion, but only because it's easy to forget that there are still people who will argue from here to eternity in defense of their right to use with impunity sexist language and imagery to demean women.

Pachacutec could have just said "Yeah, I called her a whore. So what? Fuck you." to anyone who disagreed with that language. To paraphrase Tammy Wynette, stand by your sexism. But instead, the argument became, as it always does, that the language wasn't sexist at all, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a hypersensitive, hysterical loser. Tom was deemed "Ned Flanders," and Pachacutec told him to "Face it. We do punk rock posts and you're into Guy Lombardo." All I can say is that if punk is challenging the comfortable conventions of the bourgeoisie, there's almost nothing less punk than demeaning a woman by calling her a whore and pretending it's not sexist. That's the Milli Vanilli of blogging—derivative and radio-ready, pretending to be something it ain't.

No one ever wondered if sexism would play in Peoria, know what I mean? As Neddie says, "The most revolutionary act you can perform in this fell, death-infected year 2006 is to act like a goddamned adult."

Anyway, things were further complicated when Watson updated his post to point to another posting at FDL in which TRex called conservative pundit Laura Ingraham a cunt. When the word was then removed, Watson noted: "The grown-ups at FDL have been busy. The C-word has been edited out of the post," to which TRex responded in Tom's comments:
That was my decision, Tom. I decided I would rather refer to Miss Ingraham as a Bitch Troll from Hell.

You, on the other hand, are a miserable little cunt.
Wow. Suffice it to say, any and all resulting discussion which defended the use of that word via reclamation of cunt doesn’t really bloody matter a whit when the word is used is an insult, even if it is by a gay man "with feminist politics out the wazoo." Sort of like how being a feminist woman with LGBT support out the wazoo doesn't confer upon me the right (lack of desire notwithstanding) to call a gay man "a miserable little f----t" if I disagree with him. It just doesn't work that way. (See Piny’s excellent post on how the use of the word in TRex's original post and comment to Tom is not covered by reclamation.) The whole "I support reproductive rights, so I can't possibly be a sexist" argument is the vaguely tuned-in crowd's version of "I've got a black friend, so I can't possibly be a racist." It sounds a bit better, but it's just as fucking stupid—which is why I was disappointed when Jane Hamsher showed up to defend her two contributors in precisely this way: "Nothing either [Pachacutec or TRex] has ever written has been even slightly mysoginistic [sic]; both have gone to extraordinary lengths to support choice, registration of women voters, and the elevation of female voices and leadership both in the blogosphere and the Democratic party. This attack is hyperbolic and erected on straw."

Well, no. It was erected on one of them criticizing a female politico by calling her a whore, and the other of them criticizing a female pundit by calling her a cunt.

Jane doesn’t want FDL to become "a slave to the PC language police who want to mau-mau it into sterility by throwing around loaded and innacurate [sic] race- and gender-baiting accusations," which I understand, because I use the word cunt—and have defended its use on multiple occasions. But there are ways to use words and there are ways to use words—and knowing the difference, rooting out the subversive context from that which simply perpetuates oppression, is not enslaving oneself to language police; it's doing the basic work required of someone who wants to be edgy, rather than a retrofuck jackhole.

I love the word cunt. I use it like it's going out of style, mostly when referring to my own or referring to myself. I love it when some dude calls me a cunt intending to deliver the ultimate insult, and I can effortlessly take the wind out of his sails by replying, "Fucking right I am. Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain, and don’t you forget it, son." I'm all for reclaiming that shit—but reclaiming it is about wearing it yourself and wielding it ironically, which is necessarily as a compliment, not an insult. If I call my girlfriend "a beautiful cunt" for expertly handling a sexist prig, that's got reappropriative power. If I call her "a dumb cunt" because she does something foolish, not so much.

Sometimes in the past I have used cunt as an insult. (When CNN invited Ann Coulter to comment on the 2004 presidential debates, I sniffed, "I didn’t realize they had officially transformed into the Cunt News Network.") I'm not defending it; I can't. If someone had called me on it, they'd have been right, because, let's face it, I love using the word that way. I love its power to demean so neatly, so economically, and so completely. It has so much gorgeous power that it's almost irresistible. And any argument I tried to use to defend my right to call someone a cunt—not ironically, not as a compliment—would be total and complete bullshit. I wouldn’t possibly try to claim that using it that way isn't nasty, when the reason I love it is because it is.

So I know damn well if I call someone a cunt to demean them, I'm going to get taken the woodshed, and rightfully so, and if I try to rationalize it, I'm full of shit. There it is.

And anyone who's interested in being honest will admit that they feel exactly the same way when they use cunt as an insult, or wax rhapsodic about a member of Congress wiping corporate cum from her lips with a cocktail napkin. They feel good. They feel potent unleashing such powerful weapons. It's, like, totally punk and shit.

Except, of course, that it isn't. It’s mean and indefensible. And misogynist. No matter from whom it’s coming. Even a gay man with otherwise stellar feminist credentials. Even from a feminist. Even from Queen Cunt herself.

[Note: This post was updated on September 12, 20123 to remove language I've since reconsidered as part of growing in my own feminism. A content note was also added.]

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