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A Fascinating History of the "C Word"

How a word meant to signify female pleasure was turned against women and into something evil, fearful, unspoken.

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When I told one of my male colleagues that I was working on this piece, he let out a horrified gasp. And over the course of researching, writing, and talking about the word, I observed its singular power. “Cunt” is a monosyllabic torpedo. If you don’t believe me, say it at a fancy dinner party. Say it to your gynecologist. Say it to a stranger. Climb up on your roof and scream it at the sky.

Late last year, writer and blogger  Sady Doyle started the Twitter topic #MenCallMeThings, in which she asked female-identified writers to post some of the names that they have been called by commenters and readers. I was dismayed, but not shocked, to see how many other writers I respected and admired had been called cunts: Unlike my dude coworker, I had to stop gasping at the word long ago.

In contrast to Liz Lemon, I think the most unfair thing about the C-word’s unrivaled vulgarity isn’t that I can’t call a man a “fungdark” in response. As Dodson reminds us, it’s that a word meant to signify female pleasure has been turned against us into something evil, fearful, unspoken. It will take a long time for the patriarchal sting of “cunt” to evaporate (if it ever can completely), but artists like Banks, Minaj, Rihanna, and whoever’s coming up behind them give me hope that the process is beginning. To sing “cunt,” to rap “cunt,” hell, to wear a diamond-studded “cunt” around your neck is to assert that cunts exist—that, contrary to what language has told us since before Shakespeare’s time, female sexuality is not “nothing.” 

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