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A Declaration of Independence
By Inga Muscio Seal Press (CA)
Copyright © 2002 Inga Muscio
All right reserved.
I came across the power of "cunt" quite accidentally. After writing an article for a newspaper, I typed in "word count," but left out the "o." My editor laughingly pointed out the mistake. I looked at the two words together and decided "Word Cunt" seemed like a nice title for a woman writer. As a kind of intraoffice byline, I started typing "Word Cunt" instead of "word count" on all my articles.
The handful of people who saw hard copies of my work reacted strongly and asked why I chose to put these two words on my articles. After explaining my reasoning to editorial assistants, production magis, proofreaders and receptionists, I started wondering about the actual, decontextualized power of "cunt."
I looked up "cunt" in Barbara G. Walker's twenty-five-year research opus, The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, and found it was indeed a title, back in the day. "Cunt" is related to words from India, China, Ireland, Rome and Egypt. Such words were either titles of respect for women, priestesses and witches, or derivatives of the names of various goddesses:
In ancient writings, the word for "cunt" was synonymous with "woman," though not in the insulting modern sense. An Egyptologist wasshocked to find the maxims of Ptah-Hotep "used for 'woman' a term that was more than blunt," though its indelicacy was not in the eye of the ancient beholder, only in that of the modern scholar. (Walker, 1983, 197)
The words "bitch" and "whore" have also shared a similar fate in our language. This seemed rather fishy to me. Three words which convey negative meanings about women, specifically, all happen to have once had totally positive associations about women, specifically.
Of the three, "cunt" garners the most powerful negative reaction.
This was obviously a loaded question to be asking myself, 'cause the answer evolved into quite the life-consuming project.
According to every woman-centered historical reference I have read--from M. Esther Harding to bell hooks--the containment of woman's sexuality was a huge priority to emerging patrifocal religious and economic systems.
Cunts were anathema to forefather types. Literally and metaphorically, the word and anatomical jewel presided at the very nexus of many earlier religions which impeded phallic power worship. In Western civilization, forefather types practiced savior-centered religions, such as Catholicism. Springing forth from a very real, very fiscal fear of women and our power, eventually evolving into sexual retardation and womb envy, a philosophy and social system based on destruction was culled to thriving life. One of the more well-documented instances of this destruction-oriented consciousness is something called the Inquisition. It lasted for over five hundred years. That is how long it took the Inquisition to rend serious damage to the collective spirit of non-savior-centered religious worshippers.
The Inquisition justified the--usually sadistic--murder, enslavement or rape of every woman, child and man who practiced any form of spiritual belief which did not honor savior-centered phallic power worship.
Since the beginning of time, most cultures honored forces which were tangible, such as the moon, earth, sun, water, birth, death and life. A spirituality which was undetectable to any of the human senses was considered incomprehensible.
One imagines victims of the Inquisition were not hard to come by. Women who owned anything more than the clothes on their backs and a few pots to piss in were religiously targeted by the Inquisition because all of women's resources and possessions became property of the famously cuntfearing Catholic Church. Out of this, the practice of sending "missionaries" into societies bereft of savior-centered spiritualities evolved.
Negative reactions to "cunt" resonate from a learned fear of ancient yet contemporary, inherent yet lost, reviled yet redemptive cuntpower.
Eradicating a tried and true, stentorian-assed word from a language is like rendering null the Goddess Herself.
Ancient, woman-centered words and beliefs never, like, fall off the planet. Having long done taken on a life of their own, they--like womankind--evolve, and survive.
For women this has involved making many, many concessions, such as allowing our selves, goddesses, priestesses and words to be defined and presented by men.
Many words found in woman-centered religions, such as cunt, bitch, whore, dog, ass, puta, skag and hag, along with the names of just about all goddesses--over time--assimilated bad connotations. As matrifocal lifestyles became less and less acceptable, "cunt" survived, necessarily carrying a negative meaning on into the next millennium.
Words outlive people, institutions, civilizations. Words spur images, associations, memories, inspirations and synapse pulsations. Words send off physical resonations of thought into the nethersphere. Words hurt, soothe, inspire, demean, demand, incite, pacify, teach, romance, pervert, unite, divide.
Words be powerful.
Grown-ups and children are not readily encouraged to unearth the power of words. Adults are repeatedly assured a picture is worth a thousand of them, while the playground response to almost any verbal taunt is "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
I don't beg so much as command to differ.
For young girls in this society, coming into the power we are born with is no easy task. As children, our power is not culled out of us as it is for boys. Still, culling power is--above and beyond all social conditioning--a very surmountable task to which womankind collectively rises higher each day.
But we need a language.
A means of communication demands and precedes change.
I posit that we're free to seize a word that was kidnapped and co-opted in a pain-filled, distant past, with a ransom that cost our grandmothers' freedom, children, traditions, pride and land. I figure we've paid the ransom, but now, everybody long done forgot "cunt" was ours in the first place.
I have lived the past couple years of my life writing a book called Cunt. When people ask me what I do, sometimes I bypass the whole conversation and say I'm a taxidermist. Reactions to a book called Cunt always lead to an intense grilling. Ain't never encountered ambivalence. At this juncture, I am still absolutely unable to gauge reactions to this word.
Living with the title of this book as such a huge fixture in my day-to-day life has been a very weird anthropological study unto itself. "Cunt" is a bad, bad word, but damn if it don't intrigue people when it's the title of a book instead of a meanspirited expletive.
Since everybody already knows that the diabolization of "cunt" is an absolute reality of our language, nobody has to waste time and energy defending its honor.
A cunt by any other name is still a cunt.
"Cunt" is a highly satisfying word to utter on a regular basis.
Every girl and lady who is strong and fighting and powerful, who thrives in this world in a way that serves her, is a rockin', cuntlovin' babe doing her part to goad the post-patriarchal age into fruition.
"Cunt" is the crusty, disgusting bottle in the city dump pile that is bejewelled underneath and has a beautiful genie inside.
Here is a nice story about the transformation of destructive negative, crap-ola into constructive, positive brilliantiana.
Once upon a time, civil rights activist Dick Gregory went into a restaurant and ordered some chicken. Three or four men who wore pointy white hoods for their nighttime fashion statement presently came into the restaurant and said, (I'm paraphrasing here) "Yo, boy. Anything y'do tah dat chicken, we're gone do tah yoo."
Mr. Gregory looked at the chicken on the plate before him and was silent.
The men repeated, "Anything y'do tah dat chicken, boy, we're gone do tah yoo."
Everybody in the restaurant stopped what they were doing and stared.
Mr. Gregory sighed, picked up the chicken and gave it a big ol', sweet ol' kiss.
Perhaps, as some "historians" may have it, I fabricated the historic considerations in reassessing the way we presently perceive "cunt."
Even if "cunt" were simply four spontaneous letters someone strung together one day 'cause his wife didn't have dinner on the table when he got home from a hard day's labor offing witches or indigenous peoples, it is still our word. Demographically, the women who have no chance of negatively being called "cunts" throughout life can be found in totally cloistered nunneries and maybe Amish communities.
Based on the criteria that "cunt" can be neither co-opted nor spin-doctored into having a negative meaning, venerable history or not, it's ours to do with what we want. And thanks to the versatility and user-friendliness of the English language, "cunt" can be used as an all new woman-centered, cuntlovin' noun, adjective or verb.
I, personally, am in love with the idea.
Excerpted from Cunt by Inga Muscio Copyright © 2002 by Inga Muscio. Excerpted by permission.
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