Cunt! Yesterday my class and I collectively shouted out this word, twice. Right after we shouted the word ‘vagina!’, twice.
No, this wasn’t some flaky exercise in faux feminist power, or scandalousness or boundary-pushing for its own sake. And, yes, this is the kind of thing that my tax dollars and our oil dollars might be spent on as long as students continue to register for my class.
It was an exercise in consciousness-raising, in revealing power in language, in thinking aloud about how our silences will not protect us. Truthfully, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I got students to do this, wondering the whole time why I hadn’t done this before.
The majority of students agreed to do this by a show of hands and of course who didn’t want to say vagina or cunt didn’t have to. One young woman who said the first but not the second, said that she saw it graffitied somewhere once, asked what it meant and was told by her mom never to use that word – and she hadn’t since. Another one, who joined in the second time, said to me after class that she had never said the word ‘cunt’ in her life…and here she was saying it twice in one day, now realising that if anyone ever called her that, she would not be intimidated as she might have been, knowing the word’s original possibilities.
And, in fact, cunt historically meant the very opposite of its current patriarchal associations with insult, debasement, stupidity, failure and obscenity. What is now the worst thing to call someone (man or woman, for different reasons) was once a word denoting and synonymed with the sacred, spiritual, powerful, knowledgeable, gutsy, cunning, wise, divine (meaning God-like), life-giving, heartfelt and sustaining. Those meanings were destroyed and replaced by the ones we take to be normal, natural and timeless today. The very word that is unmentionable because it is so shameful and dirty, especially for women, is the very word that describes our sex. Surely, this can’t be right.
As any good university educator, I backed up my lecture with a great article called, ‘Cuntspeak: Words from the Heart of Darkness’ which traces the etymology of the word cunt, showing the violence that left it bruised and pariah-like at the base of its ancient pedestal. This was a violence implicated with the silences around sexual violence, with the shame invested in women’s bodies, with the hold patriarchy and pornography have on women’s erotic power despite Caribbean hype about phat pum pum, ‘waan punane bad’ and punkenani power.
I had a few minutes before the feminist advocacy organisation, ASPIRE, was to address my class about reproductive health and rights, and it seemed like we could, if only for a few seconds, collectively articulate a naming, emotion and power that would be impossible outside of my allotted two hours in the vast chamber of the LRC. Besides all that, it was the kind of thing that I teach Women’s Studies to be able to do, just cus I can, just cus it’s fun.
Fun aside and teaching aside, it felt good for me too. I’ve always loved women in the sense of having a basic admiration, respect and solidarity with them. Women somehow end up being my greatest heroes even if they are my younger sisters or my over-worked bosses or my mother or my friends who all seem extra-ordinary in some way. I’ve understood the injustice of the shaming and silencing, and the sacredness that they replaced. I don’t believe in the human-like deity called God, but if I did, it’s obvious to me that God would have breasts, womb and a vagina, which create and sustain life, and certainly make females the closest to God’s image.
Yep, any God worth her salt has a cunt through which to birth life. Anything less is, well, Man.
The experience of giving birth brings all this home. The feeling of life emerging through your womb, that process of starting something that takes you to the point where you think you can’t go on any longer, the fact of us all as Woman-born leaves me without question that female bodies, wombs and vaginas are to be given the freedom from degredation which they are due.
As long as ‘cunt’ is both a curse and part of my body, it can be used against me. And nothing that is mine shall be cursed. Nothing that has created and birthed my child shall be used against me. Nothing that makes me both woman and mother shall be used to disempower. Nothing that was once sacred shall be used to silence and shame.
And nothing can stop me, woman, mother, feminist, Women’s Studies lecturer from encouraging my students to shout ‘cunt’ in class when I know nothing else may shake their biases and their socialisation and their fears. I’ve got the degrees to teach. I’ve given birth in the drive-way. I’m mother to a little girl growing up in a patriarchal world. I’m a feminist who understands I’ve got the erotic as power to draw on. And, I’ve got a class of 100 students willing to shout.
What can I say?
All together now.