Wednesday, July 24, 2013

sticks and stones

I'm a poet. For a long time, i preferred the word "crap" to the word "shit" because i liked the sound of it better. It's like a slap: heavy and solid, it registers your frustration and disapproval firmly. "Shit", on the other hand, with its hissing sibilant and thin vowels, sounds like something a crotchety spinster aunt would whisper-scream at you in her fancy parlor. It's annoying and a little scary, but it can be ignored. But "crap"? Crap WILL be heard.

I'm a feminist. It infuriates me that so many swear words are feminine. I mean, we have "dick" and "cock", which are almost more comedic nonsense words than profanity these days. You can call your friend a dick in between bursts of laughter. And you can maybe do the same with "bitch", if the person is a very good friend. But "cunt"? No way. "Pussy" is a little tricky; if you're calling a person a pussy, it can be in a mean bullying way or in a joking fun way, teasing or harassing them for being a wimp, but if you're talking about getting pussy it almost always sounds gross (unless you read a lot of feminist, queer-friendly blogs, like i do. Those bitches can pull it off).

"Cunt", though. That's pretty much the worst one, right? "Fuck" is almost punctuation anymore, like the "like" of earlier decades. My first encounter with the word "fuck" was when i was two or three and i saw it spray-painted on the side of a building. I was with one of my older cousins, and i asked him what it meant. He told me that it was the king of all cuss words, and that i should never repeat it again, especially not to my mom. So i naturally went to my mom and asked her what it meant. Her definition was not much more satisfying, but she was certainly careful to make sure that i knew that it was the very worst word anyone could ever say and that i should never say it again. I heard it a lot more over the years, and saw it again and again in various places. I even began using it, daringly, when i was in college.

My first encounter with the word "cunt" was when i was about fifteen and caught part of a stand-up competition on Comedy Central. A female comic was talking about how someone had called her something rude, maybe "bitch" or "prude" or something; i can't recall. She said that they had clearly meant it to wound, but that she had barely registered the insult at all. "Maybe because I've been called **** so many times, I didn't even notice," she said. Comedy Central bleeped out the word so thoroughly that i couldn't even guess what it was. There were some startled noises from the audience, and some nervous laughter, and the comedian looked upset and uncomfortable. In an interview later, she said that she should have known better than to use the "C-word". I asked my mom what the "C-word" was and she flat-out refused to tell me. I ran into it again a few years later in a book and figured it out for myself.

In college, i had a friend who could out-cuss a Marine. She would say things like "the fuck-word" instead of "the f-word". If you tried to edit her for TV, she would barely be speaking in full sentences anymore. I have never heard her use the word "cunt". We did have a conversation once in which she referred to it as "the C-word", and explained that she hated it and refused to use it. In fact, i know lots of people (mostly women, but some men) who refuse to use that word.

This terrible word, too terrible to even be spray-painted on a building, too terrible to mention when choosing the "king of all cuss words", to terrible to speak aloud? This word means "vagina". So does "pussy", for that matter. And "bitch" just means female dog. "Dick" and "cock" mean penis.

A penis is, at worst, hilarious. A vagina is, at best, weak and cowardly and maybe a little gross. Maybe not even human.

I am a poet. I love the word "bitch". It has a heavy slap, like "crap", but it also has a slightly stabby quality. I love the word "pussy". I like the sputter of the "p", the derision of the "u", the slithery needles of the double "s". "Cunt" is deep and guttural and visceral, like "drunk" and "ugly" and "thrust". I love to say these words. I like to feel them in my mouth, to hear them in the air. I like the way they look on the page, the shapes they make with their black on white.

I am a feminist. I hate the words "bitch", "cunt", and "pussy". More and more, when i find myself irritated with someone (a bad driver, a terrible roommate, a character in Virtual Villagers), i find myself using the word "asshole". Everyone has one of those, so i'm more comfortable using it to express negative feelings. But i don't like that so much negativity is attached to the female body, and i don't like to promote that negativity on my own lips. Vaginas have just as much potential for comedy as penises. Penises can be every bit as weak and gross as vaginas. And both are capable of all kinds of ecstasy and beauty in the right context.

But "pussy" is really fun to say.

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