Monday, August 12, 2013

cunt vs. nigger

I've long thought that people who object to genital-based insults for women should not use genital-based insults for men. I mentioned this to a female friend, who said "cunt" was the most insulting word in English and that, unlike penis-inspired insults, it's never complementary. To which I noted that all of the penis-inspired insults continue to be fighting words. The difference between "cunt" and words like "dickhead" is one of degree, not kind. Arguing that it's okay to use one and not the other is like saying you shouldn't call black people "niggers" but it's fine to call Mexicans "greasers".

Today, I've been googling "cunt" (and yes, I am sufficiently immature to think that's a funny turn of phrase). The wikipedia entry mentioned something in a footnote that gave me pause: John Ayto, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Slang, wrote:
Ethnic slurs are regarded as the taboo ... Nigger is far more taboo than fuck or even cunt. I think if a politician were to be heard off-camera saying fuck, it would be trivial, but if he said nigger, that would be the end of his career.
I've always admired people who claim words rather than let their opponents keep them since I learned about suffragists adopting "suffragette". I love the people who're reclaiming "cunt". From A Fascinating History of the "C Word":
Minaj seems to be on a personal mission to reclaim the word; she recently told a French TV show that “I’m a bad bitch, I’m a cunt” is her personal motto. As an introductory statement of self-mythology in a male-dominated industry, it’s a preemptive strike against detractors, not unlike another Minaj quote, this one from “Moment 4 Life”: “Shout-out to my haters/ Sorry that you couldn’t faze me.”

Elsewhere, Barbados-born pop star Rihanna caught tabloid flack in 2011 when she was photographed wearing a necklace that spelled out “cunt”—to church. Rhianna had been criticized previously for using the word rather liberally on Twitter. In an interview with British Vogue, she explained: “That word is so offensive to everyone in the world except for Bajans. When I first came here, I was saying it like nothing, like, ‘Hey, cunt,’ until my makeup artist finally had to tell me to stop. I just never knew.” Banks, too, has said that before “212” she was unfamiliar with the word’s taboo nature. “I didn’t know it was that offensive,” she said. “I feel like ‘cunt’ means so feminine—like a gay guy says, ‘That’s so cunt. That’s so feminine. That’s so good.’ It’s in the vein of, like, voguing.”

Banks is right: For at least two decades, in the queer subculture centered around voguing, drag houses, and ball culture, “cunt” (and its variant, “kunt”) has been used as a slang term meant to describe something beautiful, delicate, and soft. Recently, underground rappers like Cakes Da Killa and Antonio Blair have begun to use “cunt”/“kunt” to describe the music they make: a gritty-yet-glossy, sexually charged microgenre of queer rap. (A search on Soundcloud for tracks tagged “kunt” yields more than 500 unique results.) In music and in life, queering “cunt” expands and redefines the word’s meaning once again—it becomes an embrace of the liberating notion that one needn’t have a biological cunt to be feminine or female. Banks has repeatedly noted ball culture’s influence on her music and style, which means that the most famous lines of “212” showcase a young artist not responding to the word’s derogatory meaning so much as sidestepping it completely; “212” is perhaps the first example of the queer definition of “cunt” going mainstream.
Recommended: Taboo For Who? - Features - The F-Word