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Old 06-14-2006, 05:16 PM   #1
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reclaiming the "C Word"

we've had discussions about the gay community reclaiming the word "queer," or the African-American community reclaiming the "N Word" or altering the word slightly to give us the new word "nigga."

now, Zoe Williams argues that feminists must do the same thing with the "C Word."

(i can't even type it).

[q]The feminist mistake

It's not the v-word that needs reclaiming, it's the c-word - the rudest one in the English language

Zoe Williams
Wednesday June 14, 2006
The Guardian

[...]

There's a problem here, isn't there, a problem which is not covered by the fact that she's American and we're not, that American feminism (now on its third wave - why haven't we got a third wave?) has different concerns, and some cool and unusual moves. It is fair to say that, wherever you are in the Englishspeaking world, the controversial word is not vagina, but cunt. More to the point, Ensler knows this, which is why the talking point of the Vagina Monologues was never its use of the word "vagina", but rather, the bit where it required of its audience that they all stood up and reclaimed the word "cunt". The reason nobody said vagina 10 years ago is the same nobody says it now, apart from doctors and, at a pinch, art critics who have already said pudenda twice in the one paragraph.

People who hate women, or find us disgusting or terrifying, do not use "vagina" casually, as an insult. People who think of themselves as post-feminists, who delight in the shock of an apparently unsisterly sound emitting from them conversationally, do not say "vagina". I got chatting to a guy the other day wearing a T-shirt that said "I heart vagina", which, I think, says it all. Not that the T-shirt was funny, particularly, but if "vagina" were in anything approaching common usage, it would have been actively unfunny. It was weird because it was unusual, and funny because it was weird. And for all her many good works, it's a disappointment that Ensler has wimped out here. Saying the word once doesn't have much impact if you thereafter eschew it in favour of something more "responsible".

A correlative would be if the gay rights movement had started out reclaiming "queer", and only claimed credit for reclaiming "homosexual". Because it's not explosively insulting, because it's formal and a bit technical, because you can imagine it appearing on a legal document and not bawled across a bar in provocation, "homosexual" would have been a polite sort of coup. The mistake feminists make, when they object to the c-word but never approach it, and never use it, is to think that it will slip discreetly out of the language. Of course it won't! It's the rudest word we've got, in the entire language. It's like thinking the secret of nuclear fission is just going to disappear. (This was a point not lost on Inga Muscio, who made a splash with her book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...797082,00.html

[/q]



thoughts?

what does it mean to reclaim a word? what is the cultural process of doing so? what else is reclaimed along with the word? is something lost? does the word lose it's power or is discourse coarsened?

thoughts?
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Old 06-14-2006, 05:30 PM   #2
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I'm not sure about the "reclaiming a word" part, but just to add an interesting thought to the discussion...

I took a course in university on the roots of words in the English language, and my professor raised this as an interesting point. The C-word is a native English word originally meaning something like "wedge", most likely a reference to shape. On the other hand, vagina comes from Latin and meant something akin to "sheath for a sword". It's interesting that we find the C-word to be more offensive.
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Old 06-14-2006, 05:54 PM   #3
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While I have no problem yelling at the TV and calling Ann Coulter the c word, I suppose that is actually the opposite of what reclaiming it means. To reclaim it I need to refer to myself as the c word, and jokingly with my female friends. I just don't see that happening. Maybe it's just not an issue for me? Maybe we're too polite with each other? It's not our style? We don't feel oppressed enough? I don't know. At heart I'm not a feminist; I simply assume the position of equality and don't take a lot of shit from people. But that doesn't make me a feminist. I guess the c word probably isn't going to be my battle.

Interestingly, I think it's my gay male friends who love women who feel the most comfortable using it, though still not in any PC context--just when slamming down the phone after a frustrating conversation while placing a take-out order or something.

Just some random thoughts. I guess I don't think about the c word all that much.
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:23 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by joyfulgirl
Interestingly, I think it's my gay male friends who love women who feel the most comfortable using it, though still not in any PC context--just when slamming down the phone after a frustrating conversation while placing a take-out order or something.

do you think that it might be the lack of potential sexual domination (by the male) in the straight girl/gay male relationship makes the word more acceptable? can a gay man denigrate a woman in the same way a straight man can?
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:38 PM   #5
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I think this is honestly the only word I'll never use, besides racial insults of course. IMO there's nothing to "reclaim" about it. I don't care what it was intended to mean thousands of years ago, I've never heard the word used in a context that was not meant to be derogatory.
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:42 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by LivLuvAndBootlegMusic
I've never heard the word used in a context that was not ment to be derogatory.



which begs the question asked by the article -- if you were to remove the word from a derogatory context, would it lose meaning? would it lost its power?
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:54 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511

which begs the question asked by the article -- if you were to remove the word from a derogatory context, would it lose meaning? would it lost its power?
I guess my question is, why deal with it in the first place? What value does the word "cunt" have that's worth salvaging? To me it's like deciding "motherfucker" doesn't have to be an insult and we should try to change the meaning. Um, no. We already have perfectly good words for each piece of female genatalia. And even those words have their own colloquial synonyms that aren't necessarily derogatory (everyone in my house refers to a vagina as a "va jay jay").
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Old 06-14-2006, 07:15 PM   #8
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This 'reclaiming the word' sounds like psychobabble to me.
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Old 06-14-2006, 07:17 PM   #9
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Should we start reclaiming the phrase "Jew you down"?

It would seem that each culture reclaims particularly troublesome phrases for their own usage ("nigger" for Af-Ams, for example). Letting an outsider use it, however, still seems taboo.

So perhaps women can use the word (which they already do, at least in the circles I roll with), but men can't.
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Old 06-14-2006, 07:25 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by anitram
This 'reclaiming the word' sounds like psychobabble to me.
I had a similar reaction.

It strikes me as a way to have it "both ways" - allowing use of a word for some people, but being able to claim prejudicial intent if used by others.
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Old 06-14-2006, 07:54 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
It strikes me as a way to have it "both ways" - allowing use of a word for some people, but being able to claim prejudicial intent if used by others.
It's not hard to understand, though. If you're an insider, you can use the "reclaimed" word. If you're an outsider, you can't. It doesn't get any more difficult than that.

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Old 06-14-2006, 07:58 PM   #12
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I think our time would be better spent reclaiming words like "fiscal conservative" and "liberal."
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Old 06-14-2006, 08:07 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by melon


It's not hard to understand, though. If you're an insider, you can use the "reclaimed" word. If you're an outsider, you can't. It doesn't get any more difficult than that.

Melon
But the whole point of reclaiming words is to strip them of their power. What this process does is not "reclaim" a word for society, since it reinforces cultural taboos at large, nor does it strip the word of its power (again, since those taboos remain).
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Old 06-14-2006, 08:10 PM   #14
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I'm going to reclaim "beat you like a red-headed step child".

Actually I never got that one, but it always bugged me.
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Old 06-14-2006, 08:29 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by nathan1977
But the whole point of reclaiming words is to strip them of their power. What this process does is not "reclaim" a word for society, since it reinforces cultural taboos at large, nor does it strip the word of its power (again, since those taboos remain).
Well, I understand and respect both POVs on this subject, really. I understand the minority opinion that wishes to "take back" a hurtful word for themselves, and I understand the confusion amongst the majority who have spent most, if not all, of their lives being told that these are bad words that should not be spoken at all.

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