?

Log in

No account? Create an account

*sigh* I shouldn't even have to explain this - Tactical Ninja

May. 18th, 2012

09:08 am - *sigh* I shouldn't even have to explain this

Previous Entry Share Next Entry

Right then. Time for some cultural, semantical roundaboutiness, by way of explanation for why it's not ok to reduce my personhood to genitals.


Cunt. It's an ugly word, sounds coarse, lots of people think it's the worst word in the English language. I'm told (but can't find any sources for this) that in Old English, it referred to the gap between the twists in a hawser-laid rope. Nowadays, of course, it refers to the female genitals.

Except when it doesn't.

You see, it depends what part of the world you're in. In New Zealand, 'cunt' is either an insult - "You cunt!" or a compliment mainly referring to a man - "He'a a good cunt." As was pointed out to me not long ago, sometimes it's even used in shortform in ads for flatmates - "Only GCs (good cunts) need apply." It's taken on the same almost-innocuous lack-of-meaning as 'bloke'.

However, in almost every other country (except maybe Australia), 'cunt' is mostly used to refer to women. I saw an example of this yesterday. Someone was ranting about a loud teenage girl on the bus, and referred to her as 'this cunt'. Suddenly it wasn't the New Zealand terminology but something darker and more insulting. This woman was not a woman, or a girl, she was 'a cunt'. Which means she's actually a walking set of genitals*. Likewise 'a room full of cunts' in the US is not the same roomful of good cunts you might find in NZ. Note, in NZ, cunt is very rarely used to refer to a woman and when it is, it's as an insult.

I don't understand why people don't grasp that this is insulting. I really really don't get why so many men have trouble accepting that women object to it. When it's aimed at a woman, it's always an insult.

"But what about dick then? That's reducing a man to his genitals too right?"

Yes, and I try not to use it because of that. Sometimes it still slips out - but there is a difference. You see, you will rarely hear men referred to as 'a roomful of dicks' in the same way you hear 'cunt' used about women. The Flight of the Conchords track Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor is about the only reference I can think of. And I guess, 'sausage-fest'. But it's uncommon, and it doesn't carry with it anywhere near the same level of derogatory implication that 'cunt' does.

The other way you hear 'dick' used is in "Don't be a dick." In which case it goes back to describing a way of behaving. "He's acting like a dick." "Wow, that guy's a total dick." Which is definitely an insult, but what it's not doing is referring to a man as just his genitals. It's referring to his behaviour. And even then it's not the same level of insulting. Try it. Call your Dad a dick. Then call your Mum a cunt. See what happens.

So the bottom line is that yes, dick is a gendered insult in a similar way to the way cunt is a gendered insult, but the similarity ends where the use of cunt as a way of objectifying women starts.

Kiwis can almost be forgiven for not understanding this because of the way it's used in our vernacular. But please, we have the internet and media, we know how it's used in the rest of the world. And really, shouldn't the bottom line be that if you use this word and someone's insulted by it, perhaps you should consider not using it instead of telling them they are wrong to be insulted?

*NB have a think about the difference between attitudes towards male and female genitals in society - I bleed out of mine therefore they are apparently somehow 'unclean'. Don't discount how much this perspective affects the level of insult.

So there you go. Tats' take on why 'cunt' is a bad thing to call a woman, worse than 'dick' when used on a man. It's short, probably not comprehensive and perhaps misses some points. That's because I'm trying to get this up before I go to a meeting. I'm aware this might be an incendiary topic. Please be polite because I'm not going to be around for a while and I don't want to come back to a shitfight.

Comments:

(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:May 17th, 2012 11:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Nobody's saying 'dick' is ok to use as an insult. And you are free to call it whatever you want in terms of what kind of ism you think it is.

When having a dick comes with all the historic cultural oppressions, negative connotations and real-world discriminations that having a pussy does, you might even be right.

Just to be clear, I don't think this needs to be a war about who should be allowed to insult who in what way. What I think is that if you call someone a gendered insult without intending to insult them and they get insulted anyway, you should probably apologise rather than argue ad infinitum about how they are wrong to see it as an insult. Intent, as they say, is not magic.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:bekitty
Date:May 17th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Absolutely agreed.

I had to call out a friend of mine recently for calling Rush Limbaugh a "fat cunt" for his behaviour and comments regarding Sandra Fluke. Because using a misogynist insult against an anti-feminist troll Isn't Helping. He (the friend) said that he was just appreciating the irony. I said it wasn't ironic, it was just stupid.

He acknowledged my point. :)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:pombagira
Date:May 17th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
of course now i am wondering about this, from the angle of this

so bear with me for a moment. dicks, or penises are funny looking, and they are a bit of a man anatomy that is situation on the outside of the body..

cunts, or vaginas, it is not as obvious that they are funny looking, and hey are a bit of a womans anatomy that is situation on the inside of the body...

so to my mind, it follows that the insult of 'dick' verses 'Cunt' dick becomes less offensive because it is situation on the outside of the body, or surface, so it becomes less internal? and is prescribed less meaning, less offensiveness to call someone a dick because of this perception, going so far as to say surface even. whereas cunt, because of its situation on the inside becomes a more internally offensive slur against, lets face it, women...

in summary
dick external organ = less offensive
cunt internal organ = horribley offensive.....

in conclusion.. don't be a dick and call anyone a cunt!

also i am wondering why for the most part that men find it less offensive to be called a dick, when it is using a word that describes their bits, where as cunt is more offensive especially when directed as a slur against a woman.. again that whole internal and external thing comes to mind...

sometimes language is a weird weird thing...

*ponders things*
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:dragonvyxn
Date:May 17th, 2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
(Link)
i love your conclusion!!! :-D
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:thesecondcircle
Date:May 18th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I actually think you are on to something here. See, there's a common idea in society that a man's genitalia is something external to his consciousness in some way, that seems to have a mind of it's own. "He was thinking with his penis." or "Hey, my friend here is happy to see you and so am I." Men and women often refer to the male genitalia in the third person. "How's Mr. Happy today?" "Oh, Baldy's not feeling too good." None of this is necessarily insulting (the first example is negative in that we think men shouldn't let their parts run their brains).

So calling a man a "total dick" (which really is reducing him to his genitalia in the exactly the same way as calling a women a cunt) seems less insulting because the male penis has some kind of defined persona. But I'd argue that women's genitalia is not personified in the same way, or nearly as commonly. And this may be because of the internal versus external difference. I mean, if I say "That guy was a total penis" you will understand exactly what I'm saying (he was acting like a giant walking Mr. Happy, which was no doubt annoying and inappropriate). But if I say "She is a complete vagina!" that doesn't make any sense. I mean what does it even mean to be a vagina? The vagina isn't personified. It doesn't do our thinking for us. It doesn't act without our conscious will. It isn't referred to in the third person, or as a person at all.*

I'd argue that while dick = penis in a pretty defined way, cunt does not = vagina. Cunt equals "All the worst stereotypes of womanhood rolled up in a single term that reduces them to their genitalia." So therefore the difference in insult level.

* Note, we can argue that this lack of personification is a symptom of the objectification of women in general, but I'd say that's a) off topic and b) stretching the point.

Note: My favorite insult for a man is "douche" in that it's something unpleasant that (despite having some annoying societal approval) isn't actually necessary, can be harmful, and won't be tolerated anywhere near me.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:pombagira
Date:May 18th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
yes, with better wording..


*grins*..
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From:clashfan
Date:May 17th, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've gotten into this discussion on the internet as well, when I call people out for using 'cunt' as an insult. 'Well, what about 'dick', then?' I've had people tell me that 'asshole' is a similarly gendered term, which I don't buy.

Zero sense of context and power dynamics.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:bekitty
Date:May 17th, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've had people tell me that 'asshole' is a similarly gendered term, which I don't buy.

Exactly. Everyone has an asshole. There's nothing gendered about them.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:bewarethefish
Date:May 18th, 2012 06:35 am (UTC)
(Link)
Twatcock.

Equal opportunity offensiveness.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:wildilocks
Date:May 19th, 2012 02:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:dreadbeard
Date:May 19th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
(Link)

"Call your Dad a dick. Then call your Mum a cunt. See what happens."

This should be a meme.


"And really, shouldn't the bottom line be that if you use this word and someone's insulted by it, perhaps you should consider not using it instead of telling them they are wrong to be insulted?"

While I get what you mean, this logic is problematic. Or rather, as presented, extends swiftly into domains where different people have different beliefs about the world and seek to (in their eyes justifiably) limit the behaviour of others.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:May 19th, 2012 10:05 am (UTC)
(Link)
Please don't ever refer to me as a cunt. Why do people have such a hard time with this?

And why oh why do otherwise intelligent people try so hard to make it wrong for me to ask them to respect this?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:dreadbeard
Date:May 20th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
(Link)
?

While I suspect you are spoiling for a fight rather than misunderstanding the point I am making, to make it clearer, take the same form and substitute in new content, as it is the form rather than the content I am responding to.

eg "Please don't ever (date someone of another race/have sex with someone of the same gender/worship another god/look at me funny/take a drug I deem bad/deviate from any norm I consider important). Why do people have such a hard time with this? And why oh why do otherwise intelligent people try so hard to make it wrong for me to ask them to respect this?"

Or:
"And really, shouldn't the bottom line be that if you (date someone of another race/have sex with someone of the same gender/worship another god/look at me funny/take a drug I deem bad/deviate from any norm I consider important) and someone's insulted by it, perhaps you should consider not [doing] it instead of telling them they are wrong to be insulted?"

People are free. Limiting that freedom is a very tricky business.

I agree that it would be nice if people were more aware of their shit, and other people's shit, and generally acted considerately. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:May 20th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
(Link)
I understand your point. But (there's always a but, right?) you are talking about behaviours that people may engage in that don't affect the offended/insulted person directly.

Say I was homophobic. If I were to try and tell people not to date people of their own gender because I find it offensive, that is an attempt to limit their freedom in the way you describe. However, if said gay person insisted on hitting on me (a heterosexual) despite me having told them I am a) not gay and b) offended by their attention, it becomes something different.

I see the insistence of a large group of society on calling women 'cunts' despite the objections of most women to this usage, to be closer to the second scenario than the first.

So yeah, I still think the bottom line should be that if you hit on someone who doesn't want your attention and they are offended by it, perhaps you should consider not doing it instead of telling them they are wrong to be insulted? And you shouldn't try to force your drug of choice on other people if they say they don't want it, and you shouldn't try to convert people to your religion if they don't want to either. Calling women 'cunts' despite their objections is a similar kind of boundary crossing IMO.

Please note that I didn't say "Don't ever say cunt." I was referring to a particular usage that is particularly objectionable to the people it's aimed at.

And yes, I do find it incredibly frustrating how many (nearly always) men feel the need to try and tell me I'm wrong about this.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:dreadbeard
Date:May 20th, 2012 11:09 am (UTC)
(Link)
Whee. This all feels like a Chomsky/Foucault debate disconnect of levels of analysis (of the form "it's not that you're wrong, it's just that's not the point.")

So in that spirit, let's drag this out to the abstract epistemological hell playground I think in:



The word is not the thing. (The map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal.)

The word is not offensive, the intent/meaning behind the word is.

The intent/meaning reflects a set of beliefs/way of understanding the world.

People have different beliefs/ways of understanding the world, that are epistemologically equivalent.

The reaction to the intent/meaning carried by a word in a specific context reflects a clash of beliefs/ways of understanding the world.

In asking for a different use of language, you are actually asking for a change in the belief/way of understanding the world of others.

Unfortunately, most people really like their beliefs/way of understanding the world, are comfortable with its limits, and are uninterested in the challenges of constantly changing and expanding their beliefs/ways of understanding the world.

Demanding changes in the behaviour of others based on your beliefs/way of understanding the world will provoke further reactions.

All you can do is present others with a new perspective or information which can potentially filter through and provide the means to change and update their beliefs/way of understanding the world.

Good luck with that. (See above.)

:)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:May 20th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah, welcome to the wall feminism has been banging its head on for the last X number of years.

When I told the Irish guy on Friday that women generally prefer to be referred to as people rather than genitals and he told me to lighten up and got all pissy, he did it because it was easier for him to do that than to consider that by referring to that teenage girl as 'cunt', he was dehumanising her, and that this may just be reflective of a worldview (of women as less than people) that he was uncomfortable admitting to, never mind changing.

I do understand everything you're saying. I am not missing your point. Your point is logical and valid, and unfortunately is the same point that people like that Irish guy up there have been using for years and years to tell people like me that it's ok for them to refer to me as a cunt despite my objections.

And they are doing it because of the things that you point out in your last comment. And you're right, trying to change that is like pushing shit uphill with a teaspoon. However, like I said on Friday, if they get pissy with me it means I've got under their skin, and with some people that's actually progress.

The alternative is shutting up about it and letting people think I don't mind when I'm reduced to my genitals.

Hey look, we've gone round in a circle! [second edit because the title of my post wasn't what I thought it was *blush*]

And also to add: I should probably point out here that when I think about these topics, the cliche about the personal being political is very relevant, and the 'abstract epistemological hell playground' is ever-present. My mind tends to jump backwards and forwards between them and sometimes I fail at explaining the leaps and it makes people look at me funny.

So just to be clear, I do understand that you're talking about the ethics of censorship vs freedom here. And I also understand that there's ongoing debate about how much influence one group of people should have over the thoughts/behaviours/expressions of others, and where the line is between what's ok to try and prevent people from thinking/doing/saying, and what's not. And when we get to those types of debates, it goes all philosophy on your arse - there is no 'correct' answer to these types of questions but it often takes a lot of argument to reach the conclusion that there's no correct answer.* Therefore, it's often more productive (IMO) to look at this stuff on a case-by-case basis (the personal) rather than try to come up with a universal rule that applies to all such interactions (the political).

Hence my suggesting a specific response to a particular instance - if you say something offensive to someone** and they are offended, perhaps not saying it is better than telling the offended party they are wrong to be offended.

What I wasn't saying was "Nobody should say cunt ever, because I find it offensive." Because that is the type of universal rule that your (logical, valid) concerns about censorship stem from.

tl;dr - I think we both understand each other, but we're talking at different ends of the same spectrum, yes?


* You should sit in on one of the conversations I have with Happy about the commodification of personhood for another example of this.

** Let's face it, few people would be able to get away with saying they didn't know calling a woman a cunt would offend her.

Edited at 2012-05-20 08:41 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)