I learnt the worlds worst swear word when I was 8 years old.
“You promise that you won’t tell your mother I told you?” My mother’s linguistically generous friend asked me as we walked along by a field of corn at the top of the South Downs.
I shook my head, vigorously.
“It’s cunt.” She said.
I was in awe. It sounded a powerful word, an awesome word. I had to share it with my friends...
And so I did.
The following Monday morning back at school, huddled around a desk I said it out loud.
“Where did you hear that word?” The voice of our teacher roared. I looked up to see a pair of rouging cheeks, bulging eyes and an increasingly frozen body. The end of the world seemed near, although for her or me I wasn't quite sure.
“My mother’s friend told me it.”
And then... more silence.
This is my latest story:
After I revealed my source to the teacher I can’t recall if the teacher actually said anything else. Her sense of shock and outrage were sufficient enough. Shame travels, no words needed. And so I have rarely said the 'c' word since.
Last year though, it gave me a second chance and returned to my life in the form of a book. I think I saw it on Amazon's recommended list cunt: a declaration of independence by Inga Musico and so I bought it and read it. I thought it a brilliant book, a brave book and so sent it onto a cunt loving, tender-hearted girl friend of mine who I thought would like it too. Maybe too though, if I am really honest I just wanted to get rid of it. Because it’s one thing to have H is for Hawk & The Language of Emotions & Beyond Religion by the Dalai Lama on your bookshelf and quite another to have one that comes with a challenge: can you admit to others what exactly you are reading?
But whatever the embarrassment I may have felt around the title of the book, it was matched and then surpassed by its impact on me. Namely that it encouraged me to look a little closer at how I related to my own sense of being a woman.
From where I herald, cunt is not a word that you grow up hearing and learning and respecting. It’s a sign of disrespect we are taught. Don’t say it, don’t think it, actually just totally utterly forget it. Because yes children, it is indeed the worlds worst swear word. And so most of us generally stay clear of it. Who wants to be associated with such a thing anyway?
However as with most things, cunt has a bit of a bad rep for all the wrong reasons. In other words, it’s been utterly misrepresented and if you are interested in looking more fully at the real root of the word; think Queen, think goddess, think rivers and places on the earth that are sacred and revered then head over to this article for more details.
Now traditionally in our culture we have men being all masculine and women being all feminine. This hasn’t gotten us too far. And now we have men discovering their feminine side, which often means honouring their feelings and we have women embracing the masculine energies of life and finding their empowerment outside the home.
And yet the word on the street is that men are as disconnected to their bodies, as us women are to ours. Our sexuality is up in arms and we’re just ever so slightly confused what to do about it.
Can the word cunt help us? Because yes there is this sense of it being an unladylike word to say. Eyebrows would rise in polite society, if you were to use it. Not that men come off any better, penis comes from the Latin word for ‘tail,’ as in he “hung his tail between his legs…” sex and shame, or rather sexuality and shame, (the legacy of the good church?) go hand in hand.
And yet, I don’t feel a shame when I say or think of the word cunt; I feel empowered. Although I should say now that cunt is not a word that I use in public, only private and with those I trust immensely. It is more that through engaging with this word I am engaging with the parts of me I've most denied, looked away from and yes felt ashamed about. Cunt is a celebratory, ever so slightly revolutionary word for me.
So those of us who have the luxury to work through our shame and increase our connection to this part of our body, maybe we can make a stand for this for all women. Because the shame we feel about our own bodies, in some way silences us. I once heard Eve Ensler who wrote The Vagina Monologues speak and she said that as long as one woman is raped, all of us are raped. Like the butterfly story that reminds us that though delicate, the ripple that happens when a butterfly flaps its wings affects us all. In other words when a woman is raped, we're all affected.
And so if a young woman were to come to me and say what do I call this part of my body? I would say this: give it a name that resonates for you. Give it a name that speaks to the woman in you and the woman you will always be discovering. Give it a name and then only share that name with those most precious to you - if and when that feels right. You know even if you want to share that name with your very cherished female friends, who you can really share your heart with, do.
So that they might remind you of your preciousness lest you forget.
Because sometimes we need reminding.