The Dreaded C-Word

I was 14 and thought that SNL was the peak of comedy, especially during presidential races. Although I was an avid McCain supporter at the time, I couldn’t help but laugh at the Palin skits. Everyone was raving about them and I had to be a part of the fun. Sarah_Palin_by_Gage_Skidmore_2.jpg
My mother, however, was not so amused. She tsked and snorted at every joke lobbed Palin’s way that challenged her intelligence and credibility. “I can’t stand how awful everyone is to her.” She finally complained.
“Did you see the t-shirts that were made about her?” My father asked.
“No, why?”
He sighed and said, “On the radio, they were talking about how a bunch of liberals are now wearing t-shirts that say ‘Sarah Palin is a
c-word… CONSERVATIVE.’”.

My mom gasped and shook her head. “Wow. Real nice.”
“I don’t get it.” I chimed in. “What are they actually referring to?”
Before my dad could respond, my mom snapped, “It’s one of the worst things you can call a woman.”
I was shocked. “Really? What is it?”
“I don’t even like saying it. No one should ever be called it.”
My dad finally pulled me to the side and informed me of the dreaded word. And I held very tightly to the idea that it was a word that should never be spoken.

I’m not really sure what made me change my mind within the past year or so—maybe it was exposure to it in music and writing. Maybe it was during a senior thesis about how quickly language changes and the power and influence that comes with these changes. Or maybe it was my gender communication courses that made me question why the nastiest insults are directed towards women.


What is it about that word that brings me (and many others) so much satisfaction, yet is still one of the most taboo words of today.

It was not always like this. The C-word has been around for ages—an earlier form of the word was synonymous with “woman” in Egypt. In China, India, Ireland, Rome, and many other countries, different variations of the word were titles of respect for women, priestesses, or goddesses. Other cultures used the word as a neutral term for female genitalia. It was not until the middle ages when the fear of sexual enjoyment, particularly FEMALE’S sexual enjoyment, that this word started to gain traction as a naughty no-no word.

350px-R_Staines_Malvolio_Shakespeare_Twelfth_NightEven still, the c-word was often referenced. Shakespeare has a couple famous puns regarding the c-word in Hamlet and in Twelfth Night. (Shakespeare just really likes pushing the envelope with dick jokes and vaginal humor, in general.) It wasn’t until the late 18th century that it truly became taboo, considered rude, to even allude to it.

It’s been speculated that what makes c*nt so offensive is that it’s… well, blunt.

The c-word is one of the few vaginal slurs that directly involves the clitoris i.e. the powerhouse of female stimulation. And as we all know, women who enjoy being sexually stimulated are something to be feared. 104734

Eve Ensler’s monologue “Reclaiming C*nt” from The Vagina Monologues sums it up quite nicely, with a chorus of women discussing the phonetic satisfaction of the word. They talk about the different meanings of the word and why some people find it so offensive, the power of reclaiming the word, and eventually encouraging the audience to join them in a chant. It was certainly my favorite monologue because of how liberating it was to say the word so openly and freely.

Why do some people find so much offense to the word? In particular, women?
It could be out of anger. In America, it’s one of the most offensive words and it refers directly to a female genitalia. Perhaps this insult is saying a woman is nothing more than her sexual organs, and that’s why some women find it so offensive.
It is also an insult specifically reserved for women, and it has evolved to be one of the most insulting and aggressive things to be called. So whenever someone uses this term as an insult,  you know there is a lot of passion and hostility behind it. That could be another reason why many people take offense to it.

I have chosen to take another approach and ask, “Why is anything even remotely feminine an insult?”

I will not be so willingly submissive. I am not debased because of my vagina. I am not less worthy because of my vagina. Any word for my vagina is not an insult to me.

I am reclaiming this word. Language is as powerful as you make it, and this word holds no power over me. I will instead say this word proudly and boldly because I CAN. It is a direct reference to MY body, and I am not ashamed of it.

*Note- if someone asks me politely to not use this word around them because it offends them, I will happily oblige. Because that is the nice thing to do. If you use the c-word or another taboo word and it offends someone, don’t be rude and continue to use that language. Actively upsetting those around you won’t help make the c-word or other reclaimed words less taboo. And if the situations were reversed, it’s what you would want someone to do for you, right?

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the word and what it means to reclaim it, I would strongly encourage you to read C*nt- a declaration of independenceby Inga Muscio. Her perspective is fresh and her research thorough.

Do you hate this word? Do you enjoy using it? Or are you indifferent? Tell us your opinion in the comments section!


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