One thought too many

Or, stupid thought for the day, or, your moral reasoning machine is broken.

Another tweet, less interesting than the one I quoted earlier today.

I rarely use it myself but I see a liberal use of the word cunt to be a healthy reaction to those who seek to ban the word.

Of course you do. Bullies always do think that. If your younger sister told you to stop pinching her, you pinched harder, because that’s a healthy reaction to those who seek to ban pinching. If that skinny kid in glasses complained when you punched her in the playground, you kicked her for good measure, because that’s a healthy reaction to those who seek to ban punching. If your mother told you to stop calling her a bitch, you called her a cunt for good measure, because that’s a healthy reaction to those who seek to ban sexist name-calling.

Actually I too think liberal use of the word cunt, in the right context by the right people, is a healthy reaction to people who use it as an epithet to degrade and belittle women or to insult men by comparing them to women’s genitalia. Kate Smurthwaite convinced me of that when I saw her perform in Dublin. But “liberal use” as an epithet by bullies is another matter.


  1. rnilsson says

    Tried and failed to come up with a witty riposte. As you say, mental overload. Somewhere. So, I give up.

  2. says

    IANAPsychologist, but I think I recognize reactance, at least when it’s this bloody obvious.

    Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.

    Reactance can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion. People using reverse psychology are playing on at least an informal awareness of reactance, attempting to influence someone to choose the opposite of what they request.

    Try telling him that using the word “cunt” in a derogatory way is now mandatory. Five times daily.

  3. says

    Sally in the UK there’s a less technical term for that: it’s called being bloody minded. You ask me to treat people decently? Well just for that Ima be an even bigger shit than I already was, so ha.

    And then there’s the whole I’m edgy, I’m contrarian, I’m George Carlin, I’m Tim Minchin, I don’t take no shit from no bitches, I’m a free spirit thing. Gagggggggggggggggg

  4. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    It’s also a good reminder of how unexamined privilege works – “There aren’t any words that hurt me and, since I am both lacking in imagination and am incapable of empathy, I insist you should all feel the same way.”

  5. says

    The difference between George Carlin and these asswipes (from the Wiki page I just linked):

    Psychological reactance occurs in response to threats to perceived behavioral freedoms. An example of such behavior can be observed when an individual engages in a prohibited activity in order to deliberately taunt the authority who prohibits it, regardless of the utility or disutility that the activity confers.

    The bolded part is the difference.

  6. says

    There needs to be a word for brits who tirelessly search out examples of this word’s use and then condescendingly start to explain how “it’s different in the UK.” I was having a twitter conversation about this yesterday and some absolute stranger sailed in from out of nowhere to commence the ‘splaining… two hours after my conversation had ended. It’s like these people actively snoop around looking for their chance to jump and and be the culture professors.

    UK folks (and aussies who feel the need to do the same): I get it. I get that you think it’s different. It’s not. It’s still an offensive, gendered slur. What’s different is that some of you (a lot of you?) are just inured to its usage. I’m so tired of you telling me otherwise, that now I just block you outright on twitter, and report you to the dreaded block bot.

  7. rnilsson says

    Wow, thanks so much, Ophelia!

    And thanks, Sally – that was the seed for this “carefully cultivated pearl”:
    Reactance, electrical, can be mathematically studied in the complex field, where an imaginary part is essential.
    There’s probably something in there about capacity too. And reluctance, resistance, impedance, etc.

    But seriously, I think you grabbed the poodle’s kernel as philosophers used to say.

    Reactance, bloody-mindedness, standing your ground – there is certainly a place for that too; when one is right.

    Release at last. To de loo!

  8. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    MrFancyPants: Well said. It’s not a damn bit different! It’s still the same word, from the same meaning, it’s just considered more acceptable to use publicly as a pejorative, and somehow that is supposed to be better?

    Though I suppose the gem of a person in the OP tweet does at least not pretend that they’re not using female body parts as a slur.

  9. Jason Dick says

    Speaking of positive uses of the word cunt, one of my favorite people on the Internet is the Insufferable Cunt, Neeley Fluke:

    On the negative use of the word, I guess I’m fortunate that it just wasn’t a word that was used among the people I grew up with, so I’ve never really been tempted. I have, however, felt the need to excise the word ‘bitch’ from my vocabulary, and have been mostly successful.

    I don’t really begrudge feminist women from using the word cunt in a negative way, and don’t really feel it’s my place to argue for or against them doing so. But there’s really no way I can excuse a man using that word in a negative way.

  10. latsot says

    I had a twargument a few weeks ago with someone who seemed entirely convinced that I wanted to ban the word. Why I’d want to do that and how I’d enforce that ban are beyond me. I said that. Over and over again. But this person (and cronies who jumped in to call me names) wouldn’t listen and kept insisting that I wanted to ban the word and that – like your tweeter – the only possible response was to use the word as much as possible, especially when it was likely to upset people. They didn’t *want* to upset people, you understand, it’s just that they had no choice. Because I was trying to ban them from saying “cunt”. So it’s my fault that people were going to get upset. How could I be such a… well, such a cunt, I suppose. That’s certainly what they called me.

    Why did they think I wanted to ban people from saying “cunt”? Because I said it’s a word that ought to be used with care and explained (someone asked) why it’s different from using words like “prick” and “cock” as insults.

    I also think people should take care while driving, so obviously I want to ban driving.

  11. latsot says

    @Sally IANAPsychologist, but I think I recognize reactance, at least when it’s this bloody obvious.

    It’s either that or a particularly lame justification for just really really wanting to be a shit.

  12. latsot says

    Bullies always do think that.

    Another thing bullies do is project opinions on you then demand that you justify them.

    So if you suggest caution, you’re trying to ban something. Why are you trying to ban it? Stop banning things.

    The next question is always “Why does the word ‘cunt’ offend you so much?” It doesn’t offend me in the slightest but people are always insisting that it does and that I’m wrong to be offended and wronger for not saying why I’m so offended.

    Bullies do this in the playground every day.

    “Why are you so ugly?”
    “Why are you so stupid?”
    “Why are you such a cunt?”

    And since you can’t possibly answer those questions, you deserve a beating.

  13. says

    Like @latsot I’ve had this argument many times. I’ve come to think the “you just want to ban it” line is just a way of justifying it as I’ve explained it’s not the word at all, it’s the sentiment. I wouldn’t ban the word woman but calling someone a stupid woman is in the same ballpark. Saying to a man, don’t be such a little girl, is in the same ballpark. It’s all about demeaning people for having the negative characteristic “woman” or “girl” … These are not inherently negative and its bigoted to imply they are. Simple. But they refuse to get it.

  14. Bjarte Foshaug says

    I had the highly dubious “pleasure” of arguing with the same bunch of fanatical Ricky Gervais-supporters as MrFancyPants and Latsot. I never had to block so many assholes in my life. This was my final response (via

    We live in a world in which women are routinely subjected to stuff like this:

    In this world the word “cunt” is routinely used for the explicit purpose of demeaning and degrading women in very much the same way that “nigger” is used to demean people of color and “faggot” is used to demean homosexuals. Using the word in the “reclaiming” sense (which ftr. you cannot do as a male) or as an “in-joke” to signal informality between close friends only works because of its cultural significance as an insult and a slur.

    Given that these are the facts, it’s hardly surprising that many women don’t like it when people – especially men – throw it around in public (including social media). That “public” also includes a lot of women you don’t know. You don’t have an established relationship with all these people in which the C-word can function as an ironic “in-joke”. Statistically it’s virtually guaranteed that many of them have found themselves on the receiving end of the kind of hate-speech I referred to at the beginning.

    You don’t lose anything (No, you really don’t!) by not using the C-word. Voluntarily refraining from using it in public to avoid making women uncomfortable doesn’t infringe of your right to free speech (No, it really doesn’t!). You don’t know all the people your words will be reaching, you don’t know what will upset them, and you are not the judge of whether or not their reasons for being upset are valid. If the risk of hurting other people doesn’t make you any less motivated to continue throwing the C-word around in public just because you can, then that in itself says a lot about your values, and it’s not flattering.

  15. stevebowen says

    The reason that Brits don’t see a problem with the word is not that they don’t think it means what you think it means, but that in british slang the word has become essentially meaningless, it’s just a gutteral generic insult. I wouldn’t use that to defend its use though, especially on the internet where provincial thinking leads to misunderstanding. When I first discovered the explicitly and implicitly sexist way cunt is used in the US I was genuinly shocked, but resolved not to use it online where a sexist interpretation might offend in the same way I don’t say it in “polite” company anywhere.
    The idea that doing something more when someone tries to ban it is not totally without merit, e.g Everybody Draw Mohammed Day but insisting on using a swear word for the sake of it is just silly.

  16. latsot says


    in british slang the word has become essentially meaningless

    Not quite. There are occasions when it can be kind of meaningless, but it is by no means always used that way.

    My favourite example of a benign use is when my friend went to his neighbour to borrow a particular spanner.

    He scratched his head and said “you know what, Paul, I don’t think I have a cunt.”

    Here, the word “cunt” signified his mild frustration at being unable to help and the irony that he had every other spanner in the world except the one that was needed. It was used in the manner that Steve describes: an unconscious, casual reflex and within the context of this exchange I see no harm in it. In fact, I find it hilarious. Your mileage may vary.

    But there are plenty of occasions here in the UK when people mean “cunt” as an insult. This isn’t the friendly, benign “you daft cunt” that someone might say to a friend as a term of affection. Presumably this form is what people are referring to when they say the word doesn’t mean here what it does elsewhwere.

    When it’s used as an insult, it means the same as it does everywhere else and the connotations are exactly the same. I don’t believe for a moment that anyone thinks otherwise.

  17. carlie says

    Besides the fact that the “it means something different where I’m from” argument is never followed by “but since I know now that it is a bad slur in your lexicon, I’ll avoid it around you”; it’s instead always followed by “so you have no right to be upset no matter what it means in your culture and I can keep calling you that as much as I want”.

  18. stevebowen says

    @Carlie yes absolutely.

    @latsot Yes of course “cunt” is used as an insult here in blighty but the point is for us it has lost the sexist connotation. In the US it is routine enough for a woman to be referred to as a cunt whereas that is practically never the case in the UK. I’ve frequently heard big aggressive men refer to themselves as a cunt, by which they mean they’re dangerous so don’t mess with them, the total antithesis of the way it’s used in the US. But as Carlie says that’s not an excuse to use it in an environment where it can be mistook for something else, especially once you are aware of it.

  19. says

    stevebowen, yes but I’ve heard from plenty of UK women who say with considerable heat that it has not “lost the sexist connotation” and that they are very fucking sick of hearing that. So you might want to keep that in mind too.

  20. AsqJames says

    Ophelia @22:

    “I’ve heard from plenty of UK women who say with considerable heat that it has not “lost the sexist connotation” and that they are very fucking sick of hearing that.”

    Exactly. Probably 90% or more of those defenders of the word’s alleged UK meaning (the ones MrFancyPants refers to in #7) are men displaying their privilege – “my (male) friends and I don’t mean it in an offensive way, therefore it’s not offensive”. I see very few women arguing the same thing, and very few men saying their female friends are OK with it.

    stevebowen, you seem like a decent guy and willing to consider the possibility you may be wrong. Perhaps if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll ask a woman friend or two for their take on the word, both generally and in the specific contexts/meanings you think are acceptable?

  21. stevebowen says

    @ Asqjames I don’t live in a bubble, I have discussed what constitutes sexist language with plenty of women over the years and will continue to do so. I have never come across the strong contention that the word is sexist, beyond its etymology, in the way it tends to be used in the UK. But then again until relatively recently I wasn’t aware of the overt sexism in its use elsewhere. So yes, I am always prepared to be wrong and as I have no reason to doubt Ophelia’s experience with British women I will, as I said, be more aware of that possibility now.

  22. thecalmone says

    Here in Oz, as you probably know, the word is used very commonly and always to refer to a man, rather than to a woman (at least I’ve never heard it used here to refer to a woman in my 53 years). It is very common amongst young men, who use it as a term of affection and often modify it with “sick”, as in “I’m a sick cunt”, meaning “I am cool in many ways”.

    Women occasionally use it too. My partner never uses it and doesn’t like to hear it. One of my close female friends uses it regularly, however, in fact she used it the other day repeatedly to refer to her (male) boss.

  23. says

    Uh, I guess I’m pointing out the obvious here, but the fact that “cunt” is used to refer to men does NOT erase the sexism inherent in such usage.

    Men routinely call each other “bitches” in the USA and elsewhere. When referring to a man, it means “weak, subservient.” When referring to a woman, it means “overly aggressive and unpleasant.” Tell me again how deploying sexist slurs against men erases the sexism in them?

  24. says

    What SallyStrange@28 said. The slurs used to belittle men by sexists (usually other men, but sometimes women) are always ones meant to imply weakness or incapacity: wimp, loser, and… pussy, cunt, girl, bitch, etc. This is wrong on multiple levels, not the least of which is implying that female characteristics are negative. Of course, the exhortations to be strong and confident often reverse this: “grow some balls,” “be a man.” This notion that “female” correlates to “worse than male” is pervasive and wrong, and it is actively hurting a lot of people–trans people especially, but all people in some way, I’d venture to say.

    We’ve got a real need to discuss and reexamine our notions of gender roles and expectations in the USA.

  25. says

    I think I’m seeing at least two things among the “you’re trying to BAN IT” crowd. One is the idea that criticism on moral grounds is the closest thing that some men have ever experienced to real persecution. They feel entitled to being considered a good person, and public criticism is a deep affront to that feeling.

    Another is probably rooted in a bullying mentality. I think maybe some of these folks are so used to threatening others that they cannot really comprehend that you aren’t threatening them. They’re looking for the “or else,” and they’re inserting “or else I’ll BAN IT” into that mental slot.

    I’m sure there’s other stuff that folks smarter than me have identified, but those are the things that have stuck out to me.

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