Social media once again proved their chief export was outrage this week when late night show host Samantha Bee told a joke about Ivanka Trump, calling her a “feckless ‘C-Word.’” (She has since apologized.)
It was no surprise that calls for the comedian to apologize split along party lines, with many conservatives demanding their pound of flesh in return for the canceling of Roseanne over racist tweets earlier in the week. (It’s a false equivalency, but nonetheless a useful tool for figuring out if someone is a racist—equating an abhorrent racial slur with a not-very-nice word.)
For years, the “C-word” has enjoyed the “we can use it, but you can’t” codicil in offensive language. But even in feminist circles, it is still very much another c-word—controversial.
As someone who founded and administers a pro-Hillary Facebook group, I’ve found myself in the middle of this discussion so many times, the other admins and I joke that our memoir will be called Parsing the Word C-nt. We have a no hate speech policy but the question remains, is the “C-word” hate speech?
I started employing the “C-word” in high school for a very simple reason: I wanted to shock. I was a teenager, I wanted to be different, I wanted to be edgy. If this was a word that was so bad you couldn’t use it, then I wanted to be the one to use it. I didn’t realize at the time that in my teen rebellion, I was inadvertently reclaiming the word.
I assume that a majority of the women of my generation and younger women have had a similar journey, judging by the way “C-words” rain down freely and peppers our conversations. You can be mad at someone and use it, but it’s lost a lot of its power, having all of the bite of calling someone a “bitch.” (Although admittedly, this word, too, remains charged based on context and personal interpretation.) For other women, it has evolved into being sensual and erotic—take C-nt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio, or The C-nt Coloring Book, for example.
Shortly before the election, I had another evolution in thinking about the “C-word.” After seeing a staggering amount of misogyny from folks across every aisle—all of who were using the “C-word,” and not “Clinton,” to describe the most qualified and accomplished modern candidate for the presidency, as well as any women who supported her, I realized that being a c-nt wasn’t such a bad thing. Women were being called c-nts for actually doing some really amazing and brave things.
If it makes you a “C-word” to stand up for yourself, to work hard, to speak truth to power, to not let a man take advantage of your body, to fight for the rights of marginalized voices—then yes, vagina, I was a cunt!
So I made a video about it.
There is one c-word I think is truly offensive to call a woman: crazy. “Crazy” is a tool that the patriarchy uses to dismiss the humanity of women. If a woman thinks she’s being sexually harassed, she’s crazy. If a woman raises her voice or is demanding like a man, she’s crazy. If a woman calls out discrimination, wants to be paid fairly, or says that your jokes are lazy and offensive, she’s crazy. Calling a woman “crazy” is how men say that a woman’s concerns and experiences aren’t real. It’s the permission they give themselves to keep doing what they’re doing, without confronting their own biases. It prevents one of my favorite c-words: change.
Looking back on the whole mess, what should concern Ivanka Trump the most is the “f-word” she was called, the one before the “C-word”—feckless. It means weak, ineffective, worthless. As a woman who builds her brand on the illusion that she works and a mother of a daughter, that should really sting her the most. You can call Hillary Clinton the “C-word” as much as you want, but you can never say she’s feckless. C-nts are never weak and often very effective.
That’s why they hate us.