*DISCLAIMER* this post is going to contain swear words (sorry not sorry).
It’s been a while since I last posted something, and while my intention was to write about Malala (and still is, stay tuned), something else has come up. As with many journeys and paths; there’s sometimes an interesting detour you want to explore. I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler recently, and it has opened my eyes to how we treat vaginas in our society and whether this is linked to female subordination. This also ties on to a phrase which I vehemently HATE: “STOP BEING A PUSSY.” I have been feeling an urge to express why (particularly because my friends still use it, much to my dismay) and this is the outcome.
The phrase ‘stop being a pussy’ has always struck a chord with me. It never felt natural coming out of my mouth, and when I started to unpack why, I was disgusted with what the phrase stood for and its widespread usage. My friends (especially male) use this phrase constantly, especially when we’re rock climbing. ‘Stop being a pussy and climb the wall’ or ‘you could do it if you weren’t such a pussy.’ The list goes on, but it’s always used when you’re unable to do something or if you’re seen as weak. I have asked them to stop, but I am always faced with eye rolls or outright no. So this blog post is partly to them and partly to the wider world on why we should stop using this phrase.
I have been reading Naomi Wolf’s ‘Vagina: A New Biography’ (which I highly recommend) and how our perception of the vagina in society has changed from worship to one of demonization and shame. And how this demonization has led us to view the vagina as something to penetrate or dominate, something to control and to be kept for safe keeping. This perception in our modern society has evolved so now the vagina is sexualised in a narrow and functional way, desacralized and scientifically scrutinised. In my view, and Naomi’s, this perception is why sexual violence and inequality is so prevalent. Especially as the words we use surround vaginas still shame and demonise it.
An example is cunt. Cunt is universally known as the worst word in the English language. Cunt has become the most censored word, and in doing so has created a fear and disgust of the organ itself; the vagina. Cunt has come to symbolise self-contempt, as no one wants to be called a cunt yet in having one we feel shameful due to the entrenched definition of the word. Wolf reiterates the importance of words, and how the words women hear being used to describe their vaginas, for better or worse, change how we view them.
In using cunt as an example, ‘stop being a pussy’ has a similar ring. Stop being weak, like a vagina, like a woman. You could do this if you weren’t a pussy aka a vagina aka a woman. If we continue to see vaginas as weak, something to be censored, something to be controlled, how can there ever be gender equality? Words are extremely powerful. I went to a talk recently, and the speaker said something that really resonated with me. We live in a violent world, not just physically violent but one of word violence. If we are to put someone down with words, we are debilitating their right to express who they are and develop who they are. We need to be careful with how we speak to one another, as we are all in this world together and we are stronger working together than we are apart.
An example of word violence is online harassment. When women are outspoken on the internet, they are faced with constant threats of sexual violence. There is then a fear amongst women to speak up for what they believe in. And the threats are all towards a woman’s vagina. There is a correlation between how we view the vagina through our words and how it is treated in practice.
Wolf writes that women, in terms of offensive language, are expected to have a sense of humour and to go with it. I used to do be passive, knowing that deep down there was something wrong but conditioned to ‘go with it’. However, as I have expanded my understanding of the imbalance in our society in terms of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity etc. I have come to realise that in order to move forward we have to challenge what we know. In order to truly change something, we need to challenge the structures in place which uphold the unequal norm.
In my opinion, if you believe in equality you should think about how your words influence your beliefs. If you believe women should be treated with respect and dignity in society, why are you continuously calling them weak by undermining their vaginas in your everyday speech? To truly uncover why inequality exists, we must examine all areas of our life and question whether how we are expressing ourselves continues the subordination of gender, race, ethnicity etc. and whether we are actively fighting against the norm.
And to all those who say ‘why not dick or cock?’ Your penis has not been undermined throughout history and in our modern society men still hold a higher status in society. (Donald Trump said ‘grab them by the pussy’ and still got elected President). Penises are not a subject for control or power. They have not been demonised throughout our history. Dick or cock is not the worst word you can call someone; in fact these words are used as terms of endearment.
I realise that there is no alternative phrase which has the same impact. But, I think losing one misogynistic phrase from our dictionary isn’t going to cause the end of the world. If we’re going to move closer to mutual respect and equality, sacrifices are going to have to be made. And sacrificing a phrase which continues to subordinate women is something we should all be happy to say goodbye to. Interestingly, while we are on the subject of vaginas, the very notion of vaginas being weak is false. The brutal things that vaginas can withstand, as oppose to balls, is incredible! We can push humans out of there and they still function as they’re meant to. Vaginas, and women, are anything but weak.