Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Cunt (a book review)

If I haven't already lost you because of the title, thanks for reading! Hopefully, this isn't too offensive (or any kind of offensive at all...).

While on a roadtrip to the Redwoods last summer I stopped in a cute town called Arcata. I found the most awesome used bookstore there, and of course I had to puruse through the many MANY shelves. Somehow I gravitated toward the women's literature, and came upon Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. I'm going to be honest, as a 22 year old girl at the time, I had no idea what the word "cunt" even meant. Nobody had ever used that word around me in any context. I was drawn to this simple cover of a flower, a single word, and the phrase "a declaration of independence." I was interested in feminist literature mostly because I'd never really read any--if you're wondering what hole I was living in, it was Richfield for 18 years and then BYU for another 4 years. I soon learned, after reading the opening of the book, that cunt is not a good word by any means. In fact, it's deemed one of the WORST words in American English. Inga Muscio decided she wanted to change this. She wanted to take back this word (so often used to demean, belittle, offend, and degrade women) and make it something to be proud of--something to celebrate. And after reading her book, I feel like I've been able to have all kinds of cunt celebrations...

So, what's inside? If you click here you should be able to check it out at Amazon. But, I'll give you my very watered down (full of my own perceptions, histories, and feelings) version. Muscio explores first the term cunt--what it is, how it's used, etc.--and then declares that she's taking it over. She then uses a number of personal stories--beautifully told!--to support her ideas about women, the world, words, and activism.

One of the most honest books I've ever read was the Diary of Anne Frank. It was raw, true, and gut wrenching. Cunt was probably more honest than that, and it sparked a lot of thoughts for me. I don't think I can explain what this book led me to explore or process--mostly because there have been a lot of catylists for thinking and expanding in my life lately--but I can think of one major thing this book helped me with.


A friend lent me a book once about overcoming shame. I tried to read it, but it just didn't work for me. I couldn't find a groove with it and I set it aside. But when I think about it, this book (Cunt) helped me work through that process of abandoning shame without my even realizing it.

First of all, I grew up as part of society as a whole--a member of the Earth clan, citizen of the United State of America. I've also always been a Utah resident. And to push that even further I was born into an active Mormon family. If simply being a human being or a citizen of the USA wasn't bad enough for piling on the shame and guilt of having a body and--oh no!--a sex drive, let's add the Utah culture on top of the Mormon relgion to the mix. Calculate all of it, and what do you get? More shame and fear about one's own body than some people can stand (I'll admit right now that I was not good at withstanding it). Women in general (like on a WORLD scale) are treated as second class, but worse than that they are treated like sexual objects. Disagree? Maybe you should brush up on your peoples and culture, history, sociology, and the "real-world". And maybe you should think about what the word cunt even means. Forgive me, I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here...

But the further down you go-- from World to USA to Utah to Mormonism--the worse these ideas of women become. As a Mormon woman in the Utah community and a citizen of the USA, I grew up thinking that my sole purpose in life was to grow up and have babies, and to have sex whenever my husband wanted it. Along with these thoughts, I was supposed to have no sexual urges myself (those are reserved for the men to have) and I certainly was not supposed to have feelings--sexual, romatic, or otherwise--for other women. College was quite a shock for me (maybe I'm a late bloomer?) because I discovered all kinds of sexual desires in myself, and as hard as I tried to convince myself otherwise--those were largely for women.

I never hated my body very much--something that surprises me when I think about society and culture and media and everything else--with the exception of periods and my newfound wants when I reached college. I've always been pretty. I was always in love with my nose and my freckles and my gorgeous blue eyes with the crinkles at the edges when I smile. I love the scar on my lip, the mole in my right elbow pit, and my adorable toes... But all that seemed to change when I realized, like the Mormons and society as a whole seemed to scream at me, that my body is the enemy. It wants to be touched and to touch in so many different ways--many of which are, of course, inappropriate. It seemed as though I was this awful sinner with sexual desires and that I was all alone--because in my world (remember Richfield and BYU Provo) nobody felt what I felt.

I didn't want to feel any of these things, and yet, my body, being the horrible thing that it was, completely betrayed me and felt what it felt regardless of how hard I tried. If I couldn't control some parts of my body, I decided I would control something. That's when I started cutting. Just a little scratch here and there with a pin. Then a slice here, cut there with a pocket knife. I would show my body who was boss.

But we all know that just made it worse. Because not only did my feelings stay, I now had scabby messes all over my body. I worked through this destructive behavior in a number of ways, but I think a lot of my shame for my body and my feelings remained.

Cunt came into my life at a very important time for me because I was open to understanding myself and ready to get to know myself better. And what I learned from reading this amazing book is that for one thing, I'm not alone. Sexual urges are completely natural--didn't we learn this in biology? (or maybe we were supposed to learn it!). But not only that, other women have the kinds of feelings that I have for other women.

I think sexual intimacy is a BIG DEAL--it's very special, and (dare I say it?) sacred. I don't think this means we can't talk about it. I just think that the feelings that come along with sexual urges, desires, and actual intimacy are very powerful and can be some of the strongest bonds of love between two people. I also think that theres absolutely nothing to be ashamed about in having sexual desires--like we were supposed to learn in biology: it's natural. And while, as a Mormon/Utahn/US citizen I could recognize the beauty of physical intimacy between two committed lovers, I was still wrapped up in the shame that comes from fear of one's own body. I didn't know my body at all. Cunt was a way of opening my mind to different possibilities for exploration. It's my body afterall--shouldn't I know how it works? How it feels? What it wants and needs?

And this opened up a completely different realm for me--not just the idea that I'm a sexual being and why shouldn't I get to know my cunt a little better? I began to realize that I could listen to my body. And from listening I could know that it doesn't want a big hamburger; it wants a real fruit smoothie with spinach and sprouts. It doesn't want to slump around in bed; it wants to wake up early and go for a run. It doesn't want lemon chicken and sauteed veggies; it wants raw cucumber pasta with cashew sauce and cherry tomatoes. I've been taught to hate my body and to ignore it so much that I've been feeding it and treating it like shit--staying out late, eating greasy foods, taking pain pills to mask the desperate messages from my body.

No more. I'm not ashamed of being a sexual being. That doesn't have to define my entire existence, but it is a big part of it and I can't deny that. I'm not afraid to listen to my body, to explore it, to enjoy it. All I really have to say now is, "thank you, Inga Muscio".

Write on!


  1. Wow, this is a great post. I can relate in so many ways. I'm still trying to work though the shame that I feel about my own body and my feelings for women--I wish I had started figuring it out when I was as young as you are! Anyway, keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing your feelings and ideas.

    1. Thanks for reading, Thursday! I'm glad you liked it. Shame is a hard thing to get rid of...and while I've said that I've gotten over a lot of my shame, the reality is there's still some left. I don't know if it ever ALL goes away, but I feel so much better having lost a lot of it. :)