See You Next Tuesday: Swearing & gender

Last night I was at a friend’s birthday party. Despite the average age of attendees being about 30 years the crowd was divided with girls on one side and boys on the other. (Someone noted that this was a very Australian thing to do. Sadly I think this may be an accurate observation.)

Many of the attendees were either engaged or recently married and as such the conversation among the girls was mostly about weddings (most likely because when a bunch of people who barely know each other are grouped together they will talk about the thing that most of them have in common not because women are ‘obsessed’ with talking about such things). Now normally I can talk for Australia about dresses, venues and what not but last night I was not feeling it. This was mostly due to jet lag but also because I was irritated at the gender division in seating and conversation. So I decided to wander over to the boys’ table.

After reassuring one of the men that my delicate lady brain could handle their in-depth ‘man talk’ (which turned out to include religion and politics) we were happily chatting away. And then something strange happened. I noticed that most of the guys would apologise to me (and only me) after they swore; this was particularly evident whenever they said ‘cunt’.

I personally love swearing and think the double standard of it not being ‘lady-like’ to do so is ridiculous. Either we all swear or we all don’t and I vote for the former. There is something particularly elegant about someone who can drop an F-bomb unexpectedly and appropriately. Tara Moss (see her latest book where she does it so well here) and my thesis supervisor do this particularly well.

But where I take real issue with this whole matter is the use (or lack thereof) of the term, ‘cunt’. Do we need any clearer evidence that we live in a patriarchal society when the most offensive thing you can say to a person is a word for female genitalia? Most people wouldn’t even consider ‘dickhead’, ‘cockhead’, ‘dickwad’, etc (I had so many more, especially about scrotums, but I think only those who grew up in the small country town I come from would get them) to even be swear words. Some would even consider them to be a part of Australian culture and as such endearing to use.

A friend and I attempted to reappropriate ‘cunt’ by using it as a term of endearment. After receiving a few looks—ranging from surprised to plain disgust—when doing this in public we resorted to only using it in text messages (Dear Cuntie, are you up for tea and scones tomorrow? [Young & Louie, 2013]) but we’re hopeful we’ll get to a stage where we can use it in public and receive the same scorn you would for any other swear word (or perhaps less?).

If you would like to contribute to our campaign to reappropriate cunt we’d greatly appreciate it. It doesn’t require a donation or fundraising event (although I would love to see that); just a text to your bestie telling them what a special cunt they are will do the trick.

Kate xx

P.S. If you don’t get the title go watch all six seasons of Sex and the City (maybe don’t worry about the movies…) and report back.