Warning: this post contains swear words. Even the offensive ones. Especially the offensive ones.
I find it offensive that the worst swear words, the most offensive, the rarest to be used and the ones that have the greatest impact are words for female genitalia.
When “dick” is a swear word so low on the list some kids can get away with it, when “cock” and “bollocks” are not far behind, “balls” doesn’t even count, why are slang words for female genitalia so bad?
Personally, I have always felt words only contain the power you give them, so many swear words have no effect on me. In a discussion with a friend about this post, she asked what the most offensive thing I could be called was, and I said “selfish”. There really is only one word that I find unacceptable for anyone to use and that word is “faggot”. Why? Because the etymology is that it means “burden”, and that’s just not a very nice thing to call someone. Particularly when you’re intimating that their sexuality is the cause of their being a burden on society.
But calling me a vagina? A penis? A female dog, a prostitute or poo? Yeah, I don’t really find that offensive.
That’s not to say I won’t react if you call me names, of course I will – you’re trying to hurt me and that’s offensive. The intent behind the words is a lot more important to me than the words themselves.
But I can’t help being continuously bothered that words for female genitalia outrank words that mean excrement in the offensive factor. Are you saying my genitals are more offensive than saying a person is akin to fecal matter?
Germaine Greer once said of cunt “it is one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.”
In researching this post I tried to establish the etymology of the c-word, which wasn’t a hugely easy task. It seems to be widely disputed between being a German or Danish word for “vagina” or a Middle English word for “vulva”. Neither of those things are offensive to me.
“Pussy” was less hard to identify – starting out as a word for cat that evolved to mean woman, then evolved to vagina by the eighteenth century. It’s use these days seems to be exclusively reserved for calling a man feminine in a derogatory manner and referring to a vagina in an overtly sexual and/or derogatory way.
So why are words for males and their bits less offensive than females? I can’t help but think it’s yet enough example of the every day sexism we have allowed to permeate our culture in a possibly irritrievable way.
What’s the solution? I’m not entirely sure. I would suggest we start to take the power out of these words by refusing to find them as offensive as they currently are, but I know many women would disagree with me.
What do you think? Do you find some swear words more offensive than others? Would it offend you to hear the words ‘cunt’ or ‘pussy’ in everyday conversation?