What’s the worst English language word you can think of? That word that you only pull out to express your displeasure at the very worst of traffic jams or to describe some self-important waste of skin trying to cut the queue at the bank. Maybe that word that gets your blood boiling and everyone knows never to say whenever you’re within earshot. Personally I shudder whenever I hear the word yummy spoken aloud, but I expect most people would cite more extreme examples. F-bombs, Sugar Honey Iced Tea, the odd bit of blasphemy, both the clinical and slang terms for reproductive organs and, of course, the big C. That’s the one I think we need to talk about internet, because that’s the one I’ve been seeing a lot of lately.
Earlier this week I read an article by Zoe Quinn on Cracked.com about her recent experiences as the internet’s most hated person. If you don’t know anything about the recent GamerGate controversy (or the Quinnspiracy or whatever else they were calling it), lucky you. Because it’s bloody stupid. Just another chapter of gamer culture’s ridiculously misogynistic treatment of women, with the key difference this time being that they tried to use ‘concern over journalistic ethics’ to lend credibility to their anger that women don’t want to sleep with them. It’s not an issue I can write about with a perspective worth reading. I’m a young, straight, white male who’s not part of the industry and never been subjected to the kind of stupidity that women (and racial/sexual minorities) have to deal with beyond a few high-pitched voices back when I still tried playing CoD online. But I kept track of the … debate … as did many others. As I did when the internet’s wrath was focused on Anita Sarkeesian and Jennifer Hepler, (hell, Sarkeesian is still under attack). Amongst all the rape-threats and poorly spelt character-attacks there’s a word I keep seeing, and quite frankly think a lot of people need to get over using.
Right, before this continues I’d like to put a great big warning here. While I have nothing against a bit of profanity I do understand that not everyone wants to read it (especially in bulk), and it’ll probably get heavy in the next few paragraphs (since it’s hard to talk about using a word without, well, using it) so: Language Warning.
Okay. Properly warned? Let’s continue then.
As I quite loudly insinuated in the first paragraph, that word is Cunt. Not a pleasant word, definitely, but certainly cathartic and given the kind of strength that only comes from being considered about the severest expletive you can use in any given situation. Unless you’re an Australian – or probably a Brit (In Bruges anyone?) or a Kiwi – in which case it’s just part of the vernacular (and could even be a compliment). It has a cultural presence that I’ve been told can be surprising to people who didn’t grow up in high schools where it was often interchangeable with “mate”, “bro” and “cuz”, so much of a presence that “Fucken ‘Straya cunt!” has become essentially a social media national catch-phrase (‘Straya’ is ‘Australia’ spelt with a thick accent) said both ironically and/or proudly depending on current events (like a racist rant caught on camera for the former or the community helping out one of their own for the latter) and who’s using it. Love it or loath it, the word Cunt is part of the national character and part of its rougher stereotypes. Feminists may be trying to reclaim the word for women but it will always have a special place in the hearts of bogans (think the Aussie stereotype of rednecks or trailer-trash) Australia wide.
It still has it’s place as a very naughty word (I strongly doubt I could write a post or article like this for any mainstream publication). I’ve always found it interesting that it is given such severity since Cunt really just means Vagina, more so considering that the etymology of Vagina is arguably more problematic, coming from the Latin for ‘sheath’ or ‘scabbard’ (wooooo for historical chauvinism in language). If you take a look at the history of the word it’s only within the last century or two that it’s really been considered severe profanity instead of just another word for a woman’s reproductive bits. So why does Cunt receive an R rating while, for example, Twat is just PG or M? Even the Bard used it in the Play (check the five minute mark). Still, it is the expletive for a lot of people (as I mentioned above) and its use carries the weight of crossing a particularly high social boundary. But if I had to compare its use on the internet to real life I’d compare it to a bunch of fourteen-year-old boys squeaking it out after every three or four words in a bizarre effort to sound edgy and mature even if it does the exact opposite (admittedly because it probably is a bunch of fourteen year old boys squeaking away from the safety of their keyboards a lot of the time). I know, I’ve been there, I grew up, I got over it.
Honestly it creates a good bit of cognitive dissonance (or, as I have never said in my life before, cog-diss) when you read some of the vicious attacks on Twitter and in far to many forums and comment sections. On the one hand, telling someone something like “I’m going rip open your cunt and drink the blood” or “I hope you get cancer and die you cunt” or “kill yourself cunt” is pretty damn horrible. On the other hand I struggle to take a lot of this shit seriously for the simple fact that it just sounds so damned juvenile. A whole lot of “look at me! I called someone a cunt! That’s so mean! I bet they’ll cry themselves to sleep from now on because I put them in their place!” It’s the same with homophobic, racist or other sexist remarks. Then again, maybe that’s just cause they’re not comments directed at me.
I suppose I better reach some sort of point. I’m neither trying to encourage or discourage the use of the word Cunt. If you say it, fine. If you don’t, fine. I like freedom of expression. It’s pretty awesome, even when people use it as an excuse to be idiots. As an anti-troll rant this is just another of the many, many, many drops in an ocean trying to tell people that “if saying it out loud would get you punched in the face, then it’s not cool to say online either”, and not a widely read one either (certainly not, I imagine, by the people who need to actually learn that lesson). I guess this is aimed most at the people on the receiving end of the abuse. The thing that has always impressed me most about people like Quinn and Sarkeesian and all the other good folks who share these hobbies and can be described as something other than a ‘straight white male’ is their resilience. They get hit with the inexcusable threats, the ridiculous anger and the lousy grammar, but they stick to their principles and their beliefs anyway because they know (or figure out) how pathetic and immature it all is. I respect that.
So you called someone a Cunt? Well woopty-doo for you. What else you got?