When Ms. Knight first submitted this column in 2016 for publication in the Topanga Messenger, we rejected it as content not appropriate for a small community. As a result, she shopped the piece and within a month was offered a spot on the panel at TEDx LA Women last October, after which, the TED curator complimented her presentation and encouraged her to continue her pursuits.
Keeping in mind that the discussion here is about a word that is wholly offensive to women as it is used today, we at the Messenger Mountain News agree that words matter and feel strongly that the argument presented here is both relevant and educational. We commend Ms. Knight for her courage and determination to bring it to light.
When my daughter was three years old, we moved from the Santa Monica Mountains, where she was born, to Venice. At one end of the block, drug dealers flagged down passing cars; at the other end stood an aquarium store, which we frequently visited to wile away an hour or two between pre-school and dinner. One day we brought home a couple of tiny frogs and I asked Ember what she would like to name them.
“‘Tree,’” she said, “and ‘Window.’”
And so it was. I marveled at her choices, though I mightn’t have been so surprised had I recalled that, when I’d shared the news of my pregnancy at the annual musicians’ campout a few years prior, Deedle, one of the musicians, had suggested we name the child “Webo Bagdad.” Perhaps my little zygote had heard and was now demonstrating a unique style of name choosing. Or perhaps, as a toddler, she had a heightened perception about the interconnectedness of all things, animate and inanimate. It was too soon to tell.
Fast forward to mid-2010 and the inevitable end of G-rated living. My daughter is a fully grown adult, as is her brother, Eamon, five and a half years her junior in age and about nine inches her senior in height (both brilliant, of course).
When Eamon was in high school, I began hearing the word “junk” used to refer to genitalia. At first, I thought I’d misheard. I felt sick. As a mother and a professional writer, I know the power of words and the effect they can have. I could not understand the widespread choice of our young people to refer to any organ of the body—especially an organ used to bring forth pleasure, not to mention life itself—with the same word we use to describe the contents of a trash can. Am I the only one having a problem with this? I can’t help but think it has an effect on how we as a culture, and especially young people, value ourselves, each other and sexuality. I thought, “What is the world coming to?” Then I looked at some history.
Going straight for the gold, let’s start with the C-word, and I don’t mean “cancer.” I am referring to the word that, when I was growing up, no “lady” would be caught dead saying aloud. The word “cunt” is not neutral. Never has been. Women and teens who swore with ease avoided this word and still do.
However, although in this country and century you may still be sent to your room for saying “cunt” to your mother, “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” attests that “cunt is not slang, dialect, or any marginal form, but a true language word and of the oldest stock.”
Derived from the name of the Oriental Great Goddess, Cunti or Kunda (“yoni of the universe”), and also Cunina, the Roman goddess who protected babies, the word was once used as a high compliment. My cranio-sacral therapist, a nurse and one of the most knowledgeable women I know, shared the following: “In days of old, referring to a woman as a “cunti” lass meant she was strong, beautiful, and fertile. Words which share its venerable roots include “country,” “kin,” and my favorite, “kind.” (I’d like to note that, as I write this piece, spellcheck is making repeated attempts to teach me that “cunt” is not a word, and Instagram will not allow my friend, a women’s naturopath, to use the name “CuntTherapy.”)
When I share this information around campfires and in monthly women’s circles, people ask me how and why a word of power and beauty came to be used as a scathing weapon against the people it used to praise. This column is too short to delve into all of the issues at hand.
I would offer that when I asked this same question, I was told to explore the strategies used by cultural and religious takeovers, especially the shifts from pagan, earth-based, matriarchal religions to the current, more abstract, patriarchal belief systems. It is easier to change the meaning of a holiday than it is to stop people from celebrating. The same is true with words. It is easier to change the meaning of a word than to stop its use. The truth, however, cannot be eradicated.
“Junk” and “cunt” do not hold a monopoly on derisive sexual terminology. Let’s check out the so-called legitimate medical term, “vagina,” whose etymological root literally means “sheath for a sword.” I wonder if, without being told, something in me knew of these violent and objectifying connotations. It is equally possible I was simply turned off by the phonetics. I always felt foolish saying “vagina,” which sounds like a Latin name for a disease or an American car. I first learned the true origin of what I had been taught to call my genitalia about twenty years ago from Inga Muscio, in her courageous book, “Cunt,” written in 1996. When I learned what “vagina” meant, I ceased using it. In Inga’s words: “I ain’t got no vagina.”
Hello. I also ain’t got no “junk.” And neither do you.
Perhaps I am an idealist or getting old, but I don’t feel old. I feel strong. I feel real. I finally trust what I know in my bones to be true, and this is true for me. There is no going back to pretending. I do reminisce about the days when my daughter named a frog “Tree,” and I sometimes long for the time when everyone knew that calling a woman a “cunti lass” was a respectable compliment, but since I know the real meaning of the words, “cunt” will never again be a weapon in my world, and the only junk I have is in my screen porch.
With more widespread and accurate education, I wonder how many words we can disarm and, with the disarming of the words, how many ideas we will shift. If there are no “bad” names to call someone, maybe name-calling will cease. At the very least we may stop referring to our bodies as trash or weaponry, and perhaps we will all see the connection between a tree and a window and a frog.
By the way, my daughter, a real cunti lass, chose “Webo Bagdad” as the name for her and her brother’s social-activist comedy troupe. I eagerly await and am very curious about the names they will choose for my future grandchildren.
Sage Knight is a speaker, editor and ghostwriter. She and her Golden Retriever, Shiloh, live in Topanga, California, and welcome your visits to www.SageKnight.com.