A vagina by any other name

A vagina by any other name

Can ‘cunt’ ever come back to the fold?

It took nearly three decades, but in recent years, I’ve developed quite a fondness for the word ‘cunt’. For me, there’s something so thrillingly powerful in the way those four little letters are ordered. Together they have an enigmatic potency that expresses a sense of deep visceral strength, a heady magnetism, a dynamic force of passion, wellbeing, life and love.

So if I call you a cunt, it’s a compliment, ok?

Truly, I’m quite set on this. It started with a fascination for how this one small word can cause such a stir, evoking reactions ranging from hilarity to offence to squirming discomfort.


Despite Germaine Greer and The Vagina Monologues and the Aussie/UK penchant for occasionally using it as a positive descriptor provided it’s preceded by the qualifier of ‘good’.

This started me wondering where on earth the negative connotations came from. Cunt is in essence a term describing female genitalia, a great and wondrous part of a woman’s body, that gives pleasure and life and has its own sophisticated self-cleaning process, like a Whirlpool Pyrolitic, only cooler.

Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. That cunt knew what he was about.

Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. That cunt knew what he was about.


In part, the slide into denigration has likely evolved from fear, and a bit of that murky kind of ignominy that causes us to chortle behind our hands when someone comes out of the slippery-dip with their bathers lodged around their ears.

But that still doesn’t explain why cunt has so much more power to shock than other words for ‘private parts’ that are also used in a derogatory way, like pussy – or dick, cock and arse, for that matter. With this on my mind, I took it upon myself to ask a few people what their thoughts are on the word ‘cunt’. This is what they said:


“I sometimes use it in a joking way around mates, and occasionally to describe someone I don’t like. It’s the worst insult I can think of, and I’m careful about who I say it in front of. It’s the word I’d be least likely to say in front of my grandmother.” – Rowan, 26, heterosexual male, technical communications specialist, QLD.


“I rarely use this word… but I hear it a lot from my husband’s workmates, usually in the context of men undermining the manliness of other men. Ironically, I feel that women are seen as unladylike if they use it.” – Annie, 28, heterosexual female, speech pathologist, VIC.


“I only use the word as a pejorative for a particularly nasty, spiteful or inconsiderate person. It’s not something I would refer to female genitals as.” – Morgan, 33, asexual female, engineer, NSW.


“I love the word, but I don’t use it around women much. It’s a shock to hear a woman say it, especially one you wouldn’t expect it from.” – Sam, 25, heterosexual male, electrician, VIC.


“I would never use that word. I think it’s disgusting… I don’t think it’s very classy for a woman to say it.” – Lisa, 23, heterosexual female, hairdresser, VIC.


“When I was in my early 20s I never used this word. I thought it was crude and offensive. It was only when I lived with a guy who used it at the end of every sentence that it became part of my vocab. I still rarely use it, and I’m less likely to use it around women, unless they are particular friends. I find it less offensive now that when I was younger, though I’m not sure why… I can’t imagine it being used in a genuinely nice way.” – Scott, 41, heterosexual male, student, SA.


“I didn’t know the word cunt had anything to do with the vagina until my late teens. I only knew it as an insult… I didn’t make a gender connection until later.” – Rosie, 28, heterosexual female, IT officer, VIC.


“I use the word a lot with men or to describe men, but it depends who I’m with. I would never, ever call a woman a cunt.” – James, 33, heterosexual male, engineer, UK.


“The word cunt makes me slightly uncomfortable. I remember when I was a boy driving in the car with my grandmother… she was cut off by a red light and she said ‘shit’ under her breath. Looking pained, she explained that once she would never have ‘used such language’ – she went on to explain that she never said ‘the worse word starting with ‘f’ and as for that other filthy word…’ This is the first time that I’d realised that a swear word worse than ‘fuck’ existed. Cunt is still the worst swear word I can think of.” – Bill, 31, homosexual male, academic, VIC.


If cunt is now primarily a ‘swear word’, an insult, and a crude and unbecoming name for female genitalia, is there any hope of using its powers for good instead of evil?

I prefer the comprehensive vigour of cunt to the clinical limitedness of vagina or the flimsy whimsy of terms like pussy. And I want to use cunt more generally as a tribute to people whose qualities I value. Why shouldn’t I? I think it’s unjust that cunt has been applied as an insult. Plus it’s not like we don’t use other metaphoric compliments in day-to-day life that seem a bit strange at first. I recently got called a ‘brick’, meaning friendly and reliable. Rock-solid. Helping hold people’s shit together.

I’d rather be called a cunt.

The reappropriation of ‘queer’ worked, but it had the backing of the queer community. If the thoughts of the people I’ve spoken to are anything to go by, cunt is a term more acceptably used for, and by, men – and women are shamed for, and by, the use of it.

I think it’s ironic, and it’s unfair, but I also believe cunt can be reclaimed in all its true majestic glory. It would take plenty of strength, some compelling magnetism, a dynamic force of passion, wellbeing, life and love… that’s right, all we need is a lot of real cunts to turn ‘cunt’ around.