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Antonio Monteiro de Castro. Bulbous mother, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Camillo Benso di Cavour. George-Michael Bluth on Arrested Development. Henri, Comte de Chambord. He calls it "the four-letter word a man can use to destroy everything with a woman [ Kirn explains the offensiveness of 'cunt' with reference to its plosive phonetics and its semantic reductionism: It strips away any aura of uniqueness".
A character in the Hungarian film Taxidermia also notes the ugliness of the word, or rather its Hungarian equivalent. Somewhat insensitively, Kirn feels that women over-react to the word when it is used against them: It doesn't leave a mark. Yet women treat its deployment as tantamount to an act of nonphysical domestic violence". He also ignores the word's feminist reclamation, stating incorrectly: Essentially, Kirn's article is a macho defence of what he sees as the male privilege to call women cunts: When a man has already lost the argument and his girl is headed out the door [we] have one last, lethal grenade to throw".
Unsurprisingly, women wrote to GQ to take issue with Kirn's article. Kim Andrew stressed that Kirn's definition of 'cunt' as "the A-bomb of the English language" does not apply to the UK, where it is used more freely than in America: M Restrepo's reaction was that, provided 'cunt' is not used insultingly as Kirn employs it , it should not be tabooed: Cunt is no longer taboo. In welcome contrast to Kirn's article, Jonathon Green criticises the inherent patriarchy of the slang lexicon: This is a trend which has noticeably increased over time, as Germaine Greer explains: Specifically, the status and deployment of 'cunt' as "The worst name anyone can be called [and] the most degrading epithet" Germaine Greer, [a] , and especially as the worst name a woman can be called, serves to reinforce the tradition of cultural patriarchy, as Jane Mills points out: Smith calls 'cunt' "the worst possible thing - much worse than ['prick'] - one human being can say to another" and Simon Carr calls it "the worst thing you can say about anyone" As Deborah Cameron notes, "taboo words tend to refer to women's bodies rather than men's.
Thus for example cunt is a more strongly tabooed word than prick, and has more tabooed synonyms" Jonathon Green concurs that "the slang terms for the vagina outstrip any rivals, and certainly those for the penis [ William Leith notes that "We may have equality of the sexes but we do not have equality of sexual organs [ I can print the words prick, cock and dick as much as I like", adding coyly: Ed Vulliamy makes the same point: The inequality of 'prick' and 'cunt' is also explored in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm David Steinberg, , after the central character uses 'cunt' as an insult towards another man:.
Pricks and cunts, they're equal. According to Brigid McConville and John Shearlaw, 'cunt' "reflects the deep fear and hatred of the female by the male in our culture. It is a far nastier and more violent insult than 'prick' which tends to mean foolish rather than evil. This violent usage is a constant and disturbing reminder to women of the hatred associated with female sexuality and leaves women with few positive words to name their own organs" The 'cunt' taboo is but the most extreme example of a general taboo surrounding the lexicon of the female genitals: The word 'vagina' is also subject to this taboo: Braun and Wilkinson cite examples of the term being banned from billboards "the London Underground banned a birth control advertisement - deeming it 'offensive' for including the word 'vagina'" and theatrical posters "Promotional material for theatrical pieces whose titles contained the word vagina has been censored [ Indeed, after surveying women's own attitudes, Sophie Laws discovered that they even felt obligated to self-censor their own discourse: Virginia Braun and Celia Kitzinger published a 'survey of surveys', revealing the extent to which 'vagina' is a tabooed word: The German equivalent is even more demeaning: Word-meanings are dictated by consensus and contemporary usage, thus negative meanings can be reversed when pejorative terms are systematically reappropriated: Melinda Yuen-Ching Chen and Robin Brontsema have both described the specific reappropriation of 'queer', though they also discuss the concept of reappropriation in general.
Brontsema provides a succinct definition of the terminology: He views the process as a harnessing and reversal of the original invective: Laying claim to the forbidden, the word as weapon is taken up and taken back by those it seeks to shackle - a self-emancipation that defies hegemonic linguistic ownership and the a buse of power".
Chen defines reclamation as "an array of theoretical and conventional interpretations of both linguistic and non-linguistic collective acts in which a derogatory sign or signifier is consciously employed by the 'original' target of the derogation, often in a positive or oppositional sense" The focus here is primarily on feminist reappropriations, specifically on feminist attempts to reclaim 'cunt' and other abusive terms: The mainstream success of reappropriations, however, depend upon the consensus of the population as a whole: The commonest derogative term for a woman - 'bitch' - is on the road to reclamation.
A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful. It should be an act of affirmation by self and not negation by others" Casey Miller and Kate Smith discuss this transvaluation of 'bitch' and also cite "Groups of feminists who choose to call themselves witches [ Other formerly derogatory terms for women have also been reclaimed: Witch, bitch, dyke, and other formerly pejorative epithets turned up in the brave names of small feminist groups" Gloria Steinem, Mary Daly has attempted to reverse the negative associations of words such as 'spinster', 'witch', 'harpy', 'hag', and 'crone'.
Where she is able to demonstrate non-pejorative etymological origins of these terms, she advocates a reversal of their current definitions. Daly does readily admit that not every modern negative term was originally positive 'crone', for example, has always implied old age , though in these cases she assert that negative connotations are a patriarchal perception: For women who have transvalued this, a Crone is one who should be an example of strength, courage and wisdom" In an episode of the sitcom Veep , 'crone' is confused with the c-word: I was like, 'What an old crone!
Regularly used as a pejorative term [ As Roz Wobarsht wrote in a letter to the feminist magazine Ms: Our use takes away the power of the words to damage us" Jane Mills adds that "crumpet has recently been appropriated by women to refer to men [and] women today are making a conscious attempt to reform the English language [including] the reclamation and rehabilitation of words and meanings" Maureen Dowd notes the "different coloration" of 'pimp' and charts the transition of 'girl' "from an insult in early feminist days to a word embraced by young women".
A less likely pioneer of reclamation is the self-styled 'battle-axe' Christine Hamilton, though her celebratory Book Of British Battle-Axes nevertheless marked a re-evaluation of the term. Julie Bindel cites 'bird' and 'ho' as "blatant insults [ Patrick Strudwick praises Bint Magazine for "reclaiming the term "bint" from the huge slag heap of misogynist smears and turning it into something fabulous" The offensive term 'slut' has also been reclaimed as an epithet of empowerment: Kate Spicer suggests that 'slut' is "a term of abuse that has been redefined by fashion to mean something cool [ In the s, Katharine Whitehorn famously used her column in The Observer to self-identify as a 'slut', using the term in its original sense meaning a slovenly woman.
In , Bea Miller released the song S. In , the campaigning group SlutWalk Toronto organised a series of 'slutwalks' - demonstrations in which women marched while wearing sexually-provocative clothing and holding banners reappropriating the word 'slut'. The SlutWalk campaign provoked considerable feminist debate, with Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy arguing that the protesters were fighting a lost cause: But the focus on "reclaiming" the word slut fails to address the real issue. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources" Germaine Greer was more enthusiastic about the SlutWalk phenomenon, though she cautioned that "It's difficult, probably impossible, to reclaim a word that has always been an insult" and she should know.
Here, the principal is the same as that pioneered by Madonna: It is not simply the word 'slut' that is being redefined, it is the lifestyle that the word represents - the meaning of the term 'slut' has stayed the same, though the cultural acceptance of its characteristics has increased.
As Chinese is a tonal language, the same word can have multiple meanings depending on its pronunciation; this has been used subversively by women to reappropriate the pejorative term 'shengnu' 'leftover women' , which can also mean 'victorious women' when pronouced with a different tone. This "pun that turns the tables on the prejudicial description" gained popularity following the television series The Price Of Being A Victorious Woman Tatlow, [a].
It is important to note the distinction between changing a word's definition and changing its connotation. Women have sought not to change the definitions of for example 'cunt' or 'slut', but instead to alter the cultural connotations of the terms. Thus, the reclaimed word 'cunt' is still defined as 'vagina' and the reclaimed 'slut' still means 'sexual predator'.
What have been reclaimed are the social attitudes towards the concepts of vaginas and sexual predators: In a sense, this is true of a large number of terms which are regarded as positive by some yet as negative by others: Salman Rushdie gives examples of older political terms which have also been reclaimed: Also, in Thailand, poor farmers protesting against the aristocratic political system wore t-shirts with the word 'prai' 'commoner' as a symbol of pride, in "a brilliant subversion of a word that these days has insulting connotations" Banyan, After Republicans derided Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as 'Obamacare', Obama himself began using this more concise though originally derogatory term, professing that he liked it.
Richard Herring notes the paradox that, while the vagina should be celebrated, 'cunt' is an inexplicably offensive term: If you give words the power then they are nasty. But you can turn things around and use them in a different way" Anthony Barnes, Thus, reclaiming abusive language requires a change not in meaning but in attitude. Whereas Madonna is perhaps the most significant embodiment of this transvaluation - female sexual empowerment being asserted as liberating and subversive - the theory behind it has been articulated most dramatically by Germaine Greer in her essay for Suck on the word 'whore'.
Germaine Greer - who instigated the cunt-power movement, of which more later - wrote I Am A Whore , in which she consciously identified herself with the word 'whore', attempting to show that it can be positive rather than negative: Greer's biographer fundamentally misjudged her suggestion, calling it "a direct betrayal of what feminism was supposed to be about [ In fact, far from identifying as a prostitute, Greer was implying that the word 'whore' could be removed from its pejorative associations.
A term with similar status is the racially abusive 'nigger', which has been reclaimed or 'flipped' by African-Americans such as Richard Pryor's Supernigger , and is used in this context as a term of endearment.
Jonathon Green suggests that this use "as a binding, unifying, positive word" dates from as early as the s Jennifer Higgie, Its reappropriation is not universally accepted, however: Spike Lee has criticised what he perceives as Samuel L Jackson's insensitivity towards the word's history.
Similar attempts to reclaim other racially abusive terms such as 'paki' notably the PAK1 clothing brand have been equally contentious: In his article A Bad Word Made Good , Andrew Clark notes the reappropriation of 'wog', formerly a term of racist abuse though later used self-referentially amongst Australia's Greek community: Greek[s] happily refer to themselves as wogs [ Furthermore, Todd Anten cites the increasing transvaluation of 'chink', noting that "Virtually any word that is or has been a slur can be reappropriated by the target group" Lenny Bruce made the point that the social suppression of taboo words such as 'cunt' and 'nigger' serves to perpetuate and increase their power: He argued that only through repetition can we remove the abusive powers of taboo words: The film's director later explained that he was consciously attempting to "take everything that's negative in the language and turn it into a positive thing" Criterion, The editor of the Jewish magazine Heeb intended its title as a transvaluation of the term, a variant of 'hebe': Annie Goldflam self-identified as both a 'kike' and a 'dyke', in Queerer Than Queer: The homophobic term 'queer' has also been positively - yet contentiously - reappropriated, for example by Queer Nation: Ratna Kapur and Tayyab Mahmud cite 'fruit' amongst other terms "appropriated by the gay community as words denoting pride, self-awareness, and self-acceptance" The gay-oriented cosmetics brand FAG: Fabulous And Gay has helped to reclaim 'fag', and Todd Anten cites the company's mission statement: Larry Kramer's book Faggots began the transvaluation of another homophobic term.
Another book title, Christopher Frayling's Spaghetti Westerns , was also intended as a positive reappropriation of a negative term: The similar film term 'chop-socky' has also been "repurposed" David Kamp and Lawrence Levi, The various epithets used to insult mentally handicapped people represent a further lexicon of reclaimed pejoratives.
Mark Radcliffe profiles "people with mental health problems tak[ing] the sting out of stigma by reclaiming pejoratives" , citing 'Crazy Folks' and 'Mad Pride' as groups whose names "reclaim some of the stigmatising language".
This consciously humorous appropriation of 'crazy' and 'mad' must, however, avoid being misinterpreted as a trivialisation of those whom it seeks to empower. The term 'punk' has become associated with a musical genre, though it also has an insulting definition, as it is used to describe men who are raped by fellow prisoners in jail. Robert Martin, who was repeatedly gang-raped in prison, has now spoken out against jail-rape while also celebrating the term 'punk': He has performed the same etymological magic trick that others have done with [ Finally, we should consider 'otaku', 'geek', and 'nerd', all of which are negative terms implying anti-social obsessive behaviour.
Increasingly, people are self-identifying as geeks, otakus, and nerds, using the terms proudly: The comedy film Revenge Of The Nerds celebrated the atypical victory of nerds against jocks in an American school. It is clear that "The conversion of a derogatory term into a battle cry by radicals is not uncommon" Hugh Rawson, , though 'cunt' itself has yet to emerge as a fully reclaimed term.
Presently, the initial stages of its reappropriation are more contentious and complex than those of the epithets dicussed above. Todd Anten categorises slurs into two types, to distinguish between words in different positions along the road to reclamation: He also notes that it is not only words that can be reclaimed: He cites as an example the pink triangle used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals: An especially intriguing aspect of reappropriation is that of trademark applications.
Aware that potentially disparaging words are denied trademark status, Todd Anten argues that such restrictions should be lifted for "self-disparaging" terms: He also cites Joe Garofoli's comment that "[S]elf-labeling defuses the impact of derisive terms by making them more commonplace". Anten notes trademark applications for various contentious terms, all intended to be reappropriated as positive acronyms: In the latter case, 'jap', Anten notes that the term "may disparage multiple groups": Reappropriation is indeed a minefield.
The marginalisation of the feminine is apparent not only in relation to language but also in cultural attitudes towards the sexual organs themselves. A large penis is equated with potency and sexual prowess: Phrases such as 'well hung' maintain the male obsession with penis size, and John Holmes became one of the world's most famous porn stars thanks to his fourteen-inch erection. Size and the female reproductive organs, however, have a reversed relationship: A large vagina is seen as indicative of copious copulation, prompting accusations of prostitution or nymphomania.
Or, as Germaine Greer puts it: No woman wants to find out that she has a twat like a horse-collar" [a]. Corrective surgery - namely a laser vaginal rejuvenation operation - is available in such circumstances, to make "the vaginal canal smaller and the opening of the vagina smaller" Nicola Black, , whereas male genital surgery serves to enlarge the organ rather than reduce it. Crude terms such as 'big cunt', 'bushel cunt', 'bucket cunt', 'bucket fanny', 'butcher's dustbin', 'spunk dustbin', 'bargain bucket', 'billposter's bucket', 'Big Daddy's sleeping bag', 'ragman's trumpet', 'ragman's coat', 'turkey's wattle', 'raggy blart', 'pound of liver', 'club sandwich', 'ripped sofa', 'badly-packed kebab', 'stamped bat', 'wizard's sleeve', 'clown's pocket', 'Yaris fanny', 'fanny like a easyjet seat pocket', 'a fanny like Sunderland's trophy cabinet', 'cow-cunt', 'double-cunted', 'sluice-cunted', and "canyon-cunted" Jim Goad, [b] , equate dilation with repulsion: Thus, alongside the linguistic suppression of 'cunt', the vagina is also physically suppressed: The penis is an external organ whereas the vagina is an internal one, therefore the penis is naturally the more visible of the two; there is, however, a cultural emphasis placed upon this difference that acts to reinforce and extend it.
The bulging male groin 'lunchbox' is identified as sexually attractive, whereas women are encouraged not to emphasise their groins but to camouflage them: Phallic references and penis jokes litter daily discourse, whereas vulval imagery is seemingly limited to pornography" Joanna Briscoe, The venerated male 'lunchbox' can be directly contrasted with the condemned female equivalent, the 'cameltoe'.
The female group Fannypack released a single called Cameltoe in which they criticised women for "grossin' people out with your cameltoe[s]" Similarly, the male codpiece's exaggeration of penile protrusion can be contrasted with female chastity belts that lock away the vagina. Also, excessive female pubic hair the 'bikini line' is shaved to render the area indistinguishable from any other part of the body: Oliver Maitland contrasts artistic representations of the vagina with those of the penis: The physical differences between the male and female sexual organs are central to Sigmund Freud's theory of penis envy.
This is the notion that a girl perceives her clitoris to be the result of her castration, and, faced with what Freud terms an "inferiority" , develops a desire for the visible, external symbols of virility possessed by men. Joan Smith answers this with the proposition that "it's time to start talking, pace Freud, about the terrible problems men have in overcoming their cunt envy" , a timely riposte to Freudian phallocentricity. Germaine Greer's key feminist text is titled The Female Eunuch , though accusations of penis envy serve merely to trivialise the feminist feeling of physical and linguistic marginalisation.
The 'female eunuch' is symbolic of the desexed representation of the female sexual experience, rather than representing a literal desire for a male organ. Patriarchal marginalisation is not, therefore, a literal neutering of women, though it does generate this metaphorical effect; while the penis is exaggerated, the vagina is rendered subordinate.
Male attempts to marginalise the vagina lexically, physically, and pictorially can be seen as symbolic attempts to suppress female sexuality. The myth of the vagina dentata discussed in more detail later is appropriate in this regard, as there are many mythological instances of toothed vaginas being blunted by male weapons: A Mimbres bowl drawn by Pat Carr from a Zuni Pueblo original depicts a man's club-like penis inside a vagina dentata to illustrate a myth involving two men who meet eight women with vagina dentatas: They have teeth in their vaginas.
They will cut you and you will die. When the oak members were worn out, they put them aside and took the hickory ones. By daylight the teeth of these women were all worn out" Pat Carr and Willard Gingerich, Symbolically, this male domination over female sexuality - using a tool to cut vaginal teeth - clearly represents the power of the phallus and the weakness of the vagina, or, in other words, the Magnolia mantra quoted above.
According to Pueblo mythology, the Ahaiyute would "break girls' toothed vaginas with false wooden penises" Marta Weigle, A Jicarilla Apache Indian myth describes four 'vagina girls' who swallow men with their vaginas, until a medicine administered by the male 'Killer-of-Enemies' neutralises their power: But this medicine destroyed their teeth entirely" Catherine Blackledge, In a similar example, "There was a Rakshasa's [demon's] daughter who had teeth in her vagina.
When she saw a man, she would turn into a pretty girl, seduce him, [and] cut off his penis" - the only way to neuter her was to "make an iron tube, put it into her vagina and break her teeth".
Pueblo Indian artwork depicts "efforts to remove a woman's vaginal teeth with a false penis made out of oak and hickory", and this ceremony is now symbolically re-enacted: Provoked by the sudden intrusion, the demon responded by biting off the young man's pecker". The woman's "cock-chomping beaver" was subdued by an iron dildo, an object which is still celebrated on the first Sunday of every April at the Kanamara Matsuri event in Kawasaki, Japan. Our environment is becoming increasingly saturated with sexual images, justified by the maxim 'sex sells'.
This situation, which Brian McNair terms "The sexualization of the public sphere" , predominantly involves images of women, appealing to heterosexual male desires at the expense of heterosexual female ones. Significantly, however, they represent a "tit-and-arse landscape" Barbara Ellen, , with the breasts and buttocks over-exposed and the genital area airbrushed away.
As Germaine Greer notes, these images are "poses which minimize the genital area" and "The vagina is obliterated from the imagery of femininity" [a]: Catherine Blackledge ascribes this prejudice to Christian misogyny: Albert Ellis explains that our culture's obsessive interest in breasts and buttocks and disinterest in the vagina is the result of subconscious displacement: Germaine Greer's explanation is more direct: She has actually incorporated a drawing of female ovaries into her signature, in a personal attempt to increase their visual representation.
Germaine Greer's term 'womb-fear' highlights the underlying reason for both the cultural suppression of the vagina and the linguistic suppression of 'cunt'. At the heart of the abusive impact of 'cunt', and the paranoid marginalisation of the vagina, is the implication that the female genitals are disgusting and fearsome: Mark Morton describes the vagina as "a part of the female body that has traditionally been considered shameful or menacing" Andrea Dworkin writes despairingly of the "repulsion for women [ Indeed, such is the level of disgust with the "monstrous female genitals" that, as Eric Partridge notes, the abusive term 'cunt face' is "even more insulting than the synonymous shit face" - the vagina is regarded as even more disgusting than excrement.
The clinical sterility of tampon advertising, for example, paradoxically demonstrates a profound disgust for the vagina: In their paper Socio-Cultural Representations Of The Vagina , Virginia Braun and Sue Wilkinson identify several "persistent negative representations of the vagina", dividing them into categories such as The Vagina As Disgusting "The vagina is often represented as part of the female body that is shameful, unclean, disgusting" and The Vagina As Dangerous "The Western construction of women's bodies as a source of horror, fear, and danger [ After many conversations with women, Betty Dodson reported that a great number of them viewed their own genitals in negative terms: This attitude is instilled during childhood, as David Delvin notes: Jane Ussher describes the cyclical process whereby childhood confusion leads to cultural phobia: In this way, social stereotypes which define women's genitals as unpleasant, [mal]odorous and unattractive, are internalized by the female child" Judith Seifer suggests that the prejudice is actively instilled at a very early age: Even a scientific programme on the Discovery Channel demonstrates cultural womb-fear: The reductive usage of 'cunt' as a term of unparalleled abuse reflects both a fear of the vagina and a misogynist hatred of it.
This hatred manifests itself in ingrained cultural representations of the vagina as an abject organ: The t-shirt slogan 'salty yoni sweet dick' unfavourably contrasts the tastes of the vagina and penis.
The slang terms 'site box', 'fanny like a rabid dog', 'gorilla's armpit' and, especially, 'gorilla autopsy', present the vagina as an abject organ. The slang phrase 'smells like a pile of dead fannies' is used as a simile for something malodorous, and the barrack-room ballad The Ballad Of Lupe also known as Down In Cunt Valley is equally unpleasant in its imagery:. Also, compare this monologue by Jim Goad, from his morally ambiguous and provocative zine Answer Me!
Filthy fucking cunt, rotten diseased fucking cunt". The issue of Answer Me! It was felt that many of the articles in Goad's zine condoned and even encouraged the rape of women. More poetic than Answer Me! But to the girdle do the Gods inherit, Beneath is all the fiends': There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, Burning, scalding" William Shakespeare, The Dread Of The Vagina In "King Lear" , Peter L Rudnytsky notes the bifurcation of the female body as described in Lear , with "the human or divine region above and the bestial or demonic below" He also, perhaps less convincingly, finds further pejorative references to the vagina in the play, including "the female genitals as a place of [ Furthermore, he cites a play by George Wilkins, apparently inspired by Lear , in which another scholar has detected a genital allusion: Wilkins's line "in hope shee can open her teeth" , inspired by Shakespeare's "face between her Forkes" from Lear , has been interpreted by Frank Whigham as a vaginal reference "vagina dentata, the fiendish face between her forks", John Weir divides attitudes towards the vagina into two opposing viewpoints: It is the former of Weir's two categories that is reflected in slang terms such as 'nasty', 'stink', 'stinkhole', 'stench trench', 'smelly cunt', 'smelly pussy', 'slime hole', 'smell-hole', 'stinky cunt', 'stink-pit', 'something crawled in and died', 'dirty cunt', 'rotten crotch', and 'scabby cunt'.
These words and phrases all equate the vagina with filth and dirt: One of the interviewees in Shere Hite's sex survey described how her male partner "thinks the vulva area smells ghastly", and Oliver Maitland even cites a female comment that vaginas are "Dirty, smelly things" Boyd Rice cites a quotation usually attributed to the Latin writer Tertullian which defines 'woman' as "a temple A scene in the film The Shawshank Redemption , in which a man emerges from a sewage pipe, has been interpreted as a metaphorical rebirth, with the sewage pipe symbolising a birth canal: In On Mrs Willis , John Wilmot wrote of the eponymous prostitute that "her cunt [is] a common shore" It is this viewpoint that seemingly inspired many traditional limericks, drawing their imagery from "[the] filth down there, between the legs, in the hole" Boyd Rice, Comic strips such as It's Jemima And Her Smelly Vagina in Gutter , and Dirty Annie And Her Smelly Fanny in The Trout , position the vagina as an organ of abjection, an attitude exemplified by the slang phrase 'Billingsgate box', which compares the vagina's odour with that of a fishmarket.
Similar terms include 'ling' 'vagina' , 'fish' 'vagina' , 'fish-market' 'vagina' , 'bit of fish' 'vagina' , 'fishpond' 'vagina' , 'fishtank' 'vagina' , 'tench' 'vagina' , 'trout' 'vagina' , 'tuna' 'vagina' , 'fish-cunt' 'woman' , 'fish-fanny' 'woman' , 'tuna taco' 'cunnilingus' , 'ling-grappling' 'sex' , 'have a bit of fish on a fork' 'sex' , 'fish fingers! This long-standing belief, that "the vagina resembles a fish because like a fish it stinks", is the commonest example of what was described in as the "historical cultural connection between women's genitals and filth and disease" Celia Roberts, Susan Kippax, Mary Spongberg, and June Crawford.
The connection is evoked in these song lyrics:. Ughhhhhhh" XXX Maniak, In a slight variation, Jim Goad smeared a dead squid over his magazine Chocolate Impulse: We used a [ Criticising these attitudes, Alix Olson reminds us how advertising distorts reality, creating 'feminine intimate hygiene' products that are completely un-necessary:.
Gray, Auburn, Ebony, Gold. We'd ban commercials of: Are you not so fresh? Is your vag repulsive? Do you stink of fish? Not only are vaginas "continually denigrated" Laura Kipnis, as dirty and diseased, they are also literally demonised, regarded as a 'chamber of horrors', as "the deadly genitals of woman" Barbara Creed, , and as hellish 'cunnus diaboli': The vagina dentata is the mouth of hell - a terrifying symbol of woman as the 'devil's gateway'".
The title of Catherine Breillat's film Anatomie De L'Enfer is a reference to the vagina, and Breillat's objective in making the film was to confront viewers with vaginal images: In the end, who is horrified by women's genitalia? Yet they slowly get used to this horrific vision" Lisa Ades, Breillat's observations are confirmed anecdotally by Stephanie Zacharek: Particularly a friend of mine, a critic, wrote: He just, like, didn't wanna look at that".
Furthermore, the vagina is also known as the 'devil's kitchen', the clitoris as the 'devil's doorbell', and the cervix as the 'seal of Hades'. Pauline Kiernan writes that "Hell is a term frequently used [ Jelto Drenth cites Christian vagina-phobia - "The vagina is seen as the devil's stigma" and warns that "Anyone tempted to enter a vagina should be aware that great dangers lie in wait for him".
Andre Schwarz-Bart cites the expression "Wash your devil" 'wash your cunt' and young Ifaluk women at puberty are traditionally told of "the "devil" beneath [the] skirt" Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, An illustration by Eugene Le Poitevin Les Diableries Erotiques , depicts a group of seductive female devils, with skulls on their chests, inside a vagina. Slang terms for 'vagina' such as 'mark-of-the-beast' perpetuate this association, as in the drama Witchcraze: Barbara Creed, in a chapter titled Woman As Monstrous Womb , asserts that "From classical to Renaissance times the uterus was frequently drawn with horns to demonstrate its supposed association with the devil" Ruth Wajnryb links this association of femininity with monstrosity directly to 'cunt' itself: It is part of [ Medusa, the female demon, is also evoked in vagina mythology, leading Orlan to display images of her vagina "[alongside Sigmund] Freud's text on the head of Medusa [which] read: Elaine Showalter also cites Freud's equation of Medusa with a deadly vagina: For men to unveil the Medusa is to confront the dread of looking at the female sexual organs" Freud's equation of Medusa with the vagina is significant as it presents the vagina as an organ capable of castrating the male penis: Thus, the "fearsome female genitals" Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, are repeatedly associated with diseases and foul smells, regarded as abject, disgusting organs, stinking and pox-ridden - "that disgusting sick hole down there", as Jim Goad puts it [a].
Furthermore, they are also equated with demonic and Satanic figures such as Medusa and the devil, damned as a "daemonic womb" Camille Paglia, The Fellowship Of The Ring includes the fiery Eye of Sauron, which has been interpreted as a vaginal symbol representing "ultimate evil" Duncan Tucker, Another film with an evil entity interpreted as vaginal is Kiss Me Deadly ; its apocalyptic atom bomb, a reference to Pandora's Box, can be seen as "an atomic female orgasm" Graham Fuller, , a reading initially proposed by Carol Flinn: These misguided male associations perpetuate male anxiety about women's genitals, and thus also perpetuate the avoidance of them in male-dominated language and culture: They see it as a gaping maw, at times toothed, frighteningly insatiable.
It is then that male fears make them monstrous, hellish, and vile, disgust-evoking places" William Ian Miller, We have seen how the word 'cunt' and the vagina itself - the signifier and the signified - are both suppressed in language and culture.
They are associated with uncleanness 'cunt' as a 'dirty word' and the vagina as 'smelly' , and this false projection of abject qualities is rooted in a fear of "the demonic bodies of women" Edward Shorter, Fundamentally, fear of the vagina leads to its symbolic and linguistic representations being suppressed and its physical characteristics being demonised.
Censorship of 'cunt', obliteration of vaginal imagery, and association of vaginas with disease all stem from a primal fear of the vagina itself. Central to the discussion of male cunt-hatred and womb-fear is the myth of the vagina dentata, "a motif occurring in certain primitive mythologies, as well as in modern surrealist painting and neurotic dream, which is known to folklore as 'the toothed vagina' - the vagina that castrates" Joseph Campbell, The vagina dentata evokes the male castration complex, which in this instance is the fear that, once it has entered the vagina, the penis will be bitten off and consumed - the fear of "witches stealing men's penises with their vaginal teeth", as Catherine Blackledge puts it The vagina dentata myth is the most potent symbol of male "dread of the female genital" HR Hays, There are several possible explanations for the persistence of the vagina dentata myth, all of which relate to male fears of symbolic post-coital death: An illustration by Alfred Kubin is a clear example of this fear, depicting a man with an erection diving into an oversized vagina as if it were a swimming pool.
Kubin's title, Todessprung , suggests that the male figure is leaping to his death. Semen can be said to symbolise life, thus the release of semen into the vagina may represent the transference of life from the penis to the vagina. Likewise, when the penis has ejaculated and withdrawn from the vagina, its flaccid state is perhaps symbolic of death when contrasted with its pre-penetration tumescence.
The connection between sex and death is a well-established one: Also relevant here is the previously discussed notion of the vagina as a harbinger of disease: The central fear, however, is that of castration, that the vagina will bite off the penis during intercourse: Stephen King admitted that his greatest sexual fear was "making love to a woman and it just slammed shut and cut your penis off", and a character in 44 Inch Chest dreams that his wife's "cunt had dentures" Malcolm Venville, Exploiting the vaginal slang term 'beaver', Stewart Ferris notes that both beavers and vaginas can "bite your fingers off" , with the finger here being a clear substitution for the penis.
Basic Instinct , Body Of Evidence , and GoldenEye all exploit these fears, depicting women played respectively by Sharon Stone, Madonna, and Famke Janssen who either murder their partners during sex or literally fuck them to death as do the mermaids in the film Empires Of The Deep.
A Madonna song featured the line "My sex is a killer". Such behaviour amongst widow and redback spiders, praying mantises, midges, horned nudibranchs, and Photuris fireflies, is well-documented, and male honey bees are prone to sudden death shortly after ejaculation. Such coital cannibalism actually has evolutionary advantages, as the body of the male, if eaten, provides nutrition for the gestating offspring. This is a logical extension of the 'femme fatale' Film Noir archetype, the mythical succubus, and the 'honey trap' entrapment strategy.
The fact that the vagina extracts semen, induces penile flaccidity after orgasm, and is perceived as a source of disease, contributes to the vagina dentata myth, the fear of the vagina as a murderous, violent demon. More potent than any of these explanations, however, is the male castration complex, the fear that the penis will be removed during intercourse: Closely related is the penis captivus complex, the fear that the penis cannot be withdrawn from the vagina after penetration: In his journal paper on the subject, F Kraupl Taylor described a medieval case of penis captivus in which "sinners who had indulged in clandestine intercourse in churches and were discovered only the following day, when prayers or a splash of water brought liberation", though the incident is presumably either exaggerated or apocryphal.
A Piltz gives an account of a more recent and credible case: The keeper alarmed by the desperate cries of the young man ran up. The doctor of the municipal ambulance after giving anaesthetic to the woman separated the couple". Iwan Bloch gives a similar example: A great crowd assembled, from the midst of which the unfortunate couple were removed in a closed carriage, and taken to the hospital, and not until chloroform had been administered to the girl did the spasm pass off and free the man".
Another example is provided by EH Kisch The swollen and livid penis exhibited two strangulation-furrows". In each case, anaesthetic administered to the woman apparently relaxed the vaginal muscles and released the penis. Walter Stoeckel recognised penis captivus as a bona fide medical condition: He gave a physiological explanation for the phenomenon, explaining that "[vaginal] contractions can suddenly turn into spasms which imprison the penis and cause it to swell up excessively".
However, he concluded rather moralistically: Even then it is frequently still difficult to free the thickly swollen and dark-purple penis from its imprisonment". FW Scanzoni identified the 'constrictor cunni' as the muscle that contracts during penis captivus: Several observations have shown that, in certain clearly known circumstances, these may become so intense as to be painful for both man and woman.
They may end in a spasm of the constrictor cunni which occasionally lasts rather long and makes the withdrawal of the penis impossible". In the world of the arachnids, there is an even more alarming variation on penis captivus. During redback spider reproduction, the male is willingly consumed by the female, as his death ensures that he remains stuck inside her, thus preventing impregnation by other males: Even if she feeds on the rest of his body, the organ remains, preventing her from receiving more sperm" Carl Zimmer, The reason men feel threatened inside the vagina is that they regard the vagina as a displaced mouth, poised to eat their penis: Jonathan Prown and Richard Miller note that "female genitalia [are] associated with death or consumption", citing the mythological Greek lamiae, who were "lustful she-demons whose name meant both mouth and vagina".
Vaginas and mouths are both denoted by lips, thus, by extension, men fear that they also share teeth: As the vagina is considered a displaced mouth, fears of the penis being bitten, eaten, or swallowed manifest themselves. Susan Lurie cites the male perception of vagina as a "devouring mouth", into which the penis disappears Indeed, as Barbara Creed notes, the connection is so entrenched in the male psyche that even without references to teeth or consumption, the castration fear is still evoked: The image of a mouth - the gaping maw of nightmares and horror scenarios - is probably enough on its own to instil[l] dread" There are many illustrations which visually link mouths and vaginas, such as the poster for the film Le Sexe Qui Parle also known as Pussy Talk , a Terry Richardson photograph of Jessica Stam holding a cup depicting a pair of lips between her legs in Purple Fashion Magazine , , and the many "vaginal mouths" in Pablo Picasso's paintings Hilary Spurling, John Richardson identifies the motif in three Picasso paintings: La Danse "Picasso has punched a hole in her pelvis and reassembled her face as a vagina dentata" , La Crucifixion "the Virgin Mary [ Everything looks ready to bite, cut, sting, or poison.
The most famous example is Rene Magritte's Surrealist painting Le Viol , in which a woman's body becomes her face. The concept was also used for the poster of the Rolling Stones' European tour. Nisa Sirisre's installation Body Openings includes sculptures with displaced mouths, including female figures with mouths in place of their vaginas. The effect is most readily achieved by rotating the female mouth into a vertical position - this motif has been used as the cover image of Barbara Creed's book The Monstrous-Feminine , a reprint of Louis Aragon's Irene's Cunt , a collage by Robert Delford Brown Kiss Kiss , , a poster for the Exhibitionism Rolling Stones exhibition , and a poster for the film Deadgirl.
In the animated series Family Guy the Stewie Loves Lois episode, , a character feels his son's mouth and assumes it to be his wife's vagina. Barbara G Walker calls the vagina dentata "the classic symbol of men's fear of sex, expressing the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse" and HR Hays explains that "the cleft between a woman's thigh is felt to be a castrating scissors" Andrea Dworkin evocatively encapsulates male apprehensions: There are several journal articles and papers exploring the concept of the vagina dentata.
Pat Carr and Willard Gingerich conducted an illustrated though limited study of vagina dentata mythology: The vagina dentata is an all-pervasive image of terror, occurring throughout ancient mythology: The omnipotence of this motif of the devouring vagina has also survived millennia, with many cultures' creation mythology imbued with castrating and deadly images" Catherine Blackledge, The Witchita Indians of North America described witches who "had teeth in their vaginas which would cut off [the] penis.
The Toba Indians spoke of an equally fearsome woman who "cut off [a] penis and testicles with her vagina". The White Knife clan of the Shoshone Indians "believed that a glimpse of the female genitals would result in blindness and disease" Jelto Drenth, The Yanomamo equivalent of Eve was a woman whose vagina "became a toothed mouth and bit off her consort's penis" Barbara G Walker, Early Christians believed that witches used magic spells to "grow fangs in their vaginas".
A sultan of Damascus was struck blind by "the dread powers [of] a vulva". There was a Malekula yonic spirit that "[drew others] near to it so that it may devour [them]" Erich Neumann, According to Hindu mythology, "the demon Adi assumes the form of Parvati and attempts to kill Shiva with the teeth inside "her" vagina", and Shiva in turn "created a horrible woman with a mouth like a great cavern, with teeth and eyes in her vagina" Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Philip Rawson cites the ancient Chinese belief that vaginas were "executioners of men" An Indian myth describes "a young man trying to seduce a faithful wife.
However, to his dismay, the man discovers that the woman has a saw above her vagina, with which she cuts off his penis" Catherine Blackledge, A Mehinaku tale describes "a woman [who] took many shells - they looked just like teeth - and put them in her inner labia. Later, when it got dark, [a] man wanted to have sex. In Navajo and Apache folk takes, vaginas "are describes as detached organs, walking around independently and biting as they go". The mythology of the fatal vagina is not only limited to castrating teeth, however: Symbolically, a Muslim belief attests that "the vagina can 'bite off' a man's eye-beam, resulting in blindness for the man who is brave enough to look deep into its depths" Catherine Blackledge, Deadly vaginal snakes, eels, and dragons have also been described: In one tale from the Tuamotos Islands, the eels in a woman called Faumea's vagina kill all men.
Hungry dragons too are often to be found inside the vagina of folklore and myth". In William Shakespeare's description of a woman "whose tongue more poisons than the adders" , "tongue" has been interpreted as 'clitoris', translating as: The goddess Scylla is represented as a beautiful woman above the waist though "[her] lower parts consist of three snapping hellhounds" Barbara Creed, A North American Indian myth describes "a meat-eating fish inhabit[ing] the vagina of the Terrible Mother", Salvador Dali has depicted the vagina as a lobster with sharp claws, a cartoon by Michael Leunig shows the vagina as a dog's head with sharp teeth, "Mundurucu Brazilian men called the vagina the 'crocodile's mouth' [ Its prevalence around the globe is stunning.
She defines the vagina dentata as "an emasculating, castrating fearsome toothed organ [ A toothed, varoacious, ravenous, greedy chasm". She refers to 'cunt' both directly "The catalytic cunt" and indirectly "A cunning stunt" in subtitles, though ignores significant cultural landmarks such as Cuntpower Oz and The Vagina Monologues thus her book cannot be viewed as quite the definitive study it was proclaimed to be by some initial reviews.
The Dangerous Sex , by HR Hays, is a fascinating study of the negative attitudes towards women embodied in ancient mythology, and Barabara Creed wrote a similar study concerning modern visual culture titled The Monstrous-Feminine. The vagina dentata myth has been appropriated in contemporary cinema by the "killer vagina" Tammy Oler, film Teeth , in which the central character "bit[es] off penises with the inside of her vagina" Jonny Brown, Yoju Toshi includes a female character "with a chomping, teeth-filled vagina" Matt Coyte, who is capable of "spin[ning] webs out of her fanged vagina" Todd Tjersland, The J-Sploitation film Kiseichuu: Kiraa Pusshii features a lead character who develops a vagina dentata during sex, and the similar film Kyonyu Doragon: Onsen Zonbi Vs Sutorippaa V features a woman with a flame-throwing vagina.
Fudoh features "a high-school girl shooting poison darts from her vagina" Howard Hampton, Rabid features "a porn star with a man-eating vagina in her armpit" Duncan Bell, [a]. Zuma features "[a] horrible creature that has a vagina dentata instead of a face" Pete Tombs, Brain Dead features "an alien bursting out of a possessed vulva" Kim Newman, Prometheus features a "vagina-mawed" alien monster Ian Nathan, Return Of The Jedi "The Jabba episode culminates in an explicit vagina dentata fantasy, as Luke and his pals have to walk a phallic gangplank into the pulsating maw - festooned with long, curved teeth - of the giant Sarlacc" and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom "another vagina dentata sequence in the underground Spike Chamber".
In Blue Velvet , a carved sculpture of a vagina dentata was used as a set decoration. The film M features a "vagina dentata of a diamond formation of steel knives" David Rakoff, In the Starz television drama series American Gods , the character Bilquis swallows her sexual partners with her vagina. Emma Rees cites two further cinematic examples: Dead Man's Chest a year later, we are invited to gaze on the primordial cunt" She also notes that Judy Chicago's Dinner Party installation contains a vagina dentata allusion: The Predator title character in Predator John McTiernan, has a face resembling a vagina, and is called "pussy-face".
There is a "vagina monster" in the film Schramm David Kerekes, Kekko Kamen III features "Nude lady superheroes [who] fly through the air with kung-fu glowing vaginas! They land on your face and kill you! A tooth is placed inside a vagina during a scene in Novo.
There are also vagina dentatas throughout contemporary popular culture. The novel Riddley Walker features a character with "teef be twean her legs" [sic.
To promote safe sex, SuperSom magazine photographed a naked woman holding a mousetrap in front of her vagina. The film Movie 43 features an MP3 player that looks like a naked woman, with a cooling fan in place of a vagina, and male purchasers cut their penises on the fan while attempting to have sex with the device.
The Thai poster for the film Teeth features rose thorns arranged to resemble vaginal teeth. The sexist comic Smut has a strip titled Guillo Tina , the name equating the female character with a deadly blade, as in the figure of Mme Guillotine during the French Revolution: Bangkok illustrator TRK exhibited an ink drawing of a face with a vagina dentata as a mouth, called Cunt Face , alongside an untitled woodcut print of another vagina dentata.
The woodcut closely resembled an illustration of a monstrous vagina dentata by Roberto Matta, created for the cover of the final issue of the Surrealist journal VVV in Karel Teige's collage has been described as a depiction of "a graphically aggressive vagina dentata on all fours" Brandon Taylor, Photographer Andres Serrano who specialises in provocative and taboo-breaking images has photographed a vagina with teeth from a shark stuck inside it, in a literal interpretation of the photograph's title Vagina Dentata: The vagina is the hidden orifice that castrates 'post-coitus' [ It's a base, vernacular word for the vagina" In Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash , a character wears "a very small hypodermic needle" in her vagina as an anti-rape device.
By affixing a spike to a tampon, Leif Lindell created a prototype model she called Femdefence Ira D Sherman's Impenetrable Devices series includes several similar rape-prevention mechanisms, including Intimate Electric Fence capable of giving an electric shock to a rapist's penis , and the self-explanatory Saber Tooth Speculum and Bear Trap Corset.
Sonette Ehlers designed a similar product, called Rapex , later renamed Rape-aXe , which was a female condom containing fish-hooks "that embed themselves in the penis in the event of penetration" Duncan Bell, [b]. The motif has also been represented in more abstract manifestations. It is indirectly personified by the Etruscan demoness Culsu who carries scissors and the Alawan goddess Kunapipi who swallows men with her womb , both of whom have names etymologically related to 'cunt'.
Pablo Picasso painted a woman holding a tray of sea urchins, with the creatures as representations of the vagina dentata. A sea urchin in Un Chien Andalou has also been interpreted as a vagina dentata symbol.
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