Title: Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
Author: Inga Muscio
Published: 1998, revised and updated 2002
Rating: 4 out of 5 fist pumps
This was a reread for me, inspired by Insatiable Booksluts CuntWeek. I seriously had like 5 pages of notes to whittle down into a readable post because I’d forgotten that this book gives me all the feelz so YOU’Re WELCOME!
I first read this book in my early twenties, and as Muscio says herself, “Everybody’s perception is in flux and affected by context.”
Context: before I read Cunt
I grew up in a house where we never talked about bodies. Never. I learned about menstrual periods from the school film in fourth grade, not from my mother. I discovered in my early teens (probably from a book) that I had accidentally discovered masturbation around age 9 and was shocked to understand that this was a bad thing that girls weren’t supposed to do. I still remember with absolute clarity the moment in 6th grade when the realization hit me- while reading a Q&A “If my boyfriend pulls out can I still get pregnant?” in a Seventeen magazine -just exactly what the mechanics of hetero sexual intercourse was.
Yup. You read that right. In the sixth grade. From a magazine.
I also grew up in a town so overwhelmingly conservatively Catholic that the public schools did not serve meat in the cafeteria during Lent.
I had never (to my knowledge) met a lesbian.
We did not have Our Bodies, Ourselves on my school library shelf. (Or Deenie, or Forever)
My health education sex-ed was barely existent and completely abstinence only.
There was no Planned Parenthood within a 100 mile radius.
So suffice it to say that sex positivity was absolutely nowhere on my radar.
I was growing up in the middle of the Third Wave of Feminism yet somehow completely isolated from it.
I’d never heard of Riot Grrrl.
I’d never seen a zine.
I didn’t even have the slightest clue about all the things I didn’t know.
Not. A. Clue.
Context: reading Cunt the first time.
When I read Cunt the first time, I had moved away from home, left the Mormon church and become heterosexually active, which is to say that I was making progress… I mean relatively speaking. I had friends with positive attitudes toward sex, and studied in a field where women outnumbered men considerably. But I also was surrounded by gay men who were intensely and vocally “grossed out” by cunts and anything related to them, and straight women who were only marginally less grossed out by that part of their own anatomy. To be honest, I was a little grossed out by that part of my own anatomy. It had never occurred to me that I could take Women’s Studies classes in college. I’m not even sure they had Women’s Studies classes at my college. I mean, they probably did, but I was too preoccupied with surviving a needlessly toxic music program to think about much of anything else.
When I read this book the first time, I was attempting to deal, silently and on my own, with a sexual assault. I read it squashed in between Marion Zimmer Bradley’s epic The Mists of Avalon and Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Two cuntlovin womanifestos if ever any existed. I was sure that no one else on the planet in the history of the world had ever felt as liberated as I did getting in touch with my gender identity for the first time fer realz. I wanted to paint a crescent moon on my forehead and throw myself and all my friends a menarche party.
Cunt was my introduction to feminism.
Like, actual living, breathing feminism and not the caricature of feminism that had been presented to me by men who stood to gain/keep power by persuading a new generation of girls that being a feminist was a bad thing. (The same caricature that I now look at and go WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT ANYWAY?!!)
Cunt, quite simply, blew my freakin mind.
This terrible swear word was a good thing? WHAT!
Men had wrangled themselves into a position to be in power over everything? WHAT!
Female sexuality was good and sacred and important and natural and not dirty? WHAT!
Men are actually scared of us? WHAT!
In spite of blowing my mind, my re-read has highlighted the many many things in the book that didn’t stick and I had to relearn again later, but the thing that did stick was the power we hold as consumers. I can’t control a lot in the world, but I can control who I give my money to. I can’t claim to be completely pure in my consumerism habits, but I try to support local, preferably women owned, businesses and I don’t under any circumstances shop at Wal-Mart. We’re all works in progress, and I’m doing the best I can.
Context: Re-reading Cunt
As I downloaded a copy (my old one having gotten lost in a move at some point) and sat down to revisit this book, I was keenly aware of how much my context has changed. The big 3-0 approaches on the horizon filling me with equal parts terror and excitement. I’ve come out to myself and the world in general, changed professions twice, finished three degrees and stopping giving any thought to shaving my legs. (In that sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t and I don’t consider either to be a fashion statement, political rebellion or indication of anything other than my general mood while in the shower.)
I’ve read Judith Butler, bell hooks and Toni Morrison. I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary that includes ‘gender non-conforming,’ ‘deconstructing,’ and ‘institutionalized patriarchy.”
I have visited and purchased things in sex toy shops, consumed various varieties of pornography and lauded the Diva Cup to my gay boy bestie.
Many things in my life have changed.
So revisiting Cunt was a supremely interesting experience.
There was more of an equal balance in the number of things I rolled my eyes at and the things I pumped my fist to.
- Alternatives to pads and tampons — fist pump. (There are more available now, Laci Green provides a great overview)
- The assertion that becoming one with yourself and with the moon will make your cramps go away and give you clairvoyant dreams when you’re premenstrual — skeptical lezbrarian is skeptical.
- Wanting to bring back menarche parties and stop thinking about periods as The Enemy— fist pump.
- The idea that PMS is brought on by a socially constructed hatred of our goddess given cycle and not.. like.. by a natural, but drastic drop in the levels of estrogen in our bloodstream — eye roll, because– science.
- the quote “Moving from phonetics to etymology, “vagina” originates from a word meaning sheath for a sword. Ain’t got no vagina”(p. 4). — FIST PUMP!!
(because my cunt ‘sheathes’ noooooo ‘swords’ ifyaknowwhatimean)
She talks a bit about the history of whores, how it used to be a sacred vocation to initiate men, and women, into the mysteries and awesomeness that is sex. And it made me realize that my first exposure to the portrayal, and really even the concept, of heterosexual sex that was not solely and only focused on the fulfillment of the man; where a male lover was giving and primarily interested in the pleasure of his female partner was– I swear to Sylvia Plath– fanfiction. Like a year ago.
And yes, most fanfiction is highly overly romanticized and so out of the realm of possibility of ever occurring in the real world that it’s actually laughable. And yeah there is a lot of fanfiction, and romance novels, that feature rape and are degrading toward women and all kinds of other crap. But I don’t read that stuff. The fanfiction I was reading/read when I’m in the mood for it feature scenes where women have at least one orgasm, sometimes several, before the man (or other woman) has one. And I thought– wow, what if that was the first protrayal of sex, the first picture of what sex should be like that we convey to girls? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we taught our daughters to EXPECT their lovers to be that giving? To DEMAND that their partners be that considerate? And that no one not willing to be Dan Savage’s Three G’s (good, giving and game) is worth their time? (also that they should reciprocate… because equality) How would that change the landscape of sexual politics? How would that change the self image of women and girls? I hope we learn the answer to these questions. I really really do.
What saddened me was Muscio’s hopeful optimism that post-patriarchal life was hovering on the horizon… in 1998. You don’t have to look far to see just how much of a wistful pipe dream that was, and the need for women to band together now more than ever. Muscio calls for women to have each others backs instead of being at each others throats.
And how we can live in a world where I still encounter smart, savvy women who declare themselves “not feminists” I will never know. I stand in the wake of Steubenville and Wendy Davis’s filibuster and find myself turning into the archetypal raging angry feminist dyke. And then I realize that the only problem with the caricature that I’ve become is that men have convinced us all that there is something wrong with that. Which just makes me even madder.
Lastly, I have no recollection of reading Muscio’s afterward the first time around… maybe it was just one more mind-blowing revelation than my baby-dyke mind could handle… but I sure appreciated it now that I have a much broader view of gender identities and the fractures in the queer community. Muscio admits to having largely omitted trans*folk from her first edition of Cunt—
“ why did I exclude an entire sector of the population when I was supposed to be writing a book about freedom for all?
The answer is, simply, I didn’t know.
And why didn’t I know? Why did an avid reader like myself never come across references to trans-history?
For the exact same reason that “feminism” and “vegetarianism” were peripheral to my life in Santa Maria, California: it’s not— or at least, when I was writing Cunt, it wasn’t— a topic that came up much.
It‘s, uh, excluded.
The identities, realities, experiences, accomplishments and history of transgendered folks are not acknowledged in the marginalized cultures of queers and feminists, and are pathologically feared in the “general” culture of the United States.” (pp. 254-255).”
Her honesty is refreshing and reminds me that when I encounter people who ask me why “Queer” is included in the LGBTQ because-isn’t-it-redundant-if-it-means-people-who-are-lesbian-gay-or-bi that I need to take a deep breath and instead of screaming at their ignorance remember that it wasn’t such a long time ago that I had no idea what trans* was, what people meant by the Waves of feminism or the multi-faceted and intersecting identities of millions and millions of people.
It wasn’t such a long time ago that I was paralyzingly uncomfortable discussing periods, masturbation or sex with my closest friends let alone putting this all out there on the internet.
It wasn’t such a long time ago that I had no idea how much I enjoyed other women’s cunts, that I discovered how much confidence totally owning the power of my own cunt inspired, or even, actually, what the hell a cunt actually was.
So, in conclusion…
go read Cunt.
And then spread the word.