How to swear like a feminist

Ummm, don't show this to your kids. Or your granny. I'm about to drop some C-bombs.

swear like a feminist audrey hepburn

FUCK—I bloody love swearing. Forget sarcasm; a perfectly-timed swear word is the highest form of wit. I love using them; I love hearing them; I loved Cass Geller’s Femsplain article ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Curse’. I love the mild ones; I love the really bloody offensive ones; I love the totally made up ones that no one’s even fucking heard of before. I’m never going to apologise for it: I cuss like a sailor. But what I’m not always sure of is how to swear like a feminist.

how to swear like a feminist bill nighySome words are fine and dandy: “fuck wank bugger* shitting arse head in hole”, for example, is totally up for grabs. But it’s when you move on to the gendered insults that it all gets a little problematic.

In particular, it’s not considered very feminist to hurl words for female genitalia at each other as an insult. And I totally get that. But I also happen to think the c-word is kind of brilliant. Damn, do I have to take off my feminist hat every time I want to use it? I’m gonna say…. nah.

The thing is, although the c-word (this is your last warning; I’m spelling it out next time) has a gendered meaning, it doesn’t have a gendered usage. From what I’ve heard, this is more true in the UK than the US—but in England, at least, anyone can be a cunt. (I warned you!) It’s gender-free, and it doesn’t even have to be an insult. (Do something brilliant? Have a round on me, ya beautiful cunt.)

swear like a feminist cuntAnd you know what else we call people all the time? Dicks.

So we’re not using female genitalia as an insult because it’s female, we’re using it because it’s genitalia. We’re all children really, and we think it’s hilarious to use rude words for naughty topics like sex, pooing, and bottoms.

So as far as this feminist is concerned, as long as we’re throwing words like “twat” and “cock” around with equal gender opportunities, then I’m not bothered. Especially as there’s a much more dangerous word I want to focus on…

Bitch. It’s gendered AF—and not because it means a female dog. It’s the way we use it that I have an issue with.

swear like a feminist bitchIf you call a woman a bitch, it’s because you think she’s unpleasant. If you call a man a bitch, it’s because you think he’s weak. Because apparently men’s value is tied up in their strength and masculinity, and women’s is tied up in their likeability. Yikes. And that’s before I’ve even got started on the way “bitch” is used against people of a non-binary gender.

Gender stereotyping is something I’ve long lost any patience with—and so using a word to mock someone’s failure to live up to their gender expectations is not something I’d like to perpetuate. Of course, none of us are consciously using it that way, but think a little harder next time you’re about to use it, and I bet you’ll notice gender stamped all over it.

Well damn, if I want to swear like a feminist, I need to cut “bitch” right out of my vocabulary—fast.

Of course, there’s one more meaning for “bitch” that I haven’t yet mentioned: if you use it to refer to yourself, it means you’re a badass. (This bitch unstoppable = I’m really good at shit.) That one can stay.

What do you think? Can you still swear like a feminist if you use gendered words?

*Eek, “bugger”. Well, it’s not not homophobic… Though going by my above argument, as long as fuck and wank and bugger carry equal weight, is it OK?

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  • Hannah Cutting

    Sidebar: In Australia, ‘cunt’ is genuinely commonplace and normally used as a term of endearment. That’s just these kooky ‘Strayans for ya though. The lovable cunts.

    • Love that it’s normally a term of endearment, that makes me happy! It should be, because cunts are great.

      I’m also gonna switch up calling people “pussies” for weak and “having balls” for strong/brave – because that’s stupidly gendered, and if we use them more literally as metaphors, vaginas are really strong and balls are reeeeeally weak!

  • elisabeth

    Swearing and cursing have always interested me, as there are generally two kinds of swearing: the sexual/sex/gender/genitalia kind, very common in English, and the religion-based kind,traditionally dominant here in Norway (and Sweden).During the past decade or two, we have started using English/American curse words like fuck and bitch (in English) and the Norwegian word for cunt (fitte) is also more used, but traditional cursing here used to be purely religious,Norwegian words for God,Christ,Satan etc. A smaller world really helps us broaden our vocabulary, ha ha!

    • That’s so interesting about the sexual vs religious swear words; I never thought about that before!

  • This was a really great and funny post Emma!
    I swear a lot but have definitely had to check my use of certain words recently. I have quite a few that I use to refer to myself or amongst friends as an agreed term of endearment which I think is very different to using it about people you don’t know or around new people. Food for thought!


    • Thank you! Yes I definitely agree that I’d rather not offend people, so I do try to stop myself with certain words even if I know I don’t mean them offensively. But as long as everyone is happy with being called certain words then it can be a great thing!

  • Wendy Gassaway

    Okay, I read this last week and have actually been pondering it on my commute, so great job coming up with a thought provoking post! Here’s what I came up with–while I totally agree with you intellectually about the c-word, I can’t get over my emotional response to it, which is that it is Hate Language (at least in the US). So I’m thinking that much like I, as a white person, can never never never say the n-word, but a black person might be able to reclaim it, I will accept feminist women using the c-word, but would come unglued at an American man calling a woman that. It’s not so much what the word means, but how it is used–I have grown up understanding it as a word of complete disrespect, aggression, and belittlement.

    My other thought had to do with using bitch as a verb. Bitching about something or bitching someone out doesn’t seem as gendered to me. What do you think?

    • Yeah I think that’s a fair point about feminist women reclaiming it in a way men can’t. I would seriously object to a man calling me the c-word aggressively (but I don’t have a problem with it in the British playful way. My husband and I use it pretty equally at home, for example, but he’s never used it against me as an actual insult—that would be pretty awful!)

      Interesting about bitching—I’d never thought of that! I guess it’s usually women who are said to be bitching about things, as men’s complaints are taken a bit more seriously? But I’ll have to watch out for it a bit more and think about it! Interesting question!

  • Joy of Resistance

    While feminism, in general, makes me feel good, just because something makes me feel good (or is the easiest choice)–that does not make it feminist! It might be burdensome to bite my tongue and NOT use the C-word, but I know that every time I do, I’m passing on woman-hatred cause the c-word was INVENTED to put down women. In Judeo-Christian society, women’s genitals are the LOWEST–AND are seen as being the ENTIRE woman–you don’t HAVE a cunt, you ARE a cunt! Not easy to “reclaim” either, as most people understand the term in its common meaning. A friend who teaches language asks students to make two lists of curses/putdown words. One list for males; one for females.. Guess which list is longer? The ones for females–by a HUGE margi.. That’s cause men have had the power in society and therefore language reflects their interests. THAT’s what needs to be fixed–not imitating their anti-woman language (like cunt). I also find your argument contradictory–you call “cunt” a curse-word, but then claim it’s a compliment–but cursing someone is NOT the same as complimenting them. Also, the use of the N-word by Black people is thought to be backward and unconscious by many political activists by progressive black people. Thanks for reading.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree language reflects male interests, and it’s something I get upset about a lot, but I don’t think use of the c-word is as bad as, for example, telling people to “man up” or calling someone a “pussy” specifically to mean weakness (which doesn’t even make sense – vaginas aren’t weak!!) Or, as I said above, the way we use the word “bitch”. That’s FAR more upsetting to me, as it’s so gendered in its usage. (Oh, and I didn’t say the c-word was a compliment; I said that in the UK, where I live, it is often used in a non-aggressive way—which is true!)

      Very interesting point about those who believe the N-word is backwards. It’s not for me to comment on that particular word, but I have also heard many people say they find it empowering. Easier for me to comment on is the reclaiming of the word “bitch”. Some say it’s backwards even when we use it about ourselves; others say it empowers them. Both are valid viewpoints; personally, I find it empowering.