Arts & Entertainment
Viewpoint: The "C" Word: Coulter
By R.J. Beaumia
Originally printed 07/26/2007 (Issue 1530 - Between The Lines News)
The "C" word, here on out in this piece to be referred to as "c***," is perhaps one of the most despised and politically charged words in American English usage.
Eve Ensler reveled in the word and sang the praises of her own c*** in "The Vagina Monologues." Just as gays and lesbians took back ownership of and defused the word "queer," and then used it as a term of empowerment, Ensler did the same with "c***" and has made it a staple of traveling plays right along with "The Odd Couple" and "The Fantasticks." It will be interesting when the show eventually makes it to the dinner theater circuit.
"C***" is a staple of British vernacular, where it can be used either with derision or affection and is gender-neutral, like when we Americans use the word "asshole." If a reckless driver almost runs a Londoner down in the street, it's common to hear him or her yell "Oy, c***!" in a display of anger. That same Londoner will later go into his or her favorite local pub, and upon seeing a best friend might buy him or her a drink by telling the bartender, "Get one for this c*** too."
Generally, however, "c***" is the one word that Americans avoid using at all costs for myriad reasons. It could be it's harshness to the ear; "c***'s" hard consonants aren't very pleasant to hear, as is the prettier sounding and much more popular "pussy." It's even possible for kids of both sexes to get away with using that word in front of their parents when they're expressing exasperation with friends who display timidity or lack of courage. Although "pussy" - and its derivatives "wussy" and "wuss" - used in this way are clearly references to the perceived weakness of women, and with many finding that usage objectionable, it's still somewhat common to hear television characters using the words in such a manner.
Propriety and discomfort with discussing female anatomy and sexuality aside, perhaps the main reason that "c***" is so taboo is because of the influence of old-school feminists. For them, "c***" was a powerful weapon-word used in the patriarchy's denigration of women, and anyone who knows what the world was like when unleaded gasoline cost nineteen cents a gallon cannot disagree with that statement if they're honest. "C***" was - and still is - a word often accompanied by violence or its utterance a prelude to it, like the word "faggot." But recently I've seen advertised online a book authored by a feminist entitled "C***: A Declaration of Independence." A female reviewer said that the book "does for feminism what smoothies did for high-fiber diets - it reinvents the oft-indigestible into something sweet and delicious." Whether or not this is progress is open for discussion.
Knowing that I'm a Caucasian man in my forties, some readers might question the liberties I take in using the word. Although a flaming faggot, I'm still a middle-aged white male, the demographic where many of "the oppressors" are contained, depending on one's point of view. Although my agency as a MAWM stops at the point where another man's penis comes into contact with the back of my throat, I can still negotiate my way through the world safer than females in average situations. In other words, if no one knows I'm gay, and I'm standing side-by-side with an average woman, there's no comparable insult in our language that can be hurled at me, no comparable word that potentially provokes the anger, violence, or diminution of self-esteem, and no pejorative that can reduce me in public or private life, more than the word "c***" does for my female counterpart.
Except for the word "faggot." And if you really are a faggot, then you're fucked. But even this comes from the same source because it's founded in misogyny.
Who uses words, and when and where they get to use them, are perhaps some of the more difficult aspects to navigate in the maintenance of social equality and peace in a nation founded on the principle of free speech. Despite everything so very wrong with the way this country has turned out, despite all the political manipulation and abuse of the Constitution, Americans still have freedom of speech without parallel in human history.
Freedom of speech is the thing I love most about this country and, actually, right now, it's the only thing I love about it. Without it - and without the nurturing and encouragement of a gracious editor - I wouldn't be able to write this column. You might think that might not be such a bad thing after all, but you're probably a terrorist and you don't support the troops.
I'm of the mind that with language, context and intent are the best criteria for determining whether I'm going to be outraged, in agreement, or if I'm going to laugh at another's, or my own, expense.
I recently read an essay by Henry Rollins on the Huffington Post where he called Simon Cowell "queeny." I love Rollins' music and he has a great show on IFC, but my knee-jerk reaction as a gay man was to be sort of pissed. But knowing Rollins' work, knowing that he supports the gay community, I realized that his intention was only to put down Cowell. I've only watched "American Idol" one awful time, but Cowell is ubiquitous in the media, so I do know that he is queeny, and a jerk as well. Should Rollins have expressed his put-down differently? Perhaps. I think, though, that "he knows that the gays know," so he gets a pass with me.
I also think it was criminal the way Isaiah Washington was treated. I was stunned, appalled, and embarrassed as a gay man when Washington was sent to some sort of rehab for homophobes. What the fuck was that all about! That was a private matter that ABC completely mishandled and, trust me, minus any potential revenue losses, T.R. Knight is still nothing more than a faggot to the network.
Should Bill Richardson be excoriated for using the Spanish word for faggot - "maricon" - on a radio show? Once again, it's who said it and in what context. Richardson has a very good record supporting gay rights, but his bullshit about "maricon" meaning "gay" is insulting. And so what if he did only mean "gay." His use of "maricon" was meant as a put-down of another man, and I find that objectionable.
There are so many other instances I'd like to get into here but for the lack of space. As for the cases of cited, though, I will say that I still think Henry Rollins is the greatest, that Isaiah Washington is a jerk but was completely mistreated, and after weighing all aspects of all the presidential candidates, I wouldn't want Bill Richardson to be the Democratic nominee.
Like it or not, there are different standards to which we should hold people accountable. If there were two Democrats comparable to Republicans David Vitter, with his hookers and poopy diapers, and Bob Allen, with his discount head jobs, I would have to hold the Republicans at a much, much higher standard of guilt; Democrats are more likely to favor allowing me to be married or to enter the military, and they most probably don't care where I, or anyone else, sticks his dick, as long as it's not in one of Mark Foley's chickens. For them, my sexuality doesn't matter. For me, the hypocrisy level does.
All this brings me to sweet little Ann Coulter. Is she a c***? Probably more so than John Edwards is a faggot, but many find Coulter enchanting. Others find Mother Teresa to have been a c***, especially if you're Christopher Hitchens. Both Coulter and Hitchens stretch the boundaries of free speech. They're both brave and, as far as that goes, I admire them completely. Yet I couldn't be so generous if the things they said came out of the mouths of Elizabeth Dole or Edward Kennedy.
And in honor Ann's bravery, I propose that from this day on we substitute "Coulter" for "c***." Then again, "Coulter" might be a nastier, more offensive term than the original.