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Are you a pussy?

Read this and find out.  I wrote it for Salon in 2001.

 

You pussy!

If ever there was a word in need of rehab, it is this feline expletive reserved for wimps.

“What a pussy!” shouted my friend Joe. He was complaining to me about a business partner who backed out of a deal at the last minute. Joe wanted sympathy, but I was snagged on the word “pussy.”

The night before Joe’s outburst, I’d been channel surfing and caught Barbara Walters interviewing Jane Fonda about her performance in Eve Ensler’s wildly successful play, “The Vagina Monologues.”

“You can’t talk about vaginas,” Fonda said to Walters, “and not talk about this remarkable ability they have to give birth. It’s awesome. If penises could do what vaginas could do, they’d be on postage stamps. I mean, vaginas are absolutely extraordinary.”

Listening to Fonda, I thought, “We have come a long way, baby.” Just a few years ago, producers forbade actress Cybill Shepherd to utter the V-word on her own TV show. It was, they said, obscene.

I noted the further progress of female genitalia in mainstream media when I spotted fresh-faced actress Claire Danes sporting a “V-Day” T-shirt on the cover of March’s issue of Marie Claire, in which women like Brooke Shields, Marisa Tomei and Calista Flockhart were asked, among other things: If your vagina could talk, what would it say, and if it could wear clothes, what would it wear?

So pussy power was in the air when Joe launched his diatribe. Suddenly it struck me as wrong that the word “pussy” is used to imply cowardice or ineffectiveness. Why must we equate weakness with the female sex organ? Why have we for so long?

I began to wonder how one — how we — might take the wussy out of pussy.

Is it possible to change the meaning of the word, to restore to “pussy” its deserved glory? Could we use pussy as a compliment? Could pussy denote someone or something as cool or heroic or impressive? “Rosa Parks — what a pussy!” or “John McCain is way pussy!” or “New York is a big ol’ pussy!”

At the moment, “pussy” isn’t even used to slight women directly. It is reserved for men, used among them to make fun of one another. It’s “sissy” for male heteros. It’s the politically correct big boy’s way of calling somebody a fag. And, please, don’t get me started on “pussy-whipped.”

People say “dick,” they say “asshole,” they say “prick,” but they do it with respect. Those words have power and punch, the way the word “cunt” has power. But “cunt” makes people shudder; they judge, perhaps wrongly, the user of the word. Meanwhile, poor “pussy” lies there limp, pathetic and, until this moment, defenseless.

Ensler does a fabulous soliloquy to “cunt” in “The Vagina Monologues.” Perched on a stool in her black cocktail dress, barefoot, throwing back her head, shaking her Louise Brooks haircut, she says the word “cunt” for about 10 minutes, obviously relishing each repetition. But what does she say about pussy? If she said anything, I couldn’t remember. Is pussy so forgettable?

To find answers — and to solicit allies in rehabilitating the word — I went to novelist and essayist Erica Jong, a pioneer in reclaiming language in her own writing, and a recent star of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Jong told me that there are, in fact, a couple of references to pussy in the “Monologues,” though they’re mostly humorous, such as “Don’t let him tell you it smells like roses when it’s supposed to smell like pussy!”

She thinks changing the popular meaning of the word is possible. “If we use it with positive intent, it will become positive,” she said. “I really don’t know how long it will take. Language changes, but changes slowly. It depends on the usage — whether the new connotation catches on.”

Jong warned it wouldn’t be easy. “My feeling is that we’re on the verge of reclaiming ‘cunt,’ a fine old Middle English word, but we’re not there yet with ‘pussy,'” said Jong. “Pussy remains humorous, if not insulting. At the moment pussy is a laugh word. It always gets them rolling on the floors in ‘Vagina.'”

Jong suggested I go to the vagina mama herself, Ensler, to ask her advice.

“I like the sound of ‘pussy,'” Ensler told me, smiling. “I think it’s a good word.”

She agreed that it’s different from cunt. “A cunt is someone who dreams the big dream. You are ambitious. You want to go the distance.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, she told me, is a cunt.

Pussy, she said, is more personal. “Pussy is wet, juicy and inviting. It could be used as a word of empowerment or honor. It’s a feisty word. There’s a little fear, a little danger there — you better be nice if you want my pussy.”

Pussy has so much potential, it’s a shame to limit it to the immature and derisive mocking of weak boys. Let’s give it a shot in the arm! I envision hit songs featuring “pussy” — “Who Let the Pussies Out?” or “The Real Slim Pussy” or “The Real Shady Pussy.” Hallmark-type cards that read “Thanks for being such a pussy!” Colloquial expressions: “You da pussy!” “Stand up and fight like a pussy!”

And when, and if, Joe consummates his next business deal, I’ll be there to toast him, saying, “You’re so pussy.”

Flattered, he’ll smile.

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Boobquake: good or bad?

This is the first time I really get what it means to “go viral.”

I know this is my third blog in a row about breasts, so I’ll try to be brief.

Most of you know the story: A muslim cleric, Kazem Sedighi, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune: “Many women who do not dress modestly, lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

Purdue student, Jen McCreight, challenged the cleric on her blog and a Facebook page encouraging women to show some cleavage Monday, April 26 and see if they could incite an earthquake. The idea obviously is to challenge a culture that oppresses female sexuality.

CBS news reports 80,000 women have signed up for Boobquake. Though The Sexist reports so far there’s more media coverage than actual participants at Boobquake events.

McCreight writes she never expected her joke to get so much attention and that if she’d known, she would’ve been more careful about wording and execution.

So the question is obviously whether or not it’s empowering for women to bare breasts to humiliate the cleric, not only offending him with immodesty but also proving how ridiculous his claims are. Do these acts in fact challenge a sexist culture or is Boobquake instead capitulating to it, exploiting women’s bodies with a voluntary sex show? It’s the same endlessly debated question of third and fourth wave feminism: is it empowering to express your sexuality when it involves ‘traditionally’ feminine accouterments such as high heels and clinging clothing?

It can go either way.

Certainly expressing sexuality shouldn’t be at odds with attaining other kinds of power, as second wave feminism was interpreted by many. If you were serious about the movement, supposedly you couldn’t shave your legs or wear lipstick. (I imagine that’s all exaggerated; I know bras were never burned, but certainly just the reputation of stodgy feminists was enough to scare many women away from joining “women’s libbers”.) The challenge remains today that it can be difficult for women to express sexuality and simultaneously keep control of it, still living in a culture where men as a group are the ones in power.

Years ago, I started a “Team Pussy” movement, or tried to, before Facebook and Twitter, with an article I wrote for Salon, and then a site I started, and some T-shirts. I hoped to transform the word “pussy” from an insult into a compliment, meaning the person referred to as a “pussy” was not wimpy, but brave or cool. Ten years earlier, with many less resources than it has today, the male dominated internet managed to co-opt my attempt to some degree, linking my Salon piece to hundreds of porn sites.

And I’ve got to wonder: what would it mean if the breast baring does actually bring on an earthquake? I guess the cleric would be proved right, but it would be kind of a cool testament to female power. Not a big, long earthquake, nothing that hurt anyone, just a quickie.

I guess no one knows what will come of Boobquake yet. The only thing evident so far is that women are smarter than men. If men were more intelligent, they would’ve thought this up years ago. Or maybe they did. If we see the cleric at the Make Out Room tonight, we’ll know for sure. Here’s some info on the festivities taking place there tonight, one of, apparently many, local Boobquake events in SF:

Monday 4/26: Ladies, participate in a global experiment you’ll surely tell your grandchildren about some day: Boobquake! The brainchild of blogger, Jen McCreight, Boobquake aims to disprove an Iranian prayer leader’s recent assertion that immodesty causes earthquakes. Then, get your decolletage down to The Makeout Room for a mod edition of Cat’s Pajamas, an evening of music and dance hosted by Ginger of Whore Magazine. 21+, $5, 8pm @ 3225 22nd Street.

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You Pussy!

Here’s a link to an old favorite on the net, an article I wrote for Salon nine years ago, the beginning of the movement to rehabilitate the word “Pussy.”

Tell me, have we made any progress?

Not much. If ever there was a word in need of rehab, it remains this feline expletive STILL reserved for wimps.

Here’s a brief, edited (I hope legal) excerpt:

You Pussy!
By Margot Magowan
“What a pussy!” shouted my friend Joe. He was complaining to me about a business partner who backed out of a deal at the last minute. Joe wanted sympathy, but I was snagged on the word “pussy.”
Suddenly it struck me as wrong that the word “pussy” is used to imply cowardice or ineffectiveness. Why must we equate weakness with the female sex organ? Why have we for so long?

I began to wonder how one — how we — might take the wussy out of pussy.

Is it possible to change the meaning of the word, to restore to “pussy” its deserved glory? Could we use pussy as a compliment? Could pussy denote someone or something as cool or heroic or impressive?

At the moment, “pussy” isn’t even used to slight women directly. It is reserved for men, used among them to make fun of one another. It’s “sissy” for male heteros. It’s the politically correct big boy’s way of calling somebody a fag. And, please, don’t get me started on “pussy-whipped.”

Click here to read the full article. Let me know if you want a T: they are black with “Team Pussy” written in pink cursive and come in baby doll and regular sizes, one dollar from every sale goes to the Woodhull Institute.

Thanks pussies!

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