Thursday, 21 July 2011

"Private" Paint

As a female, a supply teacher and someone who has previously studied and taught “Language and Gender” I'd like to think I've a reasonable knowledge of vocabulary used to describe the female anatomy. It's well known derogatory terms to describe the female of the species far out-number male-specific vocabulary.

Having just finished Doris Lessing's penultimate novel The Clefts, I found myself recently discussing a range of colourful female-descriptive vocab. Although The Clefts is a slim novel, its subject matter presented me with a challenge and I battled through Lessing's re-imagining of humanity's humble beginnings. In her novel, Lessing creates a world populated solely by females who have no need of men, instead being impregnated by fertile winds, waves or the moon. Although not a feminist novel in that Lessing's society is far from Utopian, The Cleft's lack of any identifiable stand-alone characters or plot makes it difficult to engage with. Even the story's females are difficult to like in their brutal mutilation of male born “squirts” who are then left on rocks to be devoured by eagles.

The book's title of course refers to female genitalia and also the rocky outcrop where this fictional female-only race first live. Personally interpreted Lessing's choice of vocabulary to describe the female form smacks of violence and jagged deformity, in perfect keeping with vocabulary commonly used in everyday society. The biggest grievances feminists have against the dizzying array of vocabulary used to describe the female body are the negative connotations that accompany many of these words and that the majority have a dual purpose, often also used to insult. “Clunge” sounds like a clunky awkward lock, almost suggestive of chastity belts or perhaps an uninviting dungeon-like cavern. “Gash” is often used to describe a cut or deep nasty wound and “Flange” sounds like a DIY tool or process. I could go on...

The most offensive term of all and one I'm going to tactfully star out, has undergone a post-feminist revolution. Animated drink-infused ramblings reveal that there are actually unspoken rules to using the word “c**t” and conscious decisions are made before uttering the unspeakable. The “c” word firmly sits to the extreme end of an insult continuum but like “nigger” is acceptable in certain social settings.

Used between people sharing the same racial background, “nigger” has almost become a term of endearment, indicating a shared history – just think of all the rap and hip-hop tracks the word crops up in. Equally “c**t” seems to be less shocking when used between people of the same sex or actually used literally to describe female genitalia. As an insult, “dick” is used to describe someone being less of a “c**t”, whereas “c**t” describes someone actively trying to be a "dick" who knows that they are being antagonistic.

From this filthy intellectual conversation, I came out trumps surprisingly discovering I was actually more knowledgeable than some of the males in the group. And more amusingly learning about the existence of an unfortunately named paint. Anyone for “clunch” coloured walls?

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