The world is only just coming to terms with saying the word "vagina" out loud and "cunt" remains a term that takes people's breath away with its sheer power. Pushed underground and banished from conventional language, "cunt" has long been appropriated by patriarchs and misogynists and used as an utterance that disgusts or insults in the worst possible way.
The etymology of "vagina" dates to the 1680s: it is Latin for sheath or scabbard. The term reduces women to a sexless commodity and contains violent potential.
It can be no coincidence that the word originated at about the time that Europe became the site of witch-hunts that saw thousands of women raped, tortured and burned at the stake. They were often accused of unbridled sexuality, even of having intercourse with the devil himself.
Modernity has not changed much for the female gender. The contemporary vagina continues to be a site of violence, suffering and exploitation. The media is flooded by stories about this contested and vilified part of the female anatomy. Mostly, they centre on violence towards women or the pornification and pacifying of women's bodies.
The culture of rape has reached an all-time high and the practice is often used as a weapon of war. In the Congo, for example, hundreds of thousands of women have had their vaginas physically destroyed by marauding militias that are often funded by multinationals.
Unacknowledged clitoris envy
In the West there are vagina-cruel practices such as bleaching, tightening, exfoliation, bejazzling and labiaplasty. In Africa and parts of the Middle East there is forced genital mutilation. Vagina violation is a global phenomenon.
This can only be the manifestation of a deep, bitter and unacknowledged clitoris envy. Women alone possess that organ, which serves no purpose but pleasure. The clitoris contains 8 000 nerve endings, more than any other part of the body.
I imagine that this is what has driven patriarchs crazy over the centuries, motivating their attempts to obliterate the feminine sexual experience through linguistic and physical practices that seek to eradicate the notion of the female orgasm.
The word "cunt" offers more in the way of celebration and empowerment. Etymologist Eric Partridge wrote that "the prefix 'cu' is an expression of 'quintessential femininity'", confirming "cunt" as a truly feminine term.
Tony Thorne, in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, writes: "The synonymy between 'cu' and femininity was in place even before the development of written language: in the unwritten prehistoric Indo-European languages 'cu' or 'koo' was a word base expressing 'feminine', 'fecund' and associated notions".
Matthew Hunt, who draws on the above writers in his history of the word "cunt", says it is related to other feminine and vaginal terms such as the Hebrew "cus", the Arabic "cush", "kush" and "khunt" and the Nostratic "kuni" (woman), and the Irish "cuint" (cunt). He goes on to say that the word "cunt" is inherent in many sacred names, such as those of the Indian goddesses Kunti and Kundalini.
Furthermore, whereas the word "vagina" implies a singular orifice for a singular organ, "cunt" includes the vulva, clitoris, labia and canal. It speaks of the multidimensionality of women's sexual pleasure, not just a sheath into which a man can thrust his erection. It denotes a sexuality rooted in pleasure, not one denied orgasm by patriarchal doctrine.
I believe the word "cunt" should be revived and reused so that its beauty, force and power is remembered and reinstated in feminine discourse with its etymology intact.
Language controls attitudes in the world and this is why we need to quash the misogynistic thwarting of our sexuality by obliterating and transcending restrictive words that have roots in patriarchy, such as vagina, and move into the orgasmic and celebratory cunt epoch as quickly as possible.
When women finally reclaim and speak this word, its full potential will be released and women will repossess their collective cunt power. They will rise up against misogyny and patriarchy – and end them.
Gillian Schutte is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer and activist. She is working on a film titled C is for Cunt.