Sunday, December 19, 2010

How I became the "Cuntlovin' Ruler of My Sexual Universe"

I just finished reading _Cunt: A Declaration of Independence_ by Inga Muscio. Mind: Blown.

In case you're not familiar with it, here's the blurb from the back cover:

An ancient title of respect for women, the word "cunt" long ago veered off this noble path. Inga Muscio traces the road from honor to expletive, giving the woman the motivation and tools to claim "cunt" as a positive and powerful force in their lives. With humor and candor, she shares her own history as she explores the cultural forces that influence women's relationships with their bodies.

Sending out a call for every woman to be the Cuntlovin' Ruler of her Sexual Universe, Muscio stands convention on its head by embracing all things cunt-related.

A copy of it had been sitting on my shelf for years, and was mentioned several times in my women's studies class this semester (it wasn't assigned reading, though). So I decided to get with the program and read it already. 373 pages later, I'm the proud, "Cuntlovin' Ruler of my Sexual Universe."

I don't think I've ever read anything so critical of capitalism. (But then I guess you can't really call yourself a feminist without being critical of it... or whatever economic system you're living under, for that matter.) Momentary brain fart, there--sorry. I should not have been caught off-guard. After all, I've been critical of capitalism for a very long time.

Picture it: Boyne City, Michigan, 1997. I'm eight years old and spending the weekend with a friend's family at their condo. On our way to said condo, I turn to my friend and ask her, "So, who lives there while you and your family are at home in Grosse Pointe?" She looks at me incredulously and answers, "Um. No one. Right, Dad?"

I'm profoundly disappointed and mutter something about how I think it's unfair that there are homeless people locked out of an empty condo in a place as cold as Boyne City. My friend's dad laughs and says, "It looks like we've got a little socialist on our hands."

I repeat the word "socialist" a few times to myself so it'll stay in my mind until I have the chance to look it up later. I have a very hard time (even to this day) understanding why what he said was meant as an insult.

Given the incident explained above, you'd think that someone like me would just smile and nod through a book like _Cunt_, right? Oh, sweet. Someone understands my perspective!


In an earlier post about feminism, I mentioned that I'm in awe of just how much I don't know. In _Cunt_, Muscio does an excellent job of picking out little things that we're conditioned to accept as the norm, and points out how they contribute to the very things we work against as American feminists.

Take tampons, for instance. Part of life, right? No. Muscio points out that you don't have to pay $7.99 for a simple box of cotton. "Why the flying fuck should a woman have to pay some huge corporation over and over because the lining of her uterus naturally, biologically sheds sheds every month?" (30).

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of assigning a dollar value to people and things that people need to survive. When, at the age of eleven, I found out that my parents had to pay a water bill, I wanted to call the city officials and demand an explanation.

So maybe the tampon thing would have been common sense to me once--like when I was eight and 100% altruistic and just wanted to help the homeless.

But in my twenty-two years on Earth, I've encountered many people like my friend's dad. So I go to the freaking drugstore every month and buy my box of tampons because I'm a woman who lives in the good old USA and menstruates.

But this book brought back some of my old mindset, and made me a little ashamed of having lost it in the first place.

Meanwhile, other things she mentioned actually made me feel a little better about some of my habits/practices.

Like trying to reason with my uterus, for example.

I've never used the Pill. I don't sleep with dudes, and therefore don't need it for reproductive reasons. I know a lot of women who use it just because periods really suck, and having them less is nice. But I've never been into that. It just doesn't suit me. Seems unnatural and unnecessary. Don't get me wrong: I respect the hell out of the Pill. I no longer have a healthy relationship with my Protestant grandmother because I've put so much energy into defending it. But I've never actually used it, and doubt I ever will.

So I was glad to find that this book contains a whole section on the importance of getting to know your body and your menstrual cycle. It's something to which I have devoted a lot of time. My periods have always been intense; if I don't do something to control the pain before I start bleeding, I'll be stuck in the fetal position for days. And since I'd rather not take birth control, I've just gotten really good at figuring out when it's going to happen. I've tried to explain that to a few people and gotten funny looks. So it was nice to see my beliefs and practices within the pages of this book (especially since I needed something to make me feel better about the fact that I've been inadvertently adding fuel to the very fire I've been fighting all my life).

Although her main focus is on the US, Muscio does not ignore other cultures. And in mentioning other experiences, she strengthens her argument that capitalism is incredibly damaging to women. One of the most eye-opening parts of the book for me was an interview she conducted with Soraya Mire, a woman from Somalia who points out, "In America, women pay the money that is theirs and no one else's to go to a doctor who cuts them up so they can create or sustain an image men want. Men are the mirror. Western women cut themselves up voluntarily. In my country, a child is woken up at three in the morning, held down and cut with a razor blade. Western women pay to get their bodies mutilated" (126).

And yet in the afterward, Muscio acknowledges that despite her best efforts at being inclusive of all women, she missed something pretty tremendous and has been kicking herself since. "What I did not consider--and this is totally a result of my socialization--is that the world is made up of more than women and men, boys and girls. In writing _Cunt_, I completely overlooked the realities of gender-variant people" (239).

In the "expanded and updated second edition," Muscio explains that after the original publication of _Cunt_, she was asked many times about her "position" on trans-inclusion, and was entirely caught off-guard. It made her want to go back and edit entire sections of the book she had written.

High five to her. In admitting that, she touched upon something I've mentioned here many times: Feminism is still relevant because just look at how much we're still learning. We've all got our biases. And we're living in a capitalist society whose ideal is white, male, and heterosexual, so we're still going to catch ourselves inadvertently leaving people out. Shit, I'm gay and have kicked myself for not meeting the expectations of compulsory heterosexuality. I'm female and I've used sexist language. And yet I, like Inga Muscio, have identified as a raging feminist for quite some time now.

Like I said, reading _Cunt_ has made me aware of how I've been fueling the very fire I've been fighting all my life.

It's time to stop. I don't know how fully I can do that without leaving the US, but "I promise on a holy stack of _Beloveds_ by Toni Morrison" (69), I will spend some time with my inner eight-year-old.


  1. One thing that I have a major problem with in your post is the notion that, "you can't really call yourself a feminist without being critical of (capitalism)... or whatever economic system you're living under, for that matter."

    I'm not sure I understand why someone must be distrustful of their economic structure if they're a feminist. Can Republicans be feminists?

    I guess I wonder, do you believe that there is one way to be a feminist?

    Personally, I think that history has shown that feminism is not just one thing -- there are a variety of ways to support women's rights and equality for all people. When we start saying that there's only one way to be a feminist, especially one that's hating all things government (which isn't and shouldn't always be the case), we pigeonhole ourselves where people can (and rightfully) say that feminists are a radical group of people -- the kind of stereotyping that you've mentioned in previous posts as a bad thing.

    If you don't like capitalism, awesome. If you don't like capitalism for feminist reasons, even better. That's your choice. But I don't think feminism is just about fighting the man. For me, it's about supporting other women so that we can achieve equality. The first step in that is understanding that there are other point of views that are certainly still pro-women, or feminist.

    The problems that minority women or victims of sexual assault face are immensely different than the problems that we, as middle class white women, might face. Under no circumstances should we start determining what feminism should look like beyond the changes and choices that we can make ourselves. If we do that, we're alienating the women who are fighting a different fight somewhere else, but it's still for the empowerment and equality of women.

  2. Hi, Lucy. Thank you for posting this.

    I did not exactly mean that feminists should always be distrustful of their economic structure/government (although rereading my post, I see why my tone and word choice led you to think that).

    Instead, I meant that we should be aware of how whatever economic structure/laws we're living under affects us as women, because, as Muscio points out repeatedly, many of the problems we face (in the US, at least) can be traced right down to the foundation of this very structure.

    In response to an anti rape campaign at Central Michigan University (which was focused on educating women about how to protect themselves), my friend Ashley started a "Real Men Don't Rape" campaign at Wayne State. In doing so, she pointed out that if rape didn't occur in the first place, there'd be no need for women to protect themselves.

    That's pretty much the approach Muscio took in _Cunt_. She never explicitly said, "This is an anti-capitalist text." But she did find tons of examples of problems we face and traced them to the belief system on which this country was built.

    In the afterward, she acknowledges that her approach was flawed, as it excludes trans men and women. So does Ashley's "Real Men Don't Rape" campaign.

    So I really appreciate what you've pointed out, because it adds to that. Even if I didn't mean to exclude anyone with what I posted, I did. You're right (and you're right to point out that I've said many times) that feminism is huge and everyone's various perspectives add to that.

    Obviously, I realize that what I subscribe to as a feminist isn't the only way to support women. So I'm sorry if that's what I've led people who read this to believe.

  3. Loved your analysis. Loved the book. I'm in a Gender and Women's Studies graduate program and this book was actually taught in an undergrad class here. Awesomeness? I think that they should make a version that is geared towards younger women (12-16). I wish I had known half of what is addressed in Cunt when I was that age.