Hit Girl, Kick Ass, and language

On his blog, author China Mieville (who I think is a wonderful author, for what it's worth) put up an interesting analysis of the use of the word "c*nts" by an 11 year old girl in the movie "Kick Ass," in particular discussing the difference between how the term is used in the US and the UK. He writes:
When used as an epithet on either side of the Atlantic, c*nt has been invaluable to a misogynist agenda. There has, however, always been something explicit, & thus both exact but socially limiting, about the American version: used to attack women by describing them as their supposedly self-evidently loathsome vaginas, the cuss proclaims itself the woman-hatred it is. The British (& Antipodean) tradition, by contrast, in designating the vulva the telos of shittiness indiscriminately, though it may blunt the sheer stiletto specificity of the sexism, allows for a multitasking of spite: against a particular person, usually a man, predicated on that against an entire gender.
Mieville goes on to say that "Kick Ass" may well herald an age in which the c-word becomes regularly used for both genders, which will push the American meaning of the word to the neuter of the UK. I vigorously (very vigorously) disagree. It is not uncommon to hear men told "not to be a bitch," the implication being that their behavior is feminized and unacceptable. Similarly, I think that the use of the c-word toward men will convey the same negative concept of acting in a feminine way.

Now, Jezebel also addresses the representation of women in "Kick Ass," and deals with the c-word, and I am an unabashed Jezebel lover. However, Jezebel fails to recognize the teleology of the vulva, and doesn't use the word "gynophobia" (the lamest of phobias), so I'm a little torn on which interpretation to prefer.


  1. You're a writer. You don't need to use some coy circumlocution like c*nt or c-word. The word is cunt. It's a good strong word, referencing one of my personal Top Three organs, and often said with love.

    I go back and forth on cunt. Why is 'dickhead' not as objectionable as 'cunt'? Because 'dickhead' isn't as objectionable as 'cunt.'

    I know, of course, that it _is_ objectionable, and I wouldn't let my 11-year-old say it; but when I think about it, I'm not sure where the offense is located. _I_ don't think poorly of cunts. Most straight men don't. (In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the attraction to and fondness for and fascination with cunts is the single most powerful force in the lives of most young men, in a way that most women can't readily understand.) I suppose that determining that 'cunt' is a terrible insult is a way for men (though of course women also say 'cunt' all the time) to try to diminish that power, but in fact it seems that 'cunt' the insult and 'cunt' the object don't overlap at all. Like Abraham Lincoln the Republican and today's Republican party. Things change.

    And I found this interesting at the Jezebel link: "We would never be having this whole conversation about Hit Girl if the character would have been Hit Boy. No one would care in the same if a 11-year-old boy said the c-word."

    Have we _ever_ seen an 11-year-old boy playing a sympathetic gleeful mass-killer who says 'cunt' and doesn't learn the error of his ways at the end? My guess is that _that_ is simply not allowed, and that girls have far more leeway with this one.

  2. Hi Laura! I use the word "cunt" quite freely to describe people (both men and women) who behave in a less than exemplary fashion, so I'm with China on this one. It helps that I come from an Antipodean background where, he's right, the word is used indiscriminately against both genders. For balance, I've also told women to stop being "such a dick".

    If I really want to insult a male, especially when he's doing something physical, I tell him he "[action]s like a gurrll". No swear words but it hits home beautifully.

    Also, Anonymous, I like the cut of your jib. Agreed.

  3. Anon and Kaz--you know, I almost included a note about why I was implying and not writing straight out, but what it really came down to is that I am a bit of a puss (another lady bits word that I use freely as a negative term).

    Actually, I think that, while I use the word in conversation, I use it specifically to be offensive (as opposed to "fuck," which I use for everything). So for me the term is offensive because I specifically and only use it to be, well, vulgar. Hurray slightly twisted takes on language!

  4. I wonder why 'tit' isn't offensive.

    You've got dick, prick, penis and cunt, pussy, twat--and the gender-neutral asshole--but tits get a pass. Along the same lines, why is 'fuck you' negative? Seems to me that 'fuck you' should be what we shout in praise after someone sinks a three-pointer or nails a tough piano piece. Maybe I'll start using 'fuck you' as praise and 'die lonely' as an insult.

    "Mom, this kugel is fantastic. Fuck you."

    Hm. Maybe not.