A couple of years ago it seemed as though vaginas suddenly got a revamp, all of a sudden they were 'yonis' 'cunts' or 'vulvas'. Recently I came to see why as I suddenly became aware that this body part I have had for all of my life could only be termed by the individual parts that comprised it and not one consolidatory term. I could refer to my clitoris, inner labia, outer labia, vulva, vagina, urethra etc. but only had 'vagina' if I wanted to refer to the whole thing. How the hell are we supposed to have a sense of confidence and congruency if we don't even have adequate language for our genitals? And not only that but the only one we did have is now considered the second most offensive word in the WHOLE english language, second only to the N word.
The upsurge in popularity of the words yoni and cunt could well also be because of the etymological origins of the word 'vagina'. Derived from the Latin ‘sword-sheath’ originally applied by male anatomists to all muscle coverings and referring only to the internal canal, this term implies that the female body is simply a receptacle for a weapon. HELL NO! Lots more people are using the word vulva instead these days but it's still not the whole picture.
'[Vagina] implies that the female body is simply a receptacle for a weapon.'
If we want the whole picture we have to travel back in time, to a point in history where not only was there a term that encapsulated our entire genital area but its power was well understood. A Middle English proverb from a manuscript around 1325 fully understood the power of the pussy, it says: 'Give your cunt wisely and make your demands after the wedding'. Yes, at some point this was simply an ordinary, anatomical word thought to have come over with the Anglo-Saxons. In 1230 in London at a time when streets were named by the common activities of that street there was even a street called Gropecunt Lane, a place synonymous with sex work (it's now called Grape Lane).
'Give your cunt wisely and make your demands after the wedding'
~ Middle English Proverb
During my Well Woman Yoga Therapy training with Uma she mentioned that the etymology of Cunt was 'inner knowing' and I got curious. It turns out she wasn't far wrong.
In the 1390s Cunt is used often which tends to indicate that it wasn't viewed as obscene and interchangeably with the word quaint (both were spelled queynte). The etymology of quaint is quite different to the meaning it has come to take on, it (and therefore also cunt) came from the Old French Cointe meaning ‘cunning, ingenious, proud’ and also ‘knowledgeable, well-informed, clever, proud, elegant, gracious’.
I wonder how the confidence of women and girls might be impacted if we were raised to believe our cunts made us knowledgeable, well informed, clever and proud? I wonder if women would still be cutting chunks off our labia, wearing scented pantyliners, washing away our natural fluids, feeling ashamed and afraid of our cervical mucus, having sex when we don't want to and hiding and denying our periods? I wonder if instead of BDE there would be BCE (big cunt energy) and women with plump outer labia or lavishly long inner labia were considered sexually potent and desirable.
The etymology of the word confidence comes from the Latin 'Confidere' meaning to have full trust. How many women have been taught to have full trust in their bodies? How many women fully understand what happens during a menstrual cycle and how their own cycle affects them physically, mentally and emotionally or about the purpose and variance of cervical fluid or how to masturbate and how many different types of orgasm there are? If women and girls were body literate perhaps we might be more confident and with confidences comes, amongst other things, empowerment, appropriate boundaries, autonomy, agency and the confidence to have your wants and needs met by yourself and others. It's hard to feel confident and congruent (insides matching outsides) when we've not even been given the basics in education about our bodies and our physiology as women.
'The menstrual cycle is a vital tool for bleeding women in monitoring health and holds a wealth of wisdom about the state of our physical, emotional and mental health. Each and every symptom carries information about imbalances and issues in body and mind and to learn to decode them is to be empowered with knowledge to be able to choose appropriate action. Menstrual cycle awareness is a practice of reclaiming the body literacy many of us have been denied through a lack of education and conversation. A lack of body literacy takes away our autonomy, pleasure, power and inner knowing – it takes away our confidence.'
When it comes to language I take inspiration from my time as a teenager in the south of spain. In Andalucia where I grew up grandmas shout coño (cunt) to each other as a friendly greeting! It was a bit of a culture shock at first but I soon started doing it too. A reminder that language is only negative if you let it be. So call your cunt whatever you want but call it by a name it deserves.
Photo: (c). Liz Plank