The “C Word”

In a recent discussion about my Google Plus post on Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, we had a great conversation about the “C word.” A woman reader initially used this word in the thread to express her exasperation over the racist imagery in Swift’s latest video. I warned the reader that I don’t allow this word as a descriptor for women on my threads (though I’ve previously written that I support the idea of changing the meaning of this word to something positive). We had a terrific chat about whether or not it’s useful for women to use this word. Below is a comical illustration of why this word’s negative connotation is so damaging: it figuratively uses women’s bodies as the worst insult in the English language, equating a vagina, and thus women’s sex, with weakness and vulgarity.

In the 30 Rock episode, “The C Word” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) overhears a staff member calling her “the C word,” which prompts her to explain to her male colleagues why she finds the word offensive. The episode shows the stress Lemon faces as a woman manager, as she temporarily decides to act “nicer” to her staff to alter their opinion of her. She later recognises that this behaviour alteration is not demanded of male managers. Fey has said in interviews the episode was inspired by having a similar professional experience “and not knowing how to deal with it.”

7 thoughts on “The “C Word”

  1. Yeah I’m big on redemptive usage. Fortunately I’m in Australia and have a bunch of Aussie and Scots friends who think likewise. For some reason it appears to be more entrenched as an insult in the US. No one in the States would say oi cunt! to attract the attention of a friend, in a friendly manner. Here we can, at times, among friends. It’s a start.


  2. Jane Satan Rakali I’m also in Oz. It’s interesting you raise this example; it’s a class distinction! Working class people in certain suburbs will use this phrase and as you note it tends to be more of an Anglo phrase for certain close friends. It fits in with the anti-authoritarian, “larrikin” tradition.


  3. Jane Satan Rakali There’s interesting research on the development of the larrikin as an identity and swearing was one central way it became established. It started off as former convicts actively antagonising British settlers especially as more wealthy people settled in Australia. Some of the earliest laws in NSW were connected to swearing, as larrikins would form gangs and stand on street corners to swear and heckle at the wealthy. Later, in the late 1800s, the larrikins targeted Chinese migrants. Anti-vagrancy laws were developed in direct response to high society being offended by the language use of the larrikins. Irish people were most likely to be prosecuted under these laws. This reflected the deep class, cultural and religious divide between the higher status Brit descendants and working class Irish Catholics.

    The word larrikin today means something different. As you know it’s about not taking yourself too seriously but it grows from that early tradition.


  4. The Other Sociologist  Thanks for that. I’d been focusing on the part employment plays in generating horizontal hostility among the lower classes and emancipated convicts was a big part of that.

    I guess given the likelihood that many Irish who were sent here had some political involvement, plus the time being very close to the French revolution, heckling could be seen as symbolic of something hugely problematic for the English migrants.

    Also puts the new anti swearing laws in Victoria in a new light.

    And people say Australia doesn’t have a class society.


  5. Jane Satan Rakali Agree with your observations – heckling and language use in general is important to political dissent and  social protest. I know what you mean – the idea that Australia is a classless society is sociologically amusing but more seriously, it’s highly counter-productive. It’s harder to mobilise people if they don’t see that they have class interests, or that some laws target specific groups in society. Thanks for your comments!


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