There are few words in the English language that have the power to cause such a profound reaction. They call it the C-bomb for a reason; it sends people fleeing hysterically from the scene of the crime, ripples of shock and horror radiate across the land and everyone does their best to get away from it; scrambling over tables and chairs, throwing innocent bystanders from their path as they run for safety.

That sounds dramatic, but honestly, I’m using artistic license very minimally here. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve witnessed the fear in peoples eyes as they frantically scan their surroundings to see who’s in earshot while wondering if they’re going to hell. I know this, because it’s normally me that’s dropped it casually into conversation, and the reaction those four tiny letters get never fails to amaze me.

 Among the shock, it seems to elicit two very clear responses; one group are building the stake and preparing to burn me as some 21st century witch, while the other, specifically men, are aroused and look at you with a new light in their eyes, their interest piqued. Suddenly, there’s a version of femininity in front of them with masculine traits and that feels a lot like something they can manage and understand easily. Suddenly, there’s a woman with a filthy mouth and that has endless possibilities.

I’ve dropped it into conversation with two different men this week; one told me I had his interest the minute I said it, while the other told me I was ‘better than that’. Naturally, I have a problem with both. Why do I only have your attention once I’ve used a word society tells me not to, and on the other side of the spectrum, why do I have to fit in with some ideal of a ‘good woman’. Just because I have a vagina, doesn’t mean I instantly have the morals, values and behavioural traits of a saint.

 I can’t count the times men have told me that as a woman, I shouldn’t use it, or, it’s not something ‘ladies say’. As the only person in this conversation who actually has a cunt, I should surely be the one who has the most right to it. If black people can reclaim ‘nigger’ and lesbians are reclaiming ‘dyke’, why on earth are women still not allowed to use ‘cunt’.  

Yes it’s a swear word, and most probably will always be a swear word, and of course, there are times when it’s not appropriate to swear – like when you’re around the tiny humans – but it’s also not appropriate to determine my entire character and personality by the use of one single word. If I choose to use it, it doesn’t make me a deviant porn star who’s going to fulfil all your sexual fantasies, and nor does it make me a ‘bad person’ who’s now been locked out of heaven. Realistically, it probably just means I’m utilising the entire English language, and I haven’t loaded one word with the same judgement and fear that you have. I haven’t given it the power to define a person in the same manner you have. Because at the end of the day, it’s only a word!

One word, four letters and one syllable – that’s all it is. How can we sum up a human over one syllable? Is me calling someone a female body part really that bad? Have we lived in patriarch so long that a word referring to the defining anatomy of a woman needs to be silenced and hushed, taboo and vulgar? We’re on the 50th wave of feminism, or whatever number we’re up to at this point, and still we’ve got problems with this word? I thought we had evolved past this. After all, we call people ‘dicks’ all the time and no one starts dissecting your character based on that. Perhaps it’s time to appreciate that the word ‘cunt’ doesn’t define a person – it’s merely a great word that rolls so brilliantly off the tongue.

I won’t stop using it to ease your discomfort and ridiculous notions of propriety, and plus, in the words of Rizzo, there are worse things I could do.

Salma El-Wardany