Pussy This, Pussy That
"You're such a pussy."
I was a youngster at a municipal swimming pool when
I heard one boy say this to another because he would
not jump off the high dive. As soon as I heard it,
I knew it was a "bad word". Although I didn't
have a slang dictionary around, I knew it meant that
the kid being called a pussy was a scared coward.
I already knew this word had other meanings, like
when it meant vagina (another "bad word"),
and sometimes as a "good word" when it meant
a cat. I still hear males (and sometimes even females)
say this to one another as if it's the worst thing
you can be, a pussy. It makes me wonder, how did the
use of this word come about? Which came first, the
vagina, the cat or the coward definition? And how
are a vagina, a cat and a coward even related? How
do we, as women, take the word back and redefine it
to mean something strong?
When I hear someone I remotely know
using the word in the "cowardly" sense,
I question him or her about it. After all, everyone
comes from a pussy, and bearing a child is no cowardly
thing. The response I inevitably get back is something
along the lines of "Aw
I didn't mean it
like that." How did they mean it, then? If we
really think about it, yes, a pussy might be "soft",
but there's nothing weak
or cowardly about it. After all, it's the pussy that
bleeds the first time we have sexual intercourse;
it's the pussy that bleeds every month; it's the pussy
that gives life by bearing children. Most women are
proud of these facts, and there is no doubt that some
of that is painful, sometimes very painful, and there
should be no argument that the pussy is strong. How
comfortable would people feel about using the word
if they considered all of this instead of associating
the pussy as a weak thing?
I hardly hear people refer to cats
as pussies anymore, but when I do, it makes me wonder,
who associated a cat with a vagina or vice-versa?
I know from a French friend of mine that "chat"
means both cat and vagina in that language, as well.
Can I assume, then, that it's a general Western trend
to degrade women? Probably so. What makes me angry
is that at the core of the word, it's another way
of objectifying women. If we can turn the sexual object,
which already defines women into an animal of all
things, then we have been successful in completely
clouding any real sense of meaning it ever had. It's
interesting because the word "bitch" (a
female dog) is used to describe women as well. Over
and over again, women are referred to more as animals
than they are as humans, and it's clear that if you
want to strip someone of their inherent personhood,
the easy way to go about it is to subtract the human
value from them. Of more interest is the fact that
men are insulted along with their mothers with words
like "motherfucker" and "son of a bitch".
These words actually do more to insult a man's mother
than the man himself!
I have to admit I feel inappropriate
even writing about the word, and I believe that is
part of the problem: I don't own the word. It seems
as if the word was invented and is nearly exclusively
used by men who ultimately control it. I have, at
times, tried to identify with a broad group of women
who talk about "pussy power" and the need
to take the power back, but, in the end, I always
feel it's a way to use sex as power. It should not
be about sex. We, as women, should not be sending
out a message that says, "I have a vagina and
with this vagina I have power over you because you
want it." We should not have to use sex as a
tool for empowerment, because that just means we are
trying to have power in reference to a man, as opposed
to independent power. Women seem to create our whole
lives in reference to a man instead of in reference
to ourselves. It saddens me. How do we even begin
to understand how to set up independent structures
of power when we are so used to relying on men for
poor examples of it?
I ask a lot of questions, but I
have little in the way of answers. Somehow, I don't
think people will stop using the word in all of its
manifestations, and I don't necessarily agree that
we should eliminate it altogether. I do wish, however,
that there were a large space for dialogue about it.
I believe that will occur only when women create the
space for it and challenge ourselves to own the word,
which so often defines us.
Aura Bogado is a student at Santa