Updated: Jan 30
In the past couple of days, to no one's amazement more than my own, a post I wrote about Sandra Cisneros and her agent, Susan Bergholtz, has gotten a bit of attention. In the post, I tell of the way these women told me my book, The Dirty Girls Social Club, was not "authentically" Latin enough, though it was written by a Latina, about six Latina friends.
You can read the piece yourself. It will take 12 minutes. (Sorry about that, btw.) I need to write shorter. But I babble, like I'm doing now. The takeaway readers seemed to value from the piece was that "ethnic authenticity" is just the latest ruse to dehumanize and disempower minoritized people from allowing themselves and each other to be or become fully self-actualized default humans with no exoticism required or un-required. You know, the way white men named Michael get to be authentic whether they are Michael Moore or Michael Pence.
I'm a binder. This means I belong to a not-so-secret online society of women who come together in places like Facebook groups, to ostensibly support one another. Use of the word "binder" grew out of collective disgust at that long-ago assertion by Mitt Romney that he had "binders full of women" whose resumes he could cull for cabinet posts, even though he had never hired women in the past.
I posted a link to the Cisneros piece in one of the binder groups I'm in, for fiction writers. Mostly it was well-received, but there was a smattering of "you lost me when you rooted for a woman with cancer." I corrected this absurd verbage, of course, because I'd been clear in stating I was not rooting for the woman, but rather for her cancer. (I like when I make myself laugh.) Others did not find this funny. They found it insensitive, to which I was, all, yes, but have you met me? I responded further by saying I felt justified in poking fun at my own fury under the circumstances, and that Bergholtz had earned my (clearly hyperbolic, I don't root for cancer, you humorless twats) rancor by being, quite simply, a cunt.
The word dropped into the middle of the binder group like a kraken creeping from the confines of a laboratory container. Splurch. There were gasps. And, naturally, white feminist admonitions.
The conversation that followed went something like this, at least in the play I wrote about it in my head:
WHITE FEMINIST: Quit using that word. It undermines your argument. I find it deeply offensive.
ME: (feigning ignorance, to see if I she'd say it) What word?
WHITE FEMINIST glares at me. SILENCE.
ME: Oh. You mean cunt?
WHITE FEMINIST glares at me, with pearls.
ME: What's wrong with cunt, in this context? She's a cunt.
WHITE FEMINIST: (fighting urge to call me a dumb cunt) We are all writers here. Surely you can find a better word. Stop using the language of the patriarchy.
ME: What's wrong with patriarchy again? I forget.
WHITE FEMINIST: It tells women what to do.
Her face, my palm.
A white feminist woman telling me what words I may not use (to be an authentic feminist) to describe my justifiable rage at ANOTHER white feminist woman telling me what words I must use (to be an authentic Latina) was...delicious, the way, to dogs, antifreeze is delicious.
I stand by my conviction that in a world of dictionaries there is not to be a found a better word to describe Susan Bergholtz than cunt. Her invalidation of me as a writer and human being for not living up to her grotesque stereotypes requires a descriptor every bit as offensive as her existence. That's why I chose it. That someone would be more offended by my magnificent use of the word cunt to describe a verifiably cunty woman who sells out and controls other women than they are by the selling and controlling itself? Also delicious, but in the way fried bat is delicious; there will be repercussions.
So you know, many respected writers use the word cunt - Shakespeare, Chaucer, DH Lawrence, Pauly Shore. Actually not sure about that last one, but I just like the idea of Shore in his prime saying, "Heyyy, buddy, you sure are a cunty cunt."
I set out this morning to write a defining piece about why "cunt," pouring from the mouths of women, is a powerful release that thwarts the patriarchy rather than reinforces it (yes, I'm aware that sounds wrong, but also, so, so right...) but I discovered on the Google machine that a brilliant writer named Josephine Livingstone had already done this, and beautifully, in The New Republic, last year, in the wake of Trump's mantrum when Samanta Bee referred to his sidepiece Ivanka as "a feckless cunt" for having had the gall to hold a baby as she spoke about the border, where her dadlover was separating migrant children from their parents and putting them in cages. I could not write what Livingstone wrote any better than she did. So rather than reinvent said cunninglinguist's zipline, I'll just link to it now.
My favorite passage in Livingstone's essay is this, though:
To suggest that “cunt” be removed from every English-speaking person’s lexicon would be tyrannical. Discourage men from using it, sure. But for Bee, who is a woman, using a traditionally misogynist insult to rail against the most prominent traitor of women’s interests in the United States seems so apt as to be downright elegant. It recalls Chaucer’s use of the word, which charms through juxtaposition: Ivanka is a crude villain in dainty designer clothing who panders to a father who boasts of grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Yes, please and thank you.
Powerful offenses call for powerful words.