Calm down, dear, it’s just casual sexism

For once, I agree with Labour.

In Prime Minister’s Questions our rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able male Prime Minister told a woman MP, a member of the shadow cabinet, to “calm down, dear”.

This was, rightly, immediately pointed out to be sexist.

The Prime Minister denied sexism, claiming that he was simply quoting an advert for a car insurance firm.

Perhaps he thought he was. Perhaps our Prime Minister genuinely believed this comment not to be sexist. This is, after all, the same man who merrily made a casually transphobic remark in the Commons. Perhaps, on his rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied male planet, he did not think that a patronising, dismissive attitude to a woman colleague was in the slightest problematic.

Perhaps our Prime Minister had no idea that the original “Calm Down, Dear” adverts were themselves revoltingly sexist. In these ads, Michael Winner, himself a revolting sexist, patronises a woman fitting the hysterical woman trope to a T.

Casual sexism still flies. The subsequent shitstorm following the Prime Minister’s remarks has been referred to as a “sexism row”: the media appears to be presenting both sides, when what it actually achieves is simply to obfuscate the reality of the situation.

It is not PCgawnmadcantsayanythinganymore.

It was simple, blatant, casual sexism.

Thanks to Tim from beyondclicktivism for pointing out the casual transphobia exhibited by the PM.

Ambivalent sexism: research into attitudes towards women

Many of us are familiar with the concept of misogyny: hatred of women. Sexism has another face, though: the belief that women are wonderful and must be protected from the big, bad world.

These two sides to sexism were given a name in a paper by Glick and Fiske (1996): ambivalent sexism. Ambivalent sexism consists of two types of attitude towards women: hostile sexism, and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism is classic prejudice; benevolent sexism is the view that women are lovely, fluffy nurturing caregivers (or, as the paper puts it, intimacy-seeking and prosocial). Within these categories are three “sources” of ambivalent sexism, each with its corresponding hostile and benevolent face.

First, paternalism. Paternalism is theorised to come in two forms. Dominant paternalism is the idea that men should control women, while protective paternalism is the notion that men should protect women.

Second, gender differentiation. Competitive gender differentiation is a set of beliefs that bolster the idea that men are the better sex, while complementary gender differentiation, its benevolent counterpart, focuses on the “equal but different” myth, wherein women have their own, special roles in the kitchen.

Finally, heterosexuality. The theory of ambivalent sexism acknowledges that a major source of sexism is the hegemonic heterosexual ideal. Heterosexual hostility is the viewing of women as sex objects and fear of female sexual power, while intimate heterosexuality romaticises this objectification and sees men as incomplete without a woman.

The theory therefore provides a fairly comprehensive account of sexism. It does not just stop at theorising.

Measurement of ambivalent sexism

Ambivalent sexism is measured by a questionnaire called the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). This measure was subjected to the rigorous development and validation standards typically used in questionnaire development (for those interested in methodology, it is described fully in the Glick and Fiske paper, which is available in full without paywall).

The ASI consists of 22 items; 11 in each category. Examples of questions which tap hostile sexism are “Once a man commits, she puts him on a tight leash” or a reverse-scored item “Feminists are not seeking more power than men“. Reverse scoring allows researchers to check if participants are just selecting the same response for every item on a questionnaire, and also help to test the reliability of the measure.

Examples of questions which tap into benevolent sexism include “A good woman should be set on a pedestal“, “Women have a quality of purity few men possess“, and “Men are complete without women“. Spot the reverse-scored item.

The Glick and Fiske study found that benevolent and hostile sexism were distinct, but they were also correlated with one another, suggesting that people who hold hostile sexist attitudes also hold benevolent sexist attitudes.

A problem with the ASI, though, is that it is dependent on self-reporting. Even in an anonymous questionnaire, research participants may give responses that make them seem socially desirable (i.e. less of a sexist knobend). Furthermore, a questionnaire may influence their behaviour or responses to other questions if the participant guesses that the study is about sexism. For that reason, some researchers prefer to modify the ASI to present scenarios or observe behaviour.

Effects of ambivalent sexism

Much of the ambivalent sexism research has focused on workplace sexism. Hostile sexism has been linked to negative evaluations of women candidates for a managerial job and higher recommendations for a male candidate for the same role. It has also been linked to greater tolerance of sexist events after hearing a sexist joke, which suggests that sexist humour does have real-world implications, for hostile sexist people, at least.

Benevolent sexism has many real-world implications. It, too, has been linked to low evaluations of women in the workplace, as women are seen to be neglecting their traditional roles as caregivers and homemakers. As well as this systemic negative effect on women, the impact of benevolent sexism extend to psychological effects. When experiencing benevolent sexism, women perform worse at various cognitive tasks, which suggests that the benevolent sexist attitude further reinforces a vicious circle which allows women to do worse.

What about teh menz?

A similar scale has been created for measuring attitudes towards men: the Ambivalence Towards Men Inventory, a 20-item questionnaire which also differentiates between hostile and benevolent attitudes. This measure has generated much less research than the ASI, with fewer real-world implications. However, using the measure, it has been found that feminists are not man-haters: in fact, women who identify as feminist score significantly lower on hostility towards men.


While the problems of hostile sexism are well-known, and generally viewed as less acceptable in our society, “benevolent” sexism, too, has huge implications for equality for women. Benevolent sexism still allows women to be viewed as objects, and unworthy of equal employment, yet it is thoroughly acceptable to express opinions that women are cute little walking wombs. This needs to change.

Destruction and rebirth

Three years ago today, my destruction began. Nothing lasts forever.

Once upon a time, I was in a very long, monogamous relationship with a man. Including the agonising death throes, the relationship lasted a hair under five years.

Three years ago today, the death throes began.

I knew exactly what was happening, that the comfortable, happy reality I had inhabited for much of my life was falling apart around me. He was cheating on me; I knew with whom, I knew when it had began. I am not the most perceptive person, but this was blindingly obvious to me.

I decided not to rock the boat. I did not want a confrontation, then. I was afraid to let go and shake up everything that I knew.

For two months, I stayed in that relationship, insisting to all and sundry that it was just a rough patch.

I knew it was not a rough patch. I was afraid to let go. I still believed us to have a future.

It occupied my thoughts perpetually, the fear of change, the knowledge that I was all of a sudden cast off and thoroughly unwanted, unloved. I cried a lot.

He was miserable, too. He was afraid to let go.

It was never the cheating that bothered me. It was the lying, the sudden gulf that had opened up between us.

In the end, I had to know. It had turned to an obsession. I broke the last taboo of being a trusting lover and looked at his phone. I felt awful for that. It’s just not the done thing, is it? It’s what bonkers bunny boilers do, isn’t it?

So I finally confronted, by email.

I walked around all day with a weight sitting on my chest, frantically checking my emails for a reply.

I was afraid to let go. I fervently hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I would receive an email which told me I was wrong and featured a marriage proposal? Or what if I’d completely fucked everything by my confession of Going Through A Mobile Phone? Shit. I could have ruined it all by my refusal to trust.

None of this happened.

I had been right with my suspicions all along. We agreed to “a break”.

I insisted on a break, rather than a break-up.

I knew all hope was gone.

The mourning began in earnest.

I spent the best part of two months in my dressing gown, alternating between tears and numbness. My ashtray looked like a tar-stained porcupine. All the while, a vast knot of wretchedness wrapped itself around my guts. My body ate itself.

We were not even friends any more, me and him. The link was severed. We attended one last festival together and I have not seen him since.

The universe is riddled with cycles of destruction and rebirth. Stars bloat up and explode, spewing their innards out to create new stars, planets, life. Fleetingly-sentient blobs of matter die, and become new parts of life; maybe some blobs of their matter become sentient, too.

Having eaten my body, phase two began. I was an unethical slut.

I made sure I never fucked anyone I liked.

I had some blindingly good sex during that phase. I was still unhappy, albeit getting lucky.

It was a nebula; my new self was coalescing. I was disillusioned with monogamy; I just had not quite learned how to have functional, happy connections with other human beings.

I was a spinning mass. The star at the centre had not yet ignited.

When it did, it was not the dramatic, sudden explosion of illumination. It grew slowly; a phoenix egg incubating in smouldering ashes.

My reality, what I had accepted to be real, had been torn away. I reshaped my reality.

I am unfamiliar, now, with the woman who cried and held on. I see her as weak, even though she was not. She was working with the options that she had available.

I feel intense sympathy for people who have experienced being cheated on. It seems alien, though, that I was one of them.

Yet I am still that woman who wept and ate herself. I am still the woman who would not let go. It is all the same materials, just as we are all made of the remains of an exploded star. It is reconstituted into something different, yet it is all the same molecules.

Destruction and rebirth. I am grateful for it.

The Bellend effect

It is gratifying to see that a shift in public attitudes means that more Americans support marriage equality than oppose it. This would be better news if the figures weren’t ~50% in favour, ~46% against; there is still a long way to go.

I was more interested, though, in the graph of poll data surrounding support for marriage equality.

It looks like a willy. Let’s all giggle and get it out of our systems.

It looks exactly like a cock.

The reason it looks like a cock is due to a spike in opposition–in combination with a decline in support–around 2004. This statistical trend just happens to make the rest of the graph, where the trend holds fairly steady, look like a bellend.

What happened in 2004 to create the bellend?

It could be that in 2004, pollsters began asking the question differently: how a question is asked will have a great impact on what the answer is. As this graph combines data from several surveys, however, it seems that something else is contributing to The Bellend Effect: the effect of question framing declines when synthesising results from several sources.

2004 was a big year for same sex marriage in the States. Same sex marriage was briefly legal in San Francisco, theorised to be an entirely politically-motivated PR stunt. In Massachusetts, too, same sex marriage was legal.

The conservative Right lashed out, and referenda were launched in Massachusetts to overturn the marriage. In San Francisco, it was doubtful as to whether the marriages were ever legal in the first place.

In the face of all of the rhetoric in launching referenda, in combination with a huge, all-pervasive right-wing media, is it any surprised that The Bellend Effect occurred? In 2004, Americans were bombarded with propaganda informing them that marriage was only for heterosexuals.

The Bellend Effect, therefore, reflects the success of the right in affecting public opinion.

Due to this, I will now call right-wing propagandists bellends.

It turns out, I’m not a woman.

To my great surprise, I discovered today that I’m not actually a woman. I’d always thought I was one, but apparently I am mistaken.

It turns out that I am a girl.

That’s right. This exchange provides a Taxonomy of Females.

One night at a dinner table at a wedding, I got into an argument with a female guest about terminology I was using. She was asking about my dating escapades and I kept calling females “girls”. After a while, she took offense:

“We are not girls, we are women.”

I said: “No, I call most females girls. Women are different than girls.”

She asked me to explain my terminology for females. I responded:

“Girls are girls until they have a baby. Then they become women.”

She asked: “And what do they become after they are moms?”

I said: “Well eventually they become ladies.”

Before reproduction, then, women are children. It is reproduction, and only reproduction, that can help us grow up.

Forget anything else. We are defined by what comes out of our uteruses. As my uterus plays host only to eggs that I make damn sure are immature and unfertilised, I shall remain a child.

At least this means I don’t have to ever be a lady. I have always hated the word “lady”; it smacks of nobility and sitting uncomfortably primly. Ladies don’t go paddling with their dresses tucked in their knickers or smoke or eat a big fuckoff rare steak or shout “cunt” at an utter cunt.

All of the above, though, are better than the increasingly-popular use of the term “females”. I hate the group noun “females” to the depth of my soul. It makes women sound like cattle or livestock, defining us by our ovaries and uteruses, and by our genitals, thus excluding a sizeable chunk of intersex and transwomen.

Worst of all, “females” is grammatically incorrect. “Female” is an adjective, not a noun.

In the face of the infanitilising, the puritanical or the perjorative and syntactically wrong descriptors, I think I will stick with “women”.


Nicholas Shaxon, in his fantastic book Treasure Islands, calls the City of London the centre of a spider’s web.

I call the it Mordor.

The Square Mile is, to me, the heart of darkness, the epicentre of evil, the source of a great deal of the evil in the world. It represents greed, usury, capitalism. It represents financial crises and cosy cuddles with Conservatives.

Mordor has always been fitting.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not in adult life set foot in Mordor, save to change Tube at Bank. I have now been there twice.

One visit was for protest purposes; the other a quest for food, intoxicated.

Dragons guard the City. As I passed the heraldries, a deep sense of unease settled in. The air felt thicker, somehow; my body heavier.

Perhaps I was thinking too much of Mordor.

I was Samwise the brave. I pressed on.

When I visited to protest, megaphone courage lessened the disquiet.

Nothing feels real in the City.

I ate with friends in a place that was indistinguishable from a stage set. A shop named THE PEN SHOP squatted opposite us. It did not appear to sell pens. We were indoors but outdoors, an arcade made to resemble a street. A staircase led to nowhere. A simulacrum of a pub bustled with identically-suited patrons, murmuring and guffawing rhythmically. A jogger ran past. She was indoors but outdoors.

The people in the City do not feel human.

There is a sense of hostility; that they would look at a group clad in Doc Martens and bobbly woolly tights and know that Something Was Afoot.

One friend, a man, spoke of a time he walked through the City dressed in a suit. There was a sharp contrast to travelling in his usual attire; each City-working man he passed squared up to him in a show of dominance.

In casual clothes, we faced quiet malevolence. It never rose beyond this, even when causing a spectacle with a megaphone and banner.

All the while, I worried we would be Noticed, that Something Would Happen. It never did. Muted threat. Perhaps they are still too English to make a scene.

Passing out of the City once again, I exhaled, long and hard.

Like Samwise and Frodo, I am glad to tell the story of my adventures in Mordor.

I do not wish to return.

Equal pay now: a small feminist action


When I am behind a megaphone, something quite magical happens. I become the message I am conveying: there are no insecurities or fears, it is just pure dissemination of information. It is intoxicating and empowering.

This is perhaps part of the reason I protest so frequently.

Yesterday I was part of a tiny action aimed at raising awareness of the gender pay gap. We chose the City, as for doing the same jo

We met at Holborn and unfurled the banner which bore the stark, simple message ‘EQUAL PAY NOW’. There were five of us, all pa We shouted and leafleted, then began to march through the City towards Liverpool Street Station, pausing briefly to spread the word on the steps of the Bank of England. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At Liverpool Street, we draped our banner over a clock and shouted from above, like angry feminist gods, to puzzled commuters below. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At this point, Liverpool Street’s security asked us to leave. We politely ignored. The police arrived. We told them calmly of our message. The manager arrived. As she asked us to leave, we complied, not having the numbers to risk arrest and dearrest.

We left, shouting, and stood outside the station until all of our leaflets were exhausted. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered. A young man joined our small, lively group.

‘You are being ripped off,’ we told the women in the finance sector, talking to them in a language they could understand.

Many did. Many sheepishly accepted leaflets.

‘Surely this can’t be true?’ we were asked frequently. We explained that it was, and they should check out the extensive set of references on our leaflets.

There was support, delicious, glorious support. Many women and some men cried, ‘Good on you!’. One woman walked with us for a while.

‘Well done,’ she said. ‘You’re not preaching to the converted here.’

And we were not. I counted seven instances of outright misogynistic abuse. Then there were those who victim-blamed, declaring women were paid less because they chose to be, or that they worked differently, despite our repeated assertions that the pay disparities we were highlighting were for doing exactly the same job. Then there was the mirth: so many men laughing and sneering that people had the gall to be angry and take action.

I was annoyed. We were there to point out unfairness and oppression, and we were greeted at times with stark evidence of women not being taken seriously.

Megaphone in hand, the empowerment it bestowed flowing through me, I would, at times, shame those who detracted us.

The man who said that women were paid less because women had smaller brains got a public scolding outside Holborn. Passers-by turned and stared. He slinked off briefly.

The man who, while laughing, said, “We work in the finance sector, and I can tell you that she earns more than me,” was greeted with sarcasm. I said, “The plural of anecdote is not data. With a grasp of numbers like yours, I’m not surprised there’s a financial crisis.”

The men who laughed from the concourse of Liverpool Street were greeted with a shout of “shame”. E was on the megaphone at the time. She shared the feeling of power. The men blushed.

The young man who stood and sniggered, finally plucking up the courage to utter the height of witticism, “Get back in the kitchen, love,” received the apex of my ire.

Megaphone in hand, I followed him up the street, informing him and a group of commuters that he had a tiny penis. His friends hooted with laughter.

It was perhaps misjudged, to cast aspersions on the size of his genitals. There are implications to that. I was not thinking of the consequences. Just once, I wanted him to feel what women feel every day: the sense of powerlessness in the face of harassment, of gendered abuse, of humiliation. I think it worked.

Reception of the action was largely somewhere between neutral and positive, though.

The support we received was exhilarating. The interest shown by those who did not know about the magintude of the problem was uplifting. I truly feel as though we may have changed some minds rather than merely preaching in an echo chamber of saved souls.

We should do it again, we decided, with greater numbers, and a more audacious form of action.

On the way home, buoyed by such a wonderful day, I encountered a completely novel form of street harassment. Just when I had thought I had seen all the patriarchy had to offer, I saw something new.

A man leapt out from behind a lamp post and shouted “Boo!”

I had no megaphone.

I gave him an angry scowl.

He looked sheepish. He blushed, chastened.

I smiled to myself. The strength does not have to come from a megaphone. It is only a conduit.


At risk of becoming That Woman Who Blogs About Cunts All The Time, indulge me with a small rant.

I really hate the word “gash” and find it incredibly offensive. I hate it when it is used to refer to the female genitals. I hate it even more when it is used as a synonym for “bad”. “Sucker Punch was absolutely gash.” No. Sucker Punch was almost entirely awful. It was crap, it was rubbish, it was a  big pile of shitting arses. It was not gash.

I sometimes wonder if this is how a lot of people feel about the word “cunt”.

I tweeted, floating the idea that “gash” was more offensive to me than “cunt”, and received unanimous agreement.

Gash is horrible because gash is a wound. Gash is horrible because it takes the beautiful and natural and turns it pathologised and violent. Gash is horrible as it comes up from the back of the throat like a cough of disgust.

Gash is an insult, a hatred of cunts.

In which I review a film that I watched

Last night I went to see Sucker Punch.

I can review it in three words: not entirely awful.

In more words (and some spoilers!):

First of all, I liked some of it. I have a huge weak spot for steampunk, and so provision of a steampunk-inspired First World War, complete with Zeppelins, undead Germans and a big fuckoff mecha made me dance in my seat. I have long thought to myself: who’d win in a fight? A dragon versus an aeroplane? I was gratified to see that this burning question addressed in cinema. I was glad to see that Vanessa Hudgens had managed to be in a film marginally less shit than High School Musical. I quite fancy Jon Hamm, and he was in it a bit.

Sucker Punch was also quite funny, though I’m not sure if it intended to be. Parts of it felt like a deliberate parody of 300, which is one of my favourite cinematic deconstructions of masculinity, a macho mince along the tightrope between hegemonic masculinity and homoeroticism.* Some of the dialogue was so awful that I laughed out loud in moments which I can only hope were supposed to be a touching homage to the Death Tropes in TV Tropes.

In all, then, there was probably about 10 minutes of content I liked, and perhaps 30 minutes of content I half-enjoyed while still viewing the content as problematic. In a two hour film, that translates as Not Entirely Awful.

My main problem with the film was that an unfortunately large chunk of it was spent on a ghastly non-plot in which a young woman is forced into an asylum and threatened with lobotomy, except she’s really trapped working as some kind of stripper-prostitute, and she and the other girls want to break out and the main character uses her powers of sexy dancing inspired by badass dreams to make this happen, except it all fails miserably, and it doesn’t matter because that was also a dream and she was really still in the asylum all along and got lobotomised. Oh, and the character who didn’t want to escape escaped. That, really, is the plot. It was sort of like if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Moulin Rouge had sex while Inception watched and Thelma & Louise wept quietly in a corner, except lacking any of the redeeming features of any of the above films.

The asylum scenes were passable, though riddled with cliché. It set up the story of a young woman named Baby Doll (this is the level of quality of character names in Sucker Punch), who has a tragic backstory involving a wicked stepfather who was one moustache short of playing a villain in a Victorian melodrama. It is he who places Baby Doll in the EVIL ASYLUM. You can tell it’s evil because there is thunder and lightning in the establishing shots.  Evil Victorian Stepfather strikes a deal with an orderly, who you can tell is evil as he bears a resemblance to Lurch from The Adams Family, to have Baby Doll lobotomised so she will not remember the melodramatically Victorian acts of evil that he perpetrated.

In the asylum, we meet the ensemble cast of characters. Inmates wear a uniform of a short dress which is cut to enhance the classic hourglass shape. For some reason, never explained, the inmates are encouraged to dance through their drama.

Unfortunately for Baby Doll, she does not get to enjoy much of this charmingly menacing atmosphere as she is whisked off for a lobotomy and the scene changes to the evil brothel (you can tell it’s evil because everyone in there, except the goodies, are cartoonish villains).

One might guess that the setting changed to an evil brothel so that the characters could wear fewer clothes and it could be more sexy. However, guesswork is not required, as with an alarming lack of subtlety, at the scene change, a character declares that lobotomies and asylums just aren’t very sexy. That really happens. The film actually addresses the fact that fetishising mental illness is highly problematic, immediately after just having done it.

Thanks to this shift in tone, the audience is now treated to the characters perpetually dressed in underwear or fetishised schoolgirl costumes. Baby Doll is rather perturbed by her sudden situation in an evil brothel, and her purity is threatened: she has a few days before a nasty baddie will come and STEAL HER VIRGINITY. Fortunately for Baby Doll, at the sound of music she becomes teleported into a dream world where a wrinkly bloke informs her of how to escape. In the dream world, Baby Doll wears a much smaller fetishised school girl costume. She embodies the line that women are supposed to walk between whore and madonna: while dressed in a highly-sexualised fashion, she is fighting for her chastity and virginity.

Baby Doll shares her escape plan with her colleagues, who have equally silly names like Sweet Pea and Blondie (although, in what I am sure the writers thought was a subversive work of genius, Blondie has brown hair!). Some two-dimensional female bonding and terrible dialogue ensues. It is rather difficult to differentiate between any of the main characters based on any facets of their characterisation. The two main characters, Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, are differentiated only by the fact that the former wants to leave, while the latter does not.

Nonetheless, Sweet Pea manages to appear in all of the dream sequences.

Most of the plot ranges from dire to boring, and it is only the dream sequence segments which occupy the space between tolerable and actually quite fucking awesome. I would have enjoyed them rather a lot more were it not for the brazen objectification of women. While I have never fought dragons or leapt out of a helicopter, so do not know the accurate mode of dress for such an occasion, I am fairly sure it is not a tiny little skirt that blows up to show a whisper of knickers as one flies through the air with four inch stiletto heels. Jack Bauer certainly never bothered with that gear. Even Buffy had a tendency to wear sensible shoes and jeans.

One might suspect that the costuming was entirely an exercise in titillation.

A further rather problematic aspect of the dream sequences is that much of the action was undertaken by the three blonde characters. Blondie, the hilariously ironically-named brunette and the token ethnic character who never really does much, are consigned to the task of piloting helicopters, aeroplanes and big fuckoff mechas. While this is an admirable and necessary task, the director did not seem to feel it worthy of as much screen time as three lithe young blonde women showing their white flesh.

This fantastic review at Bad Reputation (who also hated it) suggests:

Oh yeah, and like a really unironic sucker punch (geddit?) I’ve just realised that this film totally passes Bechdel. Yeah. Woo. Way to perfectly prove that just because there’s more than one female character and that they manage to talk to each other doesn’t mean it’s any bloody good. Or even particularly feminist. Which this film isn’t, by the way.

Fortunately, it is such utter drivel that it won’t register as meaningfully anti-feminist because nothing it contains is meaningful or worth registering.

However, I find it concerning. I honestly believe that Sucker Punch believed itself to be a film about female empowerment, All The Girls Together fighting against oppression. It was nothing of the sort. Amid the rampant objectification of women and fetishisation of innocence and mental illness, the message came across as this: women! Use your bodies!

It was a shame, really. The plot could have been salvageable, were it not so hackneyed. The dream action sequences could have been amazing were they not so heavily focused on being an excuse to look at conventionally-attractive women’s bodies. It could have actually managed to be a film about the exploitation of mentally ill women, about sisterhood fighting oppressors. Dare I say it? It could have been a feminist classic if it were written by competent writers and acted by more competent actors.

As it stood, there were ten minutes that I liked. And those bits mostly involved a dragon chasing an aeroplane and not even trying to be sexy.

*I absolutely refuse to believe that 300 isn’t that silly on purpose.

Fannies, noo-noos, tuppences

Recently, on a bored Friday afternoon, I decided to conduct a small straw poll: what did you call women’s genitals when you were a child?

I asked for two reasons: first, I was bored and wanted some @-replies. Second, I was genuinely curious as to the language surrounding the issue, especially considering that the male answer is the near-ubiquitous “willy”.

From my highly scientific survey, childhood euphemisms for cunt seem to fall into four major groups:
The ridiculous: nou-nou, fanny, twinkle, foof, minnie, and similar. Words that one cannot say without a giggle; silly and frivolous words that one could equally use to describe the remote control or other household items with temporarily-forgotten names.
The clinical: the supposedly-correct ‘vagina’ or the more accurate ‘vulva’. I had an acquaintance at school who said ‘vulva’. At six years old, I found it absurdly clinical.
The cultural: I used what is apparently a rather rude Greek word: pouto. Perhaps it was foreshadowing: it translates as ‘cunt’. Other people from other backgrounds may use a word from a mother’s mother tongue.
The shameful: one of my Twitter correspondents knew children who would say ‘Delilah’. The Freudian connotations are startling. Into this category, I would also place what emerged as the clear winner in the straw poll: ‘tuppence’. I cannot think of any anatomical reason why the female genitals would resemble a 2p coin, so the reason must buy into the transaction model of sex. A cunt is worth pennies–two, to be precise–a thing where the ferryman must be paid in order to gain safe passage.

Outside of all of this, and one which made me smile was “willy for boys and billy for girls“, which the submitter found with hindsight presented an “equal but different” approach. Certainly sweet, although somewhat derivative of “willy” and therefore suggestive of a “men as norms, women as other” approach.

A further point of note was the sheer quantity of tweeters who did not ever speak of genitals, particularly female ones.

Even as children, female genitals are surrounded by shame, by sly giggles. As one tweeter put it:

fanny & willy, although as a boy fanny always felt naughtier and ruder.

This was not limited to boys, though. Many women tweeted that they were too embarrassed to say, even as adults.

We are taught to fear cunts. They are as hidden in language as we are supposed to believe they are concealed between our legs. It starts early, with daft squishy words thought to be horribly rude, or with grubby connotations of financial transactions and treacherous sexual power. It is not just the word “cunt” which holds power.

Female genitals are supposed to be secretive, mysterious; euphemised in frivolities and foreign dialect. Shame grows from the mystery–if it is not talked about, how can we ever know that a cunt is nothing to be frightened of? That a cunt is not ruder than a cock? That it’s all just perfectly lovely, non-shameful stuff.

I am not exactly the child-owning sort, but if I had children, I would teach them a rainbow of words, from the unnecessarily-obscene “cunt”, to the absurdly clinical “vulva”, and everything in between. And with that, I would say “there is nothing inherently wrong with cunts. And they’re worth more than 2p”.