Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Here Pussy, Pussy, Pussy

All hell's breaking loose at work today, which is no surprise because it's Tuesday and hell has a tendency of breaking loose on Tuesdays. I won't boor you with the details of everything that I have to do between now and the end of the day tomorrow, but suffice it to say that it's a lot. I'm freaking out just a little bit. Freaking out so much in fact that I can't even start my work. Instead, I'm blogging. As always, a true procrastinator. I can't even start the work that is due because I have to leave the office in twenty minutes for an appointment with Dr. M (and who can do anything substantive in 20 minutes? Not I, my friends) which I thought about canceling but decided (a) my mental health is more important than an f-ing coverage memo, and (b) it would be unprofessional and discourteous to cancel last minute. So I'm going to the appointment.

After the shrink, I'm headed downtown to observe an Immigration Court hearing. I'm not representing anyone, but I will be for the first time at the end of June and this is my one opportunity to observe a hearing before I have to participate in one myself. Needless to say, it's essential that I go and take note of basic things like how to introduce an exhibit and whether an opening statement is required. By the time the hearing is over and I'm back in the office, it will be about 4 pm, which will give me exactly one hour and a half to do some work before I have to leave again, this time for a benefit dinner and reception for a nonprofit organization with whom I work on some of my asylum cases. Here again, I could miss the dinner, but it's an important cause, my firm has already bought the seats, I'm dressed in my "festive cocktail attire," and I might have the opportunity to discuss my current cases with my nonprofit colleagues. And let's not forget the importance of networking and fishing for jobs. I'm trying to think about the big picture people, and trying to fight being swallowed up by this week's arbitrary deadlines.

Here's something that made me think about girls, feminism, and female anatomy: Yesterday while I was meeting with my asylum clients - the young girls - one of them told me that she had been called a bad name and she didn't want to repeat it out loud. We asked her to write it down, and the word she wrote was "pussy." She didn't know what it meant or how bad it was, so we explained that it's a slang word for "vagina." We (as in my partner and I) went on to say how the word annoys us because it is often used by ignorant individuals as a way of calling someone "weak." As in, you're such a pussy for not doing whatever it is that that person is trying to intimidate or shame you into doing, like lifting a heavy object.

That particular use of the word "pussy" is highly offensive to me, because the underlying suggestion is that girls are weak, (particularly when men call each other "pussies"), and that when a man acts "weak" he's acting like a girl (i.e. a "pussy"). It's also offensive to me that a slang word for vagina has a negative connotation. I know that you could come back and say that "dick" and even "cock" also have negative connotations, however "dick" and "cock" don't have the same type of almost exclusive negative connotation attached to them, and "cocky" for example can even have a positive meaning. "Pussy" however, just means one thing, pathetic weakness. All of these words exist against the backdrop of gender inequalities that make the words have different weight attached to them. The end result is that things associated with females have cutting negative connotations attached to them that can be used to efface women and tear down men (men who do not meet traditional expectations of masculinity - i.e. strength, stereotypically of course).

I believe all of this, and I have believed it for a long time. I believed this so strongly for years that I never let a single use of that word escape my criticism or wrath for the longest time. I still frown or at least pointedly raise my eyes if the word is used in a derogative fashion in my presence. However, over the years, my perception of the word has changed a little, mainly as a result of my interactions with Raj. He's taught me that the word can be used with exclusively positive connotations given the right circumstances.

I'm talking, y'all, about nookie time. There was a time - I'm talking years and years - where the use of the word pussy in the heat of the moment would have have caused my racing hormones to come to a screeching halt. Heated moments became debates about gender, the meaning of words, and what it means to truly respect a woman. I was uncomfortable with the term "pussy" because of the meaning our culture had attached to it. I was also uncomfortable with terms of endearment like sweetie, honey, baby, etc. The only person that called me a term of endearment was my Dad. He called me babe very occasionally.

I'm sure that my discomfort with terms of endearment came from a very different, and equally complicated place, than my discomfort with the term "pussy." With the terms of endearment, I felt like the words were too lovey-dovey, too mushy. When boys said them to me, it felt strangely awkward and often caused any desire I had within me to die. But when the boys weren't the sensitive types drooling over me with gushy compliments and protestations of love, when they were instead rough around the edges and focused on S-E-X and used words like "pussy" and "fucking" with abandon, this also caused my desire to die. I didn't want the mushiness, but I didn't want the lack of respect either. I was in a quandary.

Then I met Raj and we started a relationship, and a lot of things changed, including my perceptions of both terms of endearment and the the term "pussy." He probably has no idea that he impacted my thinking in this way. With him, love feels like love, and sex feels like sex, and all of it is the same thing all rolled together. When he calls me "sweetie" and "munchkin" it makes me feel happy, because I know those words come from a good place. Similarly, though very differently, when he says the word "pussy" it's usually referring to something nice and yummy, like what he plans to do to me shortly, and it never has any negative connotation attached to it. Plus, using the word "vagina" in bed is just not hot. It's way too medical text-book sounding for nookie time. And what else is there? Cunt? I don't think so. Faced with those options - pussy, vagina, and cunt - and resistant to naming my anatomy with cute-sy little names like "the little missus," I've embraced pussy, and it's taken on a new, positive meaning in my mind.

Did I say any of this to the girls during our meeting yesterday? Oh, hell no. They're young, and they need to figure these things out for themselves in the future. They have time. For now, it's good that they understand that it's not cool to make fun of a boy by calling him a girl. Later, when they become women, they can worry about reclaiming the words for girls (the words used by mostly men to insult other men by calling them "girls," i.e. skirt, sally, pussy, etc., not to mention the nasty names used by both men and women to attack girls and women like cunt, slut, and bitch), and making them their own.

4 comments:

Prue said...

Hurrah for you for not skipping your appointments!! They are absolutely more important than finishing a coverage memo by some arbitrary deadline.

Good thoughts on why we shouldn't use the word 'pussy' as an insult. I have to admit that I have used it that way myself occasionally, but you've convinced me that I should banish it from my insult vocabulary --- but not from other, more intimate vocabularies of course...

Buttercup said...

Prue, You naughty girl.

Gypsy said...

I tried to comment earlier, but Blogger took a crap.

How do I know I'm still 12? I sniggered when I read "I've embraced pussy." Grow up, Gypsy!

Anyway, I know I'm guilty of using the p word in refernce to people who are punking out or being lame (there we go -- lame isn't really an appropriate term, either). I'm not sure how it slipped into my lexicon. Probably the same way whore did. I use that far too much, usually in fairly innocuous situations, and I've realized that I shouldn't because I bear no ill will toward prostitutes.

This also reminds me of when I was learning Italian while living in Florence during college. We were practicing vocabulary words, and the word for mouse is topo. But our professor warned us never to feminize topo into topa, because it means the equivalent of pussy in English.

Buttercup said...

Gypsy, Don't feel bad. I occasionally call girls who are sexually promiscuous who I don't like "sluts" (that's a very small group of untrustworthy men-centered-women) - not that there's anything wrong, OF COURSE with women being sexually promiscuous (just not near my boyfriend, please).

I know it's terribly unfeminist of me, but alas, I'm not perfect. And since I'm confessing, I've been calling Dragon Lady "cunt" for the last few months. Yikes.