Can We Reclaim and Redefine ‘Pussy’? Sure, Why Not.

Can we turn pussy into something strong? Something that's ours?

Aug 30, 2012 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

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Ever since the sentencing of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, the word "pussy" has been bandied about by everyone and their grandmothers, but does its sudden ubiquitousness mean that women are ready to reclaim the word as our own? The term "pussy" is problematic. It's porny, men use it to insult one another and it is phonetically weak and slithery.

But can we, with a force like Pussy Riot putting the word front and center, change those perceptions and turn pussy into something strong? Something that's ours? Several women already have — a trend that's explored by Slate's Lindsay Zoladz in her recent article "Pussy Is Having a Moment." Zoldaz writes:

Post-riot grrrl, efforts to recontextualize pussy have dwindled -- until this year. And while Pussy Riot may have been the force that drove this over the edge, there have been several other -- if less widely publicized -- instances in 2012 of female musicians asking listeners to confront and rethink the word.

Zoldaz cites Australian rapper Iggy Azealia and her breakthrough single "PU$$Y" as an example, as well as Canadian eletro-artist Grimes (A.K.A. Claire Boucher) who has gone farther than simply saying the word "pussy" and has actually released a whole vagina-shaped jewelry line called Pussy Rings.

"I feel like vaginas don't need to be scary, and they don't need to be a curse word," Boucher recently told MTV Hive when asked about the line. "Every dressing room I'm ever in has penises drawn on the walls, and touring is so dick-dominated that I just want to be like, ‘Here's a fucking vagina.' It's also a very sexual object that's removed from a person so [on the ring] it's kind of desexualized and emphasizes the beauty of the organism in the biological and abstract and presents it as art."

According to Zoldaz, the etymology of "pussy" is a complicated one with its association to male weakness actually relating back to the Latin word pusillanimous, meaning "having little courage." But I highly doubt that men are thinking of the Latin root of their insults as they call each other pussies. Regardless, this does point out the flexibility of language — English is a living language, after all, and meanings change over time. So there's certainly the possibility of turning "pussy" from something weak into something strong. After all, our vaginas are made of steel. They have to be, really, to put up with all this shit they've been getting lately.

Says Shawna Potter, whose band War on Women headlined a Pussy Riot solidarity concert in D.C., "What's funny is that I really hate the word pussy. I hate it! And I hate it because it means something weak...If anyone in America will somehow start to associate a little more strength with the word pussy because of [Pussy Riot] then I'd be fine with that word."

Alright, pussies. The responsibility, once again, is on us.

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Reprinted with permission from Jezebel.