"A photograph published yesterday with an article about the court-martial of a guard at Abu Ghraib prison showed a book cover that contained an obscenity. The obscenity went unnoticed during editing and should not have been published. Publication of the photo violates The Sun's guidelines. The Sun apologizes for the oversight." — Apology published in The Baltimore Sun, 3/15/06.
U.S. Army Specialist Jennifer Scala was in the courtroom that day to testify in the trial of fellow Abu Ghraib guard Sgt. Michael J. Smith, who was accused of torturing prisoners using dogs. Speaking to one of Smith's less violent but more perverse practices, Scala admitted his dogs had licked peanut butter off her bare breasts in front of a video camera, on a dare by another soldier. Ultimately, Sgt. Smith, the tenth soldier convicted of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to six months in jail.
Into the courtroom Scala carried a copy of Inga Muscio's Cunt: A Declaration of Independence (2002). The book has an introduction by masturbation icon Betty Dodson and a blurb by rock star Joan Jett. It encourages women to think of themselves as "cunts," in what the author describes as the original, empowering sense of the word. She cites dubious etymology: "'Cunt' is related to words from India, China, Ireland, Rome and Egypt. Such words were either titles of respect for women, priestesses and witches or derivatives of the names of various goddesses." But Muscio is unconcerned with the facts according to "historians," a term she puts in quotes. Acknowledging that it may in fact be a word with modern, possibly negative, roots, she writes, "venerable history or not, it's ours to do with what we want."
The Baltimore Sun image of Scala greatly confused commentators, for good reason. What are we to make of a soldier carrying a book with such an incendiary title? On The Huffington Post, sex writer Susie Bright wrote, "So is Jennifer Scala coming to her senses, and ready to stick it to the man? Or does she just like pissing people off whenever the occasion comes up?" Her headline: "I Can't Wrap My Vulva Around This."
In the weeks that followed, the photo was reprinted in the local alternative weekly, but the question was never convincingly answered: Why did Scala have that book with her in the courtroom?
Despite repeated attempts, we were unable to reach Spc. Scala for comment. But Cunt's author weighed in on the webzine Gelf, and reprinted the item on her website, ingalagringa.com. Of the Baltimore Sun image, she said, "When I first saw that photo, I laughed my ass off. The smile on her [Scala's] face is just SO perfect. She looks like a devious sprite, having a rollicking good time in what most would consider a nerve-wracking situation."
That smile. Why does Scala seem so happy with Cunt? Does Cunt seem potentially happy with Scala? The answer to that last question is yes.
|Spc. Jennifer Scala at the court martial of Sgt. Michael J. Smith.
Cunt's greatest enemy is the "containment of woman's sexuality" by patrifocal societies. By contrast, the gold standard for good is a "cunt-lovin' babe." According to Cunt, the Judeo-Christian tradition is evil; goddess worship is good. Television is evil; only independent media can be trusted. Male doctors (especially male gynecologists) and western medicine (i.e., medicine based on science) are bad; charting your reproductive cycle using the cervical mucus method and a moon calendar is good. Muscio describes her three abortions, claiming the two suction aspirations were bad; the one coaxed with massage and herbs was good. (When the result of the third procedure, at eight or nine weeks, "plopped onto the bathroom floor," wrote Muscio, "It was clear but felt like one of them unshiny superballs. It was the neatest thing I ever did see.")
Muscio suggests all women are soldiers by virtue of the fact that they are always potential victims of rape. "If indeed, my home sometimes seems to be a fortress that deters enemy soldiers — then aren't I kind of like a soldier, and isn't my life kind of like a war?" She encourages women to think of themselves as predators, to fill their pockets with rocks when they go out alone at night and to fiercely battle agents of oppression — that is, men who suppress women's ability to practice "cunt-love," a term that throughout the book is left conveniently vague: "Every girl and lady who is strong and fighting and powerful, who thrives in this world in a way that serves her, is a rockin', cuntlovin' babe doing her part to goad the post-patriarchal age into fruition."
Vigilante justice is Muscio's ideal punishment for rapists. She suggests women gather into groups and burn huge severed-penis effigies on a rapist's front lawn, pack his car full of rotten fish heads and pelt him with bloody tampons. She offers no "innocent until proven guilty" caveat and admits no grey areas. Instead, there is this almost erotic description of torture:
"Wouldn't you just hate like the devil to be pilloried, smeared with dogshit, forced to kneel in front of a high-powered microphone on a raised platform and apologize to the ten thousand women who solemnly marched by you?" Muscio writes. "Boy, that would be an unpleasant day that you might not forget right away, huh." She calls this practice "Cuntlovin' Public Retaliation," and it is one of the extra-important terms the book renders in bold.
In the afterword to Cunt, Muscio recounts being asked what the book is fundamentally about. The word she uses is, ironically, the same as President Bush's: "Freedom."
Some who have read Cunt characterize it as an example of Third Wave Feminism. Rebecca Walker coined the term "Third Wave" in Ms. magazine in 1992 to distinguish it from the suffragettes (First Wave) and the bra burners (Second Wave).
The online magazine Bookslut panned Cunt eloquently ("Muscio is selling non-answers packaged as answers, New Age pop psychology packaged as sociology"), but concluded that the book epitomized Third Wave feminism, "a movement that preaches all men are potential rapists." Wikipedia describes Muscio as a Third Wave feminist.
I would like to explain what I understand Third Wave feminism to be, and to show how Cunt is not that.