The Power of Pudenda, Part Two: Round and Round

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Round and Round by Amanda Beesley  


Cunt: A Declaration of Independence   
by Inga Muscio   
(Seal Press, paperback, 1998, 277 pages)  

Last weekend, for a lark, I decided to join a water aerobics class with my mother-in-law and a bunch of her friends. As we bounced and scissor-kicked around the pool on our floating noodles (don’t ask), a few of the ladies got to inquiring about my husband’s and

my writing careers. I told them that we had a new project: Nicky and I had been assigned book
reviews for an online magazine of “literate smut.” They were very interested. I told them Nicky’s assignment: a review of The Book of the Penis by Maggie Paley. This cracked everybody up, and pretty soon they were all trading quips: A book about penises — how long is it? Is it
hard to read? I hear the prose is a little stiff.
You get the picture. Then they asked me what title I was reviewing. We were all still laughing, and I was expecting still more hilarity when I delivered my punch line. “You’re not going to believe it,” I guffawed, “but it’s called Cunt!” A silence fell across the pool. My mother-in-law discreetly paddled to the shallow end. Even the twenty-year-old aerobics instructor looked a bit queasy. I realized that I’d just uttered the last great four-letter word, and it wasn’t reflecting very well on me.


In her book, Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio strives to pull the word out of the gutter and reclaim it for every woman. Her crude but surprisingly effective method is simply to use the word a lot and hope to desensitize you to it. She uses the word as a noun: “For me, personally, anyone who didn’t have a cunt and tried to look at my cunt in an exam room would get a silly slap upside the head with a cold speculum”; as an adjective: “I’m the cuntlovin’ ruler of my sexual universe”; and even as poetry: “A cunt by any other name is still a cunt.” (Is it working on you yet?) According to Muscio, the word has origins in several different cultures, including India, China, Ireland, Rome and Egypt. Apparently, it was originally used as a respectful title for women, and it’s only in modern culture that the word has taken on negative connotations. Muscio’s research here is a little sketchy, but it may not be her fault. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as several modern dictionaries, and not one of them listed “cunt” as a word.


So Muscio wants to define it for us. Fair enough. But where to start? She suggests the answer lies in women getting to know more about their own “anatomical jewel.” Picking up where Our Bodies, Ourselves left off, she encourages fellow cuntlovers to buy a plastic speculum and some

KY jelly, grab a mirror and get acquainted with their vaginas. She also advocates a de-sanitation of menstruation, in which natural sea sponges, rags or a “blood towel” take the place of overpriced, factory-produced tampons. The sea sponges are re-useable, she explains, and are “fun to
play with in the bathtub.” She has strong ideas about birth control as well. Since the pill “encourages a physical aversion to our own bodies,” she recommends condoms, since “a gentleman who doesn’t have the physical and/or emotional sensitivity to use condoms couldn’t possibly possess the self-confidence required to fully procure the infinite soundings of pleasure from the depth of a woman’s being, via the endlessness of her cunt. At least not with his dick.”


Despite her love of latex, Muscio hasn’t always been lucky with birth control. She writes that she has been accidentally pregnant three times. On the first two occasions, she had abortions, but the third time she decided she didn’t want to go through it again. “I didn’t want to be with this man and I shouldn’t have fucked him, but it was his birthday and he was obviously fun to romp with and blah dee blah blah blah . . . I promptly decided there was to be no grotesque waltz with that abhorrent machine.” She spoke to a naturopathic physician, as well as to a friend who was a “masseuse and scientist,” and eight days later, she induced a miscarriage:

After a week of non-stop imaging, massages, tea-drinking, talking and concentrating, I was brushing my teeth at the sink and felt a very peculiar mmmmbloommmp-like feeling. I looked at the bathroom floor and there, between my feet, was some blood and a little round thing. It was clear but felt like one of them unshiny superballs. It was the neatest thing I ever did see.


Well. How, um, convenient. And how revolutionary: who needs RU-486 if all you really need is tea and a massage?


If this all sounds like a bunch of hooey, it is. But in the end you forgive her; she’s kooky and
energetic, like the friend from Seattle you never had. Her writing is at its worst when she affects a hillbilly tone and uses expressions like “funnier ‘n’ shit.” But when she writes about something she truly cares about, she veers toward the lyrical. The passage about her mother’s rape at the age of nine is especially moving, and her subsequent critique of the eroticization of rape scenes in mainstream film is compelling. Amid her sometimes bizarre exhortations to start a “cuntlovin’ investment club,” or to re-read Pippi Longstocking, Muscio can also be very funny, as when she reports that “masturbation is an absolutely peerless cure for the hiccups.” At times, she is even acute. In a memorable passage, she describes the Jerry Springer show as “an arena akin to the Roman ones where prisoners fought to the death . . . The audience watches people on a stage as they emotionally and physically maul one another. It is the pinnacle of voyeurism, where love, American style, is dissected and pinned down in its most caustic glory.” And, in case you missed this in your King James Bible, “Mary Magdalene was a Whore and Jesus dug her because she taught him the most sacred thing a man can ever hope to learn in his lifetime: how to fuck . . . I imagine the sex was spectacular.”


Sometimes you wonder where all of these proclamations are going, but then you get to the part where the author says, “It is perfectly socially acceptable for you to write down every thought you’ve ever had about anything — from your gorgeous prize wisteria, to the insane relationship you have with your hair, to your all-consuming love for the clitoris — then slap the words together with some cool pictures, make five hundred copies and sell them to every woman you do and don’t know for a buck a copy,” and suddenly you realize that this is not a book to take overly seriously, but rather it’s a flurry of remarkable observations and even a few glints, here and there, of inspiration.


Cunt may not be the book that brings its namesake into mainstream vernacular, but it does provide insight into the mind of a true free spirit. That’s really all the book promises, anyway. What more can you expect from a writer who, in her author photo, is wearing a fuzzy hat with bunny ears?

Read the review of The Book of the Penis by Amanda Beesley’s better half.

©1999 Amanda Beesley and Nerve.com