Leave "Pussy" Alone
“Pussy” is a perfectly good word. By “good” I mean: useful, meaningful, lovely, worth keeping. Yes, and also its misuse bothers me to the point of having opinions about it. You might construe my opinions as rules. You’d be correct.
Here’s when you may say “pussy”:
When referring to the body parts that might otherwise be called a “vagina” or a “vulva”. (I dunno; some people say “pussy” and mean the inside and some people say “pussy” and mean the outside. This isn’t an anatomy lesson.) Liken this usage to a non-medical body reference, like “noggin” for “head,” or “belly” for “abdomen.” A chargeless nickname.
EXAMPLE: “Once, while I was napping, a caterpillar tried to crawl into my pussy. She only made it as far as my vulva before I woke up and I threw her out the tent flap. I’m not sure who was more surprised.” (Factual example. I would not - and could not - make this up.)
Sexually, without violence. (Or with pre-negotiated terms.)
EXAMPLE: “It really turns me on when you touch my pussy on Thursday nights, after we watch old episodes of ‘The MTMS’.” (Fabricated example - darling, if you’re reading this, don’t get the wrong idea.)
Here's when you may not say “pussy”:
Before you come back with “it’s just a word” or “you KNOW what I mean”, or any other version of “I don’t mean IT like THAT” - and P.S. if that’s what you’re leading with, PLEASE pray for the grace to go look in the mirror and admit to your own face that that’s what you just said - try this: go to one of your grandparents, of any gender, and inform them that, while you still intend to call them by name, from now on you’ll be tagging on the word “anus”. By way of an honorific. Tell them that you don’t mean it like everyone else does, that’s it’s just a word and you still love them. Stick to this for a year. Hell, stick to it for a week and get back to me. I’ll be all ears.
NOTE: I use the word Women to describe people with pussies. Many women do not have pussies. Many people with pussies do not identify as women. And more. There is lots of brilliant, meaningful, human writing about this. I’m naming these things here, knowing them as icebergs, and leaving these particular topics to other writers for this moment in order to get at what I’d like to get at here.
Women are, as a class of people, socialized to behave weak ‘n’ meek, indecisive, doormattish. Are women weak and indecisive? ABSOLUTELY NOT. (Am I a doormat? Fuck you.) But our socialization would have us so. How does this happen? Funny you should ask - language has a lot to do with it.
What are we allowed to say? What words are we allowed to refuse? What words are used for us, about us, around us?
Using “pussy” as a slur to describe someone as weak, indecisive, incapable of action, basically serves the anti-woman colonization machine to “keep women in their place.” (And by “place” I mean wherever some man put her, expecting her not to act up and break out.) Every time you say “pussy” when you mean “not up to the task” or “lacking the necessary strength” you code women as not up to the task and lacking the necessary strength. How does this happen? Synecdoche. You take a part and use it to represent the whole. Whether or not you mean to, by insulting someone or something with the word “pussy”, you compare that person or thing to a woman, and by NEGATIVELY comparing that person or thing to a woman, you are linguistically (and therefore culturally) reinforcing the idea that it’s insulting to be a woman or have a pussy.
It is impossible to not have the word “pussy” reflect on people who have pussies. It is impossible not to have the word “pussy” reflect on women. So, in a nutshell, every time you use the word “pussy” as a slur, you’re unmaking female personhood, coding limits to her agency, worth, legitimacy, and power.
Read it again if you have to.
This is not the same as calling someone a "dick." Why? Well, in the sense of the synecdoche it’s technically the same, BUT: think of the meaning of the representation. You’re taking a part - the dick - and using to describe the whole - a man - as aggressive, insensitive, or inconsiderate. Bad enough, fine, but included in this list is NOT vulnerable, weak, or incapable. You’re being rude, but you’re not actually decoding that human’s AGENCY.
If you’re really stuck on this one, I’ll make you a deal: you stop saying “pussy” as a put-down and I’ll stop saying “dick” derogatorily. Shake? Shake.
Do you like women? Please speak kindly of us. Do you like pussies? Please speak kindly of us. (See what I did there?)
Culture is so broad, so massive. Thought is so nebulous, so personal. What may we reasonably ask of ourselves to change? What may we reasonably ask of each other?
Language and action. We can change both.
So cut it the fuck out, friends.
Unless you have awe in your eyes and praise on your lips, leave “pussy” alone.
Photo: Pamela Clare Wylie Samuelson, Embodywork LA