09.18.134:45 AM ET

Crusading Against the C Word

The ‘most offensive word’ is still flagrantly used by men, women, celebrities, and public figures alike—and, no, it’s not OK, says Adrienne Vogt.

I was at a party, defending a girl who wasn’t there. I’m not sure why I did it—I never met this person, and she’s never met me. I don’t even remember what her name is. All I know is that a guy called her a c--t. Twice.

I didn’t even realize how strongly I felt about the dreaded C word until a few hours ago, a full two days after the party. I don’t know if it’s because I was on the long bus ride home from work, with the New Jersey Turnpike at a standstill, or because the lady sitting next to me was jabbering the entire time on her cellphone, but my blood began to boil when I really started to think about what had happened.

After the guy called this girl a c--t the first time, I choked a little bit on my beer and protested against the word’s usage. He saw that it elicited a reaction from me and proceeded to say it again. My voice went a decibel higher than its usual muted tones, and I said, “You said it a second time! Are you kidding me? I work for a women’s site!” I could tell the atmosphere instantly changed. I was suddenly the bad person, perceived to be trying to stir up something out of nothing. My brother, standing next to me, uttered quietly, “OK, it’s not that big of a deal.” My eye twitched, and I shut up for a little bit, feeling like I was embarrassing him in front of his friends. Furthermore, the girls in the group nodded in agreement. “Oh, she’s a huge slut.” “Yeah, she’s a bitch.” Next on the list? Her boyfriend was called a “vagina,” because he likes wine and “drinks like a girl.” And everyone laughed. I tried to play along, but I just wanted to get out of there.

So why did I clam up? I’m convinced now that I wasn’t in the wrong. But I guess I just didn’t want to become known as “that girl,” especially among people I didn’t know. But what really struck me was just how much the other girls were game to play along.

Women shouldn’t be immune from being rebuked for saying the C word either. Just yesterday a friend of mine tweeted, “I have no qualms about dropping the C word.” (I still love ya, but c’mon, girl.) In fact, go ahead right now and do a quick search on Twitter for the word, and you’ll see that it is littered all over that site, by both female and male users—some of whom are obviously too young to understand what it even means.

A few years ago I was working as a restaurant hostess, and two female co-workers were having a conversation in which the C word was dropped a few times (in the middle of a crowded restaurant, nonetheless!). One of them said, “I know that’s such a bad word to say, but there’s really no other way to describe her.” The other nodded in agreement. “I know; I say it all the time.” I remember thinking (in not-as-nice terms), what the heck is wrong with you people?

Even though it probably happens thousands of times per day to regular people, public figures have been likely targets—and users—of the C word. At the end of July, former mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s communications director, Barbara Morgan, called her intern a “c--t”—not to mention a “slutbag” and “twat.” In February The Onion got in deep trouble for tweeting, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c--t, right? #Oscars2013.” Its editors immediately apologized for the comment about the 9-year-old actress. And in 2012 Penn Jillette called writer Lindy West a “remarkably stupid c--t” and a “talentless c--t” after she wrote an article about Super Bowl ads. Even Rihanna is known to have thrown around the C word on Twitter numerous times. The “good girl gone bad” obviously doesn’t care that some of her 31 million followers and fans—including young boys and girls—will copy her example.

Some of you might tell me to stop overreacting. Some of you will tell me that it’s just a word and to get over it. Jezebel has published articles that make very good arguments about why it should shed its bad-word status. Writers contend that it is actually “mature,” and that using it more may take away the negativity surrounding it.

But do the authors still think the same thing when they are threatened by people from the men’s-rights movement who, in an article titled “If You See Jezebel in the Road, Run the Bitch Down,” openly want to put an end to “c--tists across the c--t-o-sphere”?

So I just can’t “get over it,” which led me to wonder about how such a hierarchy of derogatory words against women even exists.

In fact, if you just Google “most offensive words,” the Wikipedia entry for “c--t” is the second result. (If you Google “most offensive words the English language,” then it comes up first.) The Online Slang Dictionary has it as the third-most-offensive term, and the BBC ranked it as the most offensive word that could be uttered on television. Does it appear higher on the scale because it’s a word that encompasses all races and religions? Is it because there is no real equivalent for men? Do people think that others truly are “bitches” or “sluts,” because those terms describe more of a personality trait than a physical attribute?

It may help to explore a bit of the history of the C word: According to Slate, the word was historically a fairly standard term, like saying “vagina” today, and its earliest usage in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from a 13th-century London street, Gropecuntelane. Gradually it became known by other words such as “quaint.” In 1785 Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines it as “a nasty name for a nasty thing.” By the 18th and 19th centuries, it was replaced by dashes or asterisks.

I think my point is that no matter how liberal or open-minded you may think you are by dropping a few C words here and there—or whether you’re just bidding for attention—the word truly is the lowest you can call a woman. It turns a source of sexual power into an insult.

Now, I know I’m not perfect, no matter how hard I try; I’ve definitely uttered a fair share of curses and derogatory terms in my lifetime. I can blame it on being from New Jersey all I want, but I know it’s wrong.

The thing is, I know where to draw the line.

And I may be completely off the mark with all of this. Maybe some time in the future, no one will even give a second thought to the word, and it’ll be dropped daily on TV shows and in movies. The “Blurred Lines” of our culture will become even more blurred.

Here’s what I do know for sure: If someone ever called me that now, they’d get a swift punch in the face, using all the force my tiny body could muster. And I wasn’t around to defend myself, I hope that someone would do the same for me.