(This post was first published on the I Smell Sheep blog as part of my RECKONING blog tour)
I love cats! When I was stationed in Afghanistan, I kept a literal pile of snacks behind my desk that I could dip into and think about home. Despite this horde of food lying on the floor of a building in a third-world country, no vermin ever touched it, thanks to the community of cats which roamed the camp.
So it’s really a travesty to me how the name if this fine animal has been coopted by the forces of sexism and misogyny. The fact I need to put an asterisk in the word to keep this post PG-13 gives proof to its negative connotation, and yet for some weird reason it’s a staple in contemporary romance literature.
Not that the word can never be used; rather, there are situations where it should definitely not be used. Here are those situations:
- A man referring to a woman’s vagina
With the exception of purposely smutty talk, how many men do you know who respectfully refer to a woman’s groin as her “p*ssy”? The key word here is respectfully. It’s hard to root for a hero who uses such a crass term to describe his lady love, even if it’s only in his mind, or to describe how “tight” he thinks she is down there.
Dude can fart and tell you it’s a compliment, but it still smells.
- A woman referring to her own vagina
How many women, who are not porn stars or not engaged in dirty talk, refer to their own vaginas as their “p*ssy”? None, that’s how many. “Hi, I’m calling to schedule an appointment with my gynecologist to get a mammogram and p*ssy check-up.” NOBODY SAYS THAT. Yet I don’t know how many books I’ve read where a woman internally monologues about how her p*ssy is clenching or is wet or whatever at the sight or thought of some hot piece of beefcake. The fact that the female is using a derogatory term to describe to herself how she feels puts her experience squarely in the male gaze, which is a jarring disconnect that pulls me right out of the story.
Internalized sexism is not sexy.
- A man (who is not the villain) describing himself or others as “p*ssies” to connote weakness
Cats aren’t weak. They are stone-cold killers who will dutifully keep rodentia off your precious snacks. They have sharp teeth and claws, and will viciously attack you if you pet them wrong! So why would someone use the word “p*ssy” to mean weakness? …Ah, because they actually mean “female.” In other words, something that is “lesser” and not worthy of respect. If a character uses this term in disdain, we’d better not be expected to sympathize with that jackhole.
So if the goal is to establish a character as a sexist asshat douchcanoe, then go ahead and use the word p*ssy. Or perhaps if you’re referring to a feline who will protect your valuable-as-gold supply of Oreos with their lives, then sure.