The C-word has a bad reputation. It’s among a handful of words in English that still really makes people wince. It’s been like this for a long time too. People have been cringing over it for centuries—although interestingly it wasn’t always seen as so offensive.
In recent years, some of that discomfort over the word has shifted. Many people are pressing for it to go in the same direction as other former slurs such as queer, and find a new place in language. After all, vaginas are pretty amazing.
That said, we’re a long way from seeing it seamlessly integrate into everyday life. Which is why co-leader of New Zealand's opposition Green Party Marama Davidson’s recent take on it has really got people talking.
At an Auckland rally against racism last week she reflected: "Now one thing I've noticed, but I haven't spoken about in the media yet, is these people who try to shut us down and try to intimidate us and try to make us scared by calling us a cunt”. She continued: "Vaginas brought you here. Call me that. I take that. I'm here, for being a cunt.”
All up, she used the word three times in her speech.
In the days following the event, in the face of very divided public opinion, she has stood by her use of language. On Facebook she wrote: "If women get called the *C* word by men who are trying to death threat us into silence and intimidation—the least we can do is disarm the word and claim it back."
Speaking to Newshub she added," That word is a powerful word for women and shouldn't be used as abuse…I think it's a word that we have to disarm and reclaim."
Not surprisingly, a lot of people don’t agree with her on this one. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she "certainly wouldn't use that language". Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters called it "appalling" and "terribly degrading". National Party Deputy Leader Paula Bennett Tweeted her distaste, claiming there is “no excuse for bad manners.” Davidson’s co-leader James Shaw has stayed silent on the matter, not offering an opinion either way.
More broadly, Newshub added that research from the Broadcasting Standards Authority found that Kiwis consider it to be the most offensive word out there. Even beating out the N-word. Although, the country is softening to it. Five years ago 72 percent of people surveyed said it was never acceptable to use. This year, that had dropped to 63 percent. Not exactly mainstream acceptance though.
But it’s worth not letting Davidson’s original point be lost in all this talk of manners. She stressed on Twitter: “I simply reclaimed it at a rally after it was used at me in a death threat. That’s not a campaign. That’s just me talking.” Talk of the death threat has been eclipsed in following conversations, mirroring the wider tendency to focus on the word rather than the gendered hate that is often behind in.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox weekly.
Follow VICE on Twitter.