Having just returned from a visit to the Pacific Northwest where I lugged suitcases across Oregon and Washington, I have baggage on my mind. Currently, my unpacked suitcase is swollen with my finds from the Portland Saturday Market and Pike Place Market. And dirty laundry. Ah, if only it were filled with Voodoo Doughnuts, but those don’t travel so well. Alas, my suitcase will be far easier to unpack than the baggage that comes along with words. While away, a lively debate ensued among some feminist friends of mine about the word “Slut” and its usage in the many SlutWalks taking place around the world. As I missed this glorious and erudite debate, I am posting this carry-on- size food for thought about words and baggage. (For some posts on Slutwalk, see here, here, here, here, here, and here)
Before my holiday, I posted on what I saw as the unnecessary (and sexist) use of the term pussy in Super 8 (“Super 8 and The Monstrous Pussy” at Womanist Musings and “Super 8’s ‘Super Pussy’” at Ms. Blog). Reading through the comments, especially those at the Womanist Musings thread, which include many claims that the use of the word is “historically accurate,” got me thinking – can words ever truly be “reclaimed” or, to stick with the baggage metaphor, unpacked? Granted, Super 8 is not trying to unpack the word “pussy” – rather, the film uses it in its common sexist meaning – i.e. pussy=coward=being like a woman.
But, could “pussy” be put in a pleasant new bag, one with nice polka-dots or a furry peace sign? Some think so. Some also think “cunt” could be repackaged into a term of feminist empowerment.
As for myself, I think it is difficult to entirely reclaim words as they cannot be drained of their historical baggage.
In fact, they matter so much that they almost have a material weight to them – a baggage that cannot simply be ignored or erased.
Words are like suitcases, carrying with them all manner of meanings and socio-historical links.
I don’t think we can easily “reclaim” words any more readily than we can “reclaim” lost baggage at the world’s most disorganized airport.
(And, as for Speilberg and Abrams, well, they likely travel first class and don’t have to think about the “baggage” some of us on the other side of the privilege matrix must lug around. And their baggage, is of course, filled with BALLS, not pussy – which, are, I might add, far more vulnerable than the mighty pussy! Thus, isn’t “Don’t be such a testicle” more apt? I would love to hear that in a summer blockbuster sometime!)