The Context that Justifies “Cunt”

Penn Jillette is a douchebag. We knew that, we know that, and some of us argue that it’s one of the main ways he’s risen to stardom in our community. Myself included. So it wasn’t a real surprise to any of us that, with his steadfast defense of showing women as tit-and-ass buffets, and his stalwart support of Mallorie Nasrallah’s open letter to the skeptic community, that Penn would find nothing wrong with calling a woman a cunt for the crime of not amusing him. But why? What context justifies this?

Lindy West posted about this year’s Superbowl ads and the takeaway lessons these ads give the average viewer. Penn did not watch the ads, but thought the article was unfunny, and therefore felt justified to post on his friend Emily’s Facebook wall that she was “a remarkably stupid cunt”. He evidently did not feel it necessary to view the ads to suss out why Lindy was annoyed by them, but felt qualified to comment on her post nonetheless.

Some skeptic communities, Freethought Blogs included, said “that’s totally fucked up.” We took Penn to task for being a douchebag, and the Offense Brigade, the winged monkeys who flit about our community and swoop in to defend sexism and misogynist behaviour, could be heard echoing about the hills with their cries of “context!” before they even descended upon Jen’s blog. Penn’s friend Emily, and Penn’s wife Emily Jillette (separate people evidently), both defended Penn as being in no way a sexist, and characterized this as a hit job about a remark taken out of context. The “context crowd” offered so many different contexts where it’s supposedly justified to say “cunt” that Jen was able to build a Bingo card out of them.

But despite all the defense offered, and the number of times “context” was brought up, nobody’s actually offered the context in which Penn’s use of the word is actually somehow acceptable.

So, knowing the following facts, what is the context here?

1) Lindy West, Emily, and Penn Jillette are all American
2) The word “cunt” applied to a woman in America is a sexist slur, used in exactly the same vein as calling a black person a “nigger”
3) Lindy’s crime was of not amusing Penn Jillette
4) Facebook is not a private messaging system — anyone with Penn on their friends list would see his posting on Emily’s wall on their own timelines
5) Penn is not a woman, and could therefore not have been owning the slur

Bear in mind also that when Michael Richards called a black person a “nigger” for heckling him at a stand-up routine, his career imploded. For the crime of failing to amuse Richards, for the crime of trying to show him up, he used a racist slur and thereby committed career suicide. Why is sexism okay, in that Penn Jillette is still around, but racism is not, in that Richards can’t get a job for the life of him?

I await your justifications, and do hope you’ll take into account all of the above.

Take your time.

The Context that Justifies “Cunt”

120 thoughts on “The Context that Justifies “Cunt”

  1. 102

    @Marshall. I suppose that’s one explanation. Perhaps he only noticed there was a problem when people started doing such things to his friends and would have called it out now.

  2. 104

    So, according to Aratina I am somebody called “andyet” from a thread in 2009. No evidence, of course. Because Aratina is unsure of whether I’m somebody else or not, that makes me a troll? Or is it because I’m one of the escapees from the Siberian gulag? Or commenting on something not approved by the klan?

    Aratina’s response is rather typical of those who don’t want to face the issue, but instead, just close their eyes and pretend no-one else exists outside the Baboon enclosure.

    Good ‘ol rational skeptics, eh?

  3. 105

    Spare me, Tuvok. People can read andyet’s words on that thread and yours wherever you are and see that both are nothing but whining about PZ. If you’re not andyet, you’re cut from the same cloth.

  4. 108

    Tuvok’s point, evidently, was that PZ’s and Rebecca’s old positions in those old posts agrees more readily with his current position, and that I should take them to task for things they evidently no longer believe themselves. That I should fixate on what they once espoused as though they are fixed frames of reference by virtue of being available on the internet today, even though they have since evolved their positions. In other words, he doesn’t like what they’ve become, so he wants to fragment the skeptic/feminist community by having me engage in internecene war with people who have changed their minds.

    I’m not particularly interested in these games, especially not after having worked a full day, and where I’m planning on scheduling a couple quick posts for throughout the day tomorrow, where I’m expecting to work a 16+ hour day then too. You pro-cunt-crying trolls can keep trolling for the moment, until I get annoyed enough to throw you all in spam, but you’ll have to make do with my commenters in the meantime — whom I so far largely agree with.

    John: look no further than the very post where you challenged me to find something that you lied about. You were very helpful in providing a lie so proximate to that challenge, so I thank you. While I was moreso referring to your compatriots in general for being… “liberal”… with the truth, you were quite kind in providing me with an example where you are empirically wrong. Allow me to blockquote:

    Jason explained on one of his other blog posts a few weeks ago why masculine/male gender epithets are completely harmless, tons of fun, and when judiciously applied quite appropriate, whereas feminine/female gender epithets are bad, bad, bad mojo and proof of indefensible horribleness.

    I think I know what blog post you’re referring to, given the context, However, please show each clause of that sentence individually. Any that you can’t demonstrate would prove you to be willing to stretch the truth to impugn the motivations of those you have targeted, including Justin Bieber myself.

  5. 109

    But despite all the defense offered, and the number of times “context” was brought up, nobody’s actually offered the context in which Penn’s use of the word is actually somehow acceptable.

    In over 108 comments, did you ever get an answer to this?

  6. 111

    Of course he didn’t, Chiroptera, because that isn’t the point of this crowd showing up here. They haven’t come to talk about anything. They’ve come to make Jason pay attention to them.

    Remember those kids in school, the angrily unpopular ones who would get together in their little hole and whine to each other about how stupid people were to like other kids just because they were into sports or theater or had nice clothes? Remember how those kids would get caught up in their whining and reinforce each other’s opinions until they’d break into other people’s conversations to try to explain, one more time, why and how people were sooo stupid for liking each other? Remember how they never once managed to understand that it was that kind of behavior that made people dislike them, not the clothes or the lack of activities? Remember feeling a little sorry for them since, after all, social marginalization sucks–until you figured out that they kept doing this because they were all such odious people that they couldn’t even take any real pleasure in each other’s company, that they couldn’t make friends even with each other?

    Yeah. That’s this.

  7. 112

    Jason said:

    “… look no further than the very post where you challenged me to find something that you lied about. You were very helpful in providing a lie so proximate to that challenge, so I thank you…. I think I know what blog post you’re referring to, given the context, However, please show each clause of that sentence individually.”

    Yes, I remember the post too, but I do not remember what its title/Heading was, so I cannot find it, so, sorry, but no linkage. Anyway….

    Well, I think calling that a lie is a bit of a thin stretch. I would say that my statement that you “explained on one of [your] other blog posts a few weeks ago why masculine/male gender epithets are completely harmless, tons of fun, and when judiciously applied quite appropriate, whereas feminine/female gender epithets are bad, bad, bad mojo and proof of indefensible horribleness” is more of a slight misrepresentation and a somewhat egregious exaggeration than a lie. But, if you insist, okay, I lied. Nasty evil me.

    If memory serves, that was the post where when asked why “kick in the cunt” was so much worse than “kick in the balls” you provided some indefensible gibberishy nonsense about privilege, and maleness, and so forth. None of which could stand up in a court of sensibility.

    Also, if memory serves — but being an old gray whistle stop, it’s probably more of a disservice — that was also the post in which you included a weird explanation of how individual words can of and by themselves contain magical powers of USA-specific cultural content, broad yet specific meaning, intent, and context, even when all of those were in actual fact missing. That is not a lie but it may be a mistake, or even a misrepresentation. But, as I say, I cannot find that post, so we are both left out in the cold at the moment so far as linkage goes.

    Chiroptera said:

    “In over 108 comments, did you ever get an answer to this?”

    Actually, yes, that question was answered in a variety of ways, beginning in a somewhat tangential way with Callum James Hackett’s comment # 2, and continuing with Tim Buterbaugh’s comment # 13, and so on. But most of the commentors here disagreed with those answers, therefore, apparently, the answers ceased to exist.

  8. 113

    John Greg, #112:

    Thanks for pointing these out.

    #2 seems to agree that in Penn’s case, there isn’t context where his use of the word at that time was acceptable. Is that how you read it, too?

    #13 seems to say…oh, dear. Maybe it’s my poor reading comprehension skills, but #13 seems to be saying that it’s acceptable that Penn call that woman a cunt because he wasn’t really calling her a cunt. Is that what you read?

  9. 114

    Chiroptera said:

    “Thanks for pointing these out.

    “#2 seems to agree that in Penn’s case, there isn’t context where his use of the word at that time was acceptable. Is that how you read it, too?”

    Yes, I think so. But I think it is important to keep in mind Hackett’s argument in defending context in general, and Hackett’s other comments regarding skewing the argument beforehand. I think that is relevant because it opens up the possibility, although unstated by Hackett, of the context being acceptable.

    “#13 seems to say…oh, dear. Maybe it’s my poor reading comprehension skills, but #13 seems to be saying that it’s acceptable that Penn call that woman a cunt because he wasn’t really calling her a cunt. Is that what you read?”

    Buterbaugh said:

    “Also, speaking of context, you’re not even reading his quote in context. You are reading this:

    ‘a remarkably stupid CUNT’

    instead of this:

    ‘a remarkably STUPID cunt’

    “He wasn’t calling her a cunt, he was calling her stupid (and unfunny).’

    I might be cutting Buterbaugh some slack, perhaps unwarranted. The way I read that is that what he is arguing is that the emphasis of the comment should be on the adjective stupid, not on the noun cunt.

    I mean, obviously Penn called her a cunt; it’s there in black and white. But as has been argued by several people, context and intent are fundamentally critical in determining one’s reaction to the comment. And that, of course, is where the primary bone of contention lies, and where the primary disagreement is.

    What parts of speech do we give more power to? Verbs, adjectives, nouns? I think that may be a relevant question.

    I also think that Tim’s following comment is a truth, so to speak:

    “And, like it or not, women (and PC thugs) need to get over the word “cunt” because you are the ones giving it power. It is a derogatory term for vagina. Penn could have also used twat, slit, three-holer, etc. (though surprisingly, not “pussy”) and accomplished the same thing.

    “It is exactly the same thing as calling a man a dick or a tool(both of which are perfectly acceptable on network TV). The cold hard reality of it is that Penn is the one who is NOT being sexist. He is treating that woman EXACTLY the same way he would treat a man. Isn’t that the goal of feminism?”

    Despite all the circular reasoning, and often pure gibberish spouted by gender feminists regarding the evilness of the word cunt, I think Buterbaugh is quite right in that comment.

    I am not particularily defending Penn — I don’t happen to like him very much or agree with him about much of anything, or with his combative sensationalistic approach (as I have stated elsewhere, I am more of the school of Daniel Loxton, so to speak, than that of Myers); nonetheless, I am increasingly mystified by this sort of meme where it is generally okay to insult males with any word one chooses, whether a gendered epithet or otherwise, but it is somehow deeply, darkly, verboten to do the same to females. Honestly, I do not get that. Why can we insult men with a vast range of derogatory insults, but not women? When did women become so fragile? Or should we perhaps just stop insulting everyone? What’s the equality calculation on this?

  10. 115

    Well, I think calling that a lie is a bit of a thin stretch. I would say that my statement that you “explained on one of [your] other blog posts a few weeks ago why masculine/male gender epithets are completely harmless, tons of fun, and when judiciously applied quite appropriate, whereas feminine/female gender epithets are bad, bad, bad mojo and proof of indefensible horribleness” is more of a slight misrepresentation and a somewhat egregious exaggeration than a lie. But, if you insist, okay, I lied. Nasty evil me.

    Here’s the statement from Jason you took issue with. Emphasis mine:

    I can call you bigoted, mean-spirited sophists who aren’t afraid to stretch the truth, or even lie, to make the case that certain people are calling out as bad behaviour certain behaviours that you yourselves enjoy far too much.

    So, since you’ve admitted to a “somewhat egregious exaggeration”, which fits well within the scope of the statement YOU cried foul about in two separate posts, why don’t you at least acknowledge your dishonesty instead of just dropping off a disingenuous and flippant “Yeah so”?

    You’ve acted in a condescending and dismissive manner to everyone who disagreed with you from the moment you showed up here. I see you’ve scaled that back now. Funny what changes when someone gets outed as, to all appearances, a dishonest troll.

    So why don’t you either go back and find the quotes necessary to answer Jason’s challenge, or show how ‘cunt’ was justified IN THE CONTEXT IT WAS USED IN BY PENN (No, despite your further efforts to dishonestly twist statements made by others, @2 and @13 do NOT accomplish that), because if you can’t do either of those things then you might as well move along. I for one am tired of your smug fucking attitude.

  11. 116

    2) The word “cunt” applied to a woman in America is a sexist slur, used in exactly the same vein as calling a black person a “nigger”

    Wow… well number 2 is not a fact and in fact shows far more privilege than I would expect to see on ftb. Cunt has never been used to completely dehumanize a full subset of the human race, where as that is the full purpose as terms such as nigger, fag, spic, etc.

    Up until the 1960s the word was almost never in use, and was certainly not as prevalent as, say, nigger:

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=cunt%2Cnigger&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=5&smoothing=3

    The 1960s brought a reduction in censorship, and a simple comparison to the words fuck, shit, piss, motherfucker, and tits (not even deadwood could revive cocksucker) show that the return of the word in fact is much more closely related to words considered taboo:

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=fuck%2Cshit%2Cpiss%2Ctits%2Ccunt%2Ccocksucker%2Cmotherfucker&year_start=1940&year_end=2008&corpus=5&smoothing=3

    So if you find cunt offensive let people know. But don’t let your privilege show by comparing it to nigger.

  12. 119

    @NJohnson
    Fantastic post. Perfectly states the problem with people comparing cunt, which has hardly ever been used to debase women as a class and whose connotations vary widely based on culture, to racial slurs, which have been commonly used for centuries to to describe entire groups of people as subhuman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *