September 2002

Michael Schaub


Cunt - A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio

"If you have one, you need to read this!" So advised the handmade sign at my local independent bookstore, put there, apparently, by an employee whose life had been changed by Inga Muscio's first book. I don't have one, but was interested nonetheless. After all, the back cover boasts a fawning blurb from Joan Jett (who I didn't know dabbled in literary criticism, but there you have it). Publishers Seal Press promise the reader "humor and candor," and who doesn't like humor and candor? Who am I not to trust Joan Jett and the bookstore employee with a penchant for hyperbole?

As it happens, one of my closest friends offered to lend me Cunt as long as I promised to never return it to her, and to never mention Muscio's name in her presence again. My editor, who also read it, can't talk about it without clenching her teeth in suppressed rage. I sort of wondered why until I read the book myself. Cunt is bad in every way it is possible for a book to be bad. It is impossible to read a sentence of this book without feeling deeply embarrassed for Muscio. There is, literally, nothing good about it. Reading Cunt is an experience comparable only to being stuck in an elevator for two weeks with the most obnoxious gender studies major to ever attend college in western Massachusetts.

It's a bad sign when a book starts to fall apart in the author's note, but here we go: "Unless otherwise stated, throughout this book the words 'gentleman,' 'man' and the like are used to refer to the tightly knit, male social power structure as it is recognized in American patriarchal society." If that sentence means nothing to you, you are obviously not hip to "third-wave feminism" -- not an ideology, but a pop-psychology movement for which Muscio is a chief spokesperson. The third-wave vocabulary is overflowing with vague terms that go mostly undefined -- "patriarchy," "consciousness raising," "woman-positive." In fact, it's hard to even explain what Muscio's book is about without using the movement's New Age doublespeak.

Muscio's stated goal has something to do with reconciling, empowering and uniting, though it's never really clear to what end. She believes, correctly, that women have been historically marginalized and made to feel bad about their bodies. Somehow, she thinks the problem could be solved if only women would start to embrace the word "cunt" as the "ancient term of respect" it is. It's hard to trust Muscio's etymological chops, though, when she attributes the word's origins to pretty much every language in the world besides the one it actually comes from (Dutch). In fact, Muscio admits as much: "Perhaps, as some 'historians' may have it, I fabricated the historic considerations in reassessing the way we presently perceive 'cunt.'" I'm not sure what the difference between historians and "historians" is; suffice it to say history is one of the many fields of study that Muscio dismisses out of hand.

Medicine is another. Or, as Muscio would specify, "Western medicine." (This is a New Age term that translates roughly as "medicine that actually works.") Muscio, an adherent of naturopathy, doesn't approve: "Western medicine, that smelly, deaf dog who farts across the house and that we just don't have the heart to put out of its misery, is based on a law opposed to the one the rest of the universe seems to go by, namely: Healing Has Nothing to Do with You, Just Follow the Directions on the Label." I admit to a little sensitivity here. I've been to the emergency room four times in the past six years, and each time, my life was literally saved by Western medicine. Apparently Muscio's been a lot luckier than me. I haven't heard of an herb that can stop massive bleeding, remove a tumor or restore breathing to a suffocating patient. Muscio's contempt is especially evident when she speaks of men in the women's health care industry, sneering at the birth control pill, IUDs and diaphragms because they are all produced by "male-dominated" companies. This is the same industry, by the way, that conducts Pap tests and mammography, so it's hard to understand Muscio's allegations of systematic misogyny.

Muscio's complete and total misunderstanding of the health care field is particularly disturbing when she discusses abortion. She recounts her own experience getting an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic: "We were shuffled through the clinic like beef cows. All of the women had the same horror-stricken, empty look on their faces." Sound familiar? Radical pro-lifers use the exact same language to slander women's health clinics. This is language that is meant to invoke the Holocaust, and its inclusion in a supposedly "feminist" book is troubling. Do the women and men of Planned Parenthood really deserve to be compared to Nazis? Apparently so. And pro-choice pioneers aren't spared either: Muscio's definition of reproductive choice is "the choice to get my insides ruthlessly sucked out by some inhuman shitpile, not invented by my foremothers, but by someone who would never, ever in a million years have that tube jammed up his dickhole and turned on full blast, slurping everything in its path."

All of this might be remotely forgivable if Muscio didn't go on to sing the praises of herbal abortion, a mostly ineffective, always dangerous practice condemned by a majority of physicians and nurses. Muscio claims that she induced a miscarriage with a lot of love, massage, magic, meditation, and, oh yeah, blue cohosh root and pennyroyal. Herbal abortions work only insofar as they poison the mother, sickening her to the point where she can't sustain the fetus. Countless women have died attempting herbal abortions, and it's unbelievably irresponsible for Muscio and Seal Press to tacitly encourage it.

Thankfully, most women are too educated and savvy to fall for it. And this pisses Muscio off something awful. "In my country, women don't seem to like each other much at all," Muscio writes. "Sucky, sucky, sucky vibes." Indeed. But it never seems to occur to her that she might be part of the problem. My two friends, both of whom literally threw the book across the room while reading it, sure don't like Muscio much, and I'm guessing it has something to do with her patronizing tone. Women who buy tampons are dupes, Muscio tells us, and smugly insists that sea sponges are better. If I were a woman, I think I'd resent her presumptuous, I-know-what's-best-for-you attitude. Muscio is no pessimist, though -- she believes all women can find it in their hearts to love one another "based on the sole criteria [sic] of what our cunts have been through for the past few thousand years." My friends and I doubt that.

As much as Muscio seems to misunderstand her fellow women, her opinions about men are even more hateful and dysfunctional: "...(T)he general male response towards the rape of a friend, relative or lover is outraged, self-righteous indignation. I've seen this reaction a number of times, and believe men react this way because it gives them a chance to prove to themselves what good non-raping men they are." This disgusting libel has the effect of dehumanizing men, which seems to be Muscio's real goal. To insinuate that men don't feel empathy toward loved ones who have been sexually assaulted is one of the lowest forms of bigotry I can imagine. She also claims that men are routinely turned on by rape scenes in movies, that men are categorically incapable of thinking with anything besides their genitals. She even recycles the old Super Bowl Sunday Lie, a suburban myth that claims domestic violence rates go up on the NFL's biggest day. The story has been discredited by just about every newsgathering organization in the country. As loathsome as her anti-Western medicine propaganda is, it's finally Muscio's deep-seated misandry that makes this book a fine example of anti-male propaganda.

Third-wave feminism remains popular among certain left-wing academics. It has a definite appeal -- you can feel like you're changing the world without doing anything. But what kind of future is there for a movement that preaches all men are potential rapists? Muscio is selling non-answers packaged as answers, New Age pop psychology packaged as sociology. I don't know how Joan Jett fell for this, but I should have listened to my friends when they told me to stay away. Cunt just has too many lies for one book, for one author, for one career. I've tried to stretch my imagination, but I really don't think I'll ever read a book as worthless, as insignificant, as bad as this book again.