Planet Waves | Genexhibitionist by Maya Dexter - Review of Cunt


Genexhibitionist | By Maya Dexter
Planet Waves Digital Media | in St. Louis

I JUST READ A BOOK. Well, I didn't so much read it, more like it Happened to me. Usually when we read a book we enter its world. Rare that a book that actually enters ours. And then stays.

A friend sent me an email one day: "Go get Cunt, A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. It LIT my MIND on FIRE." Well, okay. hard to turn down an invitation like that, especially from a guy. Thus began the epic journey of my experience with Cunt, long before I ever managed to lay my hands upon its odd undersized pink and yellow cover, lit with a bright fuschia gerbera daisy and one of the most inflammatory words in the English language.

Getting my hands on Cunt was a little complicated and actually a lot of fun. During my lunch hour one day I decided to jaunt on over to the formerly-independent bookstore recently-gobbled in one bite by a giant-chain book emporium (The Library Ltd. in St. Louis, now Borders). It was big enough, I figured, that it was sure to have this title in stock. I walked straight to the Women's Studies section and scanned its small four-shelf unit. I scanned it again. No love. I approached a tall, timid looking thirty-something guy with a bookstore nametag in what would be my very first cuntpositive gesture. "Excuse me," I said in a clear confident voice. I looked him square in the eye and asked, with that same confidence, "do you have Cunt?"

Pregnant pause.

He jerked away his gaze. "I'm sorry, did you say, 'Tent'?"

"Nope. Cunt. D'you have it?" I was positively grinning inside, thinking how just a years ago I would never have been able to ask this question, let alone have this much fun doing it.


His voice rose several octaves and shimmied back down a few more as he replied, "let me check on that." He tappity-tapped at his computer terminal for about a minute while I sung my Glorias of internal praise. He led me back to Women's Studies and hastily scanned those same shelves that had procured no such copy only minutes ago. After about 3.2 seconds he mumbled that it must be sold out and vanished, leaving me alone again in the Women's Studies section. It was the most fun I've ever had not getting a book.

A week later I was on an errand to The Body Shop in the local mall, and I decided, what the heck I was there, to try out the mall chain bookstore. It didn't even have a Women's Studies section. I asked another less timid man if they had Cunt and he ran a much less timid search, which procured a note saying that book was not kept in stock. Would I like to special order it? Not from a bookstore without a Women's Studies section, thanks. Strike two, a smug, but slightly more frustrated smile on my face as I walked through its doorway empty handed.

I finally went to the monolith chain bookstore that was in my path on the day my husband and I were due to leave town for a retreat weekend at a lodge in the country, all expenses paid by his company, spouses included. This was essentially a big thank you to his department for being a big revenue producer at the expense of quality time with their families. Now, I am not a society wife -- I am horrible at being artificially nice. I dreaded this weekend with every fiber of my being. I hunted down Cunt to be sure that I didn't suffer for the entire time. This time I asked a woman for help. She took me to the Gay & Lesbian Studies section and procured it immediately, & said it had caught her eye as she was shelving it. I told her my experiences at the other bookstores and we giggled together for a minute before parting ways. I should've known I could only get Cunt from a woman. I felt like I'd just passed my initiation.

I spent the weekend curled up in bed with Cunt, largely ignoring the section of "normal society," a group of people who think vegetarians eat chicken, to whom I had been thrown like a Christian to a pack of hungry lions. Oh well, it was downtime I desperately needed, anyway.

It was a transformation I desperately needed, too.

Normally I have a tough time with non-fiction, because there's an unspoken law among many writers that says all non-fiction will not be taken seriously if you arouse any emotion in your readers. Facts must bore people to tears or they can't be real. And so unless I'm really devoted to a subject, I use non-fiction for its sedative properties more often than any other purpose. But Inga Muscio talks to you in flowing animated conversation, like your best friend over a bottle of wine, dressed in jammies. She makes the trials of being a woman more dish than daunting, like a top-secret club with a special pass-organ. She makes feminism cool and fun. And miracle of miracles, she wrote a revolutionary book that was impossible to put down.

Inga Muscio

My relationship with my body and with my role as a female is inexorably different since Cunt happened to me. I used to be one of those women who thought gender equality was beginning to balance out rather nicely. In my world there are lots of single women executives driving nice cars and taking no shit from nobody. To me this was progress. But there seems to be more to it than that. Ms. Muscio brought the view below the surface into focus like one of those magic eye pictures. It just never occurred to me that our bodies are controlled largely by men, that we work like hell every hour of every day to please them, or that we are largely disposable to most nations. It changed my view of the world, to say the least. I find myself using phrases like "cuntpositive" and "cunthatred" more and more as I look at the world from my vantage-point through less rosy lenses.

Her book begins with lore about how to care for our "anatomical jewels" that has largely been swept under the rug in these days of stainless steel and chemical medicine. I never knew that gauging the consistency of my very own juicy juice could divine the extent of my fertility. The information in this section alone makes it well worth the fifteen bucks. She makes you think about who's got their money invested in your body. She made me want to quit my birth control pills, throw out my tampons for sea sponges, and fire my OB/GYN. And that was just in the first third of the book.

But not all of Cunt is so inspiring or easy to read. In parts it made me feel so downright uncomfortable as to want to put it down and look away. It made me cry, it made me scared, it made me sacred. It is the parts that are hard to look at that are perhaps the most important ones in her book. It is easy to want to reject these parts in order to put some sort of distance between it and us. It is imperative that we do not. For my entire life I have simply ignored the threat of assault. I never will again. Manual and manifesto, tear-jerker and reality-jerker, this is the single most important book I have ever read.

Just about everyone who has read Cunt has a strong opinion of it. If you don't believe me, look it up on and read through all those reviews and note the dozens of people who responded to each of them. If you read this book, it will affect you personally. Period. There will be a phrase that sticks out in your mind, perhaps to the exclusion of all other points in the book. The thing I hear the most is that Ms. Muscio dismisses men, and therefore the book is simplistic and rejects the important role that certain men play in our lives. On the contrary, Muscio begins her book with the assertion that she is referring to "men" in a specific context and fully appreciates the relationship and artistic merits of specific men. "That said, the author is free to talk some serious shit." Her appreciation of men is elucidated consistently across the book. The problem is not with individual men; the problem is with society. I think that very few people could argue with that.

I read this book very carefully. If I found myself tangent off into my own thoughts, I backed up just to be sure I didn't miss anything important. Each word sticks out in my mind. Each phrase is important. Each idea changed the way I look at the world, from billboards to bills. But this sentence above all others affected me: "Women artists are required to explain our presence, to defend our identity, to speak for our multitudes, and men are not." Her point exemplifies the way women are expected to fit themselves into a patriarchal world, whether in terms of art, business, or relationships. Ms. Muscio strips down all the illusions and gets right to the point: we don't get to make any of the rules, but we're expected to play by them, even though they are designed to ensure that we lose. The fewer illusions we have about this, the better.

Fortunately, the reader is not left to wallow in the hopelessness of this. Muscio has offered up a simple and workable solution to the inequality so ubiquitous, and so ingrained into our society as to go unnoticed: support women in whatever they do. I met a woman in the park this week who is writing a screenplay about a wealthy black neighborhood in Atlanta, the one that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came from. She said, "do you know what was the downfall of that neighborhood? It was Dr. King himself, because he urged the wealthy blacks in the community to assert their right to shop in white stores. That took the money away from black businesses. He was trying to fight for their rights, but ended up putting a lot of people in a worse place." And now you see bumper stickers that say "buy black." This is the sort of one step forward, two steps back dance that we are forced to use to progress in a country where the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn't been fully ratified. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. That woman was afraid her screenplay would never make it. I got her phone number, and will do everything in my power to help make sure that I someday pay $10 to see it on the big screen. That is cuntpositive. That is what we can do.


Cunt changed my view of the world. I hear conversations differently, see commercials through different eyes, and notice tiny gestures that never caught my attention before. It has drastically changed my impressions of women. I no longer judge them so harshly, nor do I feel so threatened by them. We're all victims here; we've all been culturally brainwashed in the same sink. So in a world where we have so much to overcome we should be helping each other out, not scratching each other's eyes out. I've got a lot more backs these days. It has changed my impressions of men, too. I no longer see a savior or protector in them; I see how society has taught them that conquering things masks their fear well. These days I make fewer excuses for men who hate women and I sing higher, louder praises for those who don't. I feel more powerful than I have ever felt in my entire life. For the first time ever I feel lucky to be a woman. With her casual, friendly vernacular, Ms. Muscio coaxed me into accepting the role as the "Cuntlovin' Ruler of my Sexual Universe."

Cunt also changed my view of the word. I'll never invoke it with loathing upon anyone again. I know I can't expect so much from the world. In writing this review, every time I typed in "cunt" it is underscored with a red squiggly line, like menstrual blood calligraphy, indicating that my word processing program doesn't like it. It knows all sorts of other four letter words, it even knows "patriarchy", but it screams in red when I type in "cunt", the sacred word defiled and reclaimed so beautifully and personally in the pages of the book after which it was named. Oh well, I guess as they say, 'change comes from within'. Incidentally, I made my PC learn it, now I kinda miss my ruddy emphasis.

That a two-hundred-and-seventy-six page book could completely revolutionize my life still makes me dizzy. I want to buy a million of these books, attach little parachutes to them, and airdrop them all over the world. I want to pick up Inga Muscio in a big embrace and twirl her around the room. If you have a cunt, or love someone who has one, go buy this book. Buy a whole case, because you'll want to give them to everyone you love. Read it and re-read it until you have it memorized. Prepare to light your mind on fire.++

Illustration above: "To Be Reborn" by the late Mexican artist Remedios Varo.

Excerpt from Cunt

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