Blog
Once I refused to look at myself the way the patriarchal world did, words like 'slut' simply stopped having any effect.
Image for representation.

Like most south Indian middle class women who went to elite yet conservative schools, I did not use 'bad words' until I went to college. In those days, when the Internet wasn't around for immediate enlightenment, I remember stealthily learning the meaning of the word 'fuck' from the giant Oxford English Dictionary that sat in our drawing room. An investment my Tamil medium educated ambitious father made for his two children.

The 'bad words' were for the boys who considered the acquisition of this vocabulary to be as necessary as a moustache to grow into manhood. Many of the English words, in those days, came from watching WWE (it was WWF then) and they would practise the wrestling moves and the abuse in the school corridors with the solemn expression of having achieved admission into an exclusive club.

I didn't mind it. I even found it strangely exciting. I was among the girls who laughed at dirty jokes and found them clever. It never occurred to me, however, that I could use those words, too. I forbade myself before anyone else could.

The Tamil 'bad words' were a lot more hard to stomach. They sounded cheap, crass. The first time I was called 'thevidiya' was on the road, I was in school uniform and crossing the road to buy a puff from the bakery opposite the school. I don't remember why I was called that but I remember my face turning hot, my body trembling with fear. And shame. I don't remember the face of the man who said it but I remember the moment.

It was in college, a women's college, that I finally learnt the meanings of many of the words I'd grown up listening. The girls around me used these words, in Tamil and English, with abandon.

Perhaps it was the security of being in all women environment where we didn't have to play at being women all the time. We didn't care if our bra straps peeked. If we sat with one leg up. If we wolfed down our food, gravy dribbling down our chin. We discussed men, what turned us on and what didn't. Nobody worried about what the outside world would think. Within that campus, we could be people with human desires.

We didn't have to act like women. We could just be women.

It was also in college that I discovered feminism, understood why I was so angry about the world around me.

It was in college that I understood I was right to be angry.

I enjoyed using 'bad words' to express my frustration. It was liberating to say 'I don't give a fuck' at last - a phrase that often captured my response to the many opinions imposed on me by a patriarchal system. I had never been able to articulate my response with the appropriate emotion before this.

I began to analyze the vocabulary of abuse which had fascinated and frightened me at one point. I realised that really, these words that men throw at women to silence them like a deadly 'Avada Kedavra' curse were so predictable all over the world, whichever language you consider.

Variations of slut, references to genitals and pubic hair. And if you are a man, references to the women in your family or your emasculation.

The line of sophistication that separated English abuse from abuse in other languages blurred. I had found English more acceptable because the men uttering these words were more likely to belong to my own social class. The Tamil abuse came from men on the streets. Or at least, the 'classy' men tended to keep the Tamil abuse to their all male circles.

All abuse began to look the same. And predictable.

I asked a drunken man who was leaning against me on a public bus to move away. He called me 'thevidiya'. I laughed on his face.

Once I refused to look at myself the way the patriarchal world did, words like 'slut' simply stopped having any effect. I was a slut because I did what I wanted. I didn't shudder anymore. I was proud. I wore the label on my sleeve.

As for genital names, I found them funny. Though those who use these words pride themselves on being 'bold', it is really our discomfort with sex and sexuality which has turned the names of these organs into words of abuse. Nobody calls anyone a hand or a foot, for instance.

Most of us are here in the world because we came out of someone's vagina and yet, in popular culture, it's an organ of shame and cowardice. Calling someone a dick or an asshole is an attack on their attitude. Calling someone a pussy or a cunt is to 'reduce' them to just that one organ - weak, unable to defend, meant to be screwed. I've always found this ridiculous and after childbirth, even more so.

Once I understood abusive words, I became immune to them. It even became boring to hear the same words. There is a singular lack of creativity in how men abuse women and it didn't help their already unattractive personalities.

I remember a random stranger on the Internet sent me a picture of his penis because he didn't like what I'd written. I suggested that he tie a ribbon around it to make it more presentable. I found it hilarious that this man thought I'd look at his picture, curl up and die. That he had so much power over me, a woman he didn't know at all.

He is not alone.

A lot of men who verbally abuse women believe they have that kind of power over them, the power to use words they assume the women themselves would never use.

Most times, their target is a woman who has crossed a line. A line they've drawn for her though they don't know her at all. They are under the belief that these words will make us shrivel, shiver, turn us into abashed little girls who must hide our faces.

They don't realise that there is no shame in our anger. That we protest not because we're worried about our 'reputation' but because the abuse eats into our time and we'd rather do something else than read the five 'bad words' they've painstakingly typed over and over again. It's boring.

It's like dealing with an annoying fly buzzing around you. Distracting but insignificant. You feel compelled to swat it not because you fear it but because you'd rather not have it around. You fling a newspaper at it while thinking about the work you have to do, the plans you've made with your friends.

The fly, however, believes you are spending all your life and resources trying to get rid of it. The fly derives its self importance from the attention it believes you are showing it. It thinks you care.

When actually, you don't give a fuck.

(Views expressed are the author's own.)