Essay: Fuck is a Feminist Word

When the fascist fucks in your country use a pandemic to tighten their grip on your body with a near total ban on abortion, the path to freedom must be paved with profanity. Politeness is capitulation.

And Polish feminists know it.

In daily protests organized by the feminist initiative Women’s Strike, they chanted “fuck off,” held massive banners that told the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) government to “Get the fuck out” and “PiS off,” and carried the rainbow pride flag in recognition of the dovetailing of feminist and LGBTQ resistance to the fascist fuckery of the State.

A flag carried by a young woman at a protest in Gdynia, picture by Magdalena Oroń (sent to me via Instagram)

On Sunday, women and queer activists disrupted masses as they yelled “obscenities” to protest the Catholic Church’s support for the latest abortion restriction, A video posted from the northern Polish city of Szczecinek showed young women surrounding a priest and yelling at him to “Go back to the church” and to “fuck off.”

LGBTQ rights group Grupa Stonewall posted a video showing people protesting in a church in the western Polish city of Poznan, chanting “We've had enough!” Churchgoers replied by chanting “Barbarians!”

On Tuesday evening, ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski called on his party's supporters to defend churches "at any cost,” and on Wednesday riot police were deployed in Poland after seven consecutive days of protests..

The enforcers of the fuckery of patriarchy unveiled themselves for what we’ve always known them to be: the fascist trinity comprised of far-right groups, the police, and the church. While the first two worked in unison to block and remove women’s rights protestors who tried to enter churches, the third played the civility card.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, the president of Poland’s episcopal conference effectively called the protesters hysterical: “Profanity, violence, abusive inscriptions, and the disturbance of services and profanations that have been committed in recent days—although they may help some people to defuse their emotions—are not the right way to act in a democratic state.”

Patriarchy insists on controlling our mouths just as it insists it controls our wombs.

There is nothing polite about a rigged system. The constitutional tribunal which ruled last week that abortion due to foetal defects was unconstitutional, was packed with loyalists of PiS, which has been accused of eroding judicial independence.

There is nothing polite or civil about patriarchy.

Many of the articles about the protests in Poland, especially captions of photographs showing protestors holding signs such as one that read “If I wanted politics in my vagina, I’d fuck a senator,” were preceded by warnings that profanity lay ahead, to protect the sensibility of the reader. Where are the warnings that precede patriarchy and its violence against women and queer people?

Just days before Polish women’s rights activists began their deliberately profane protests, patriarchy in the UK unveiled itself for what we’ve always known it to be: a thin-skinned white man.

In a country where the Boris Johnson government has shown it does not give a flying fuck about Black and people of colour disproportionately affected by the pandemic, a member of the Conservative Party managed to derail a debate about economic aid during lockdown because an opposition politician called him “scum.” Because really, what is more important: people barely able to make ends meet or the ego of a Conservative politician?

Thin-skinned white men win every time.

Surely that people are left to suffer in poverty should offend us more than insults lobbed at any thin-skinned politician. Surely poverty is more violent than any words used in a “debate” about it

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, was forced to apologise for calling Conservative MP Chris Clarkson “scum” in the House of Commons after he gave a cynical and craven speech criticizing her party’s opposition to the government’s handling of the pandemic. Rayner had opened the parliamentary debate by saying that her aunt had died the week before of Covid.

Again, what is more important: a woman still grieving her aunt, whose loss fueled her plea for compassion for those in need of help, or the ego of a Conservative politician?

Thin-skinned white men win every time.

Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher condemned Rayner, saying “Today she has shamed Manchester, shamed this house and she should apologise.”

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has defended his refusal to extend free school meals for children in England over the half-term holiday, saying he was "very proud" of the government's support so far. In a country where there is no shame in letting children go hungry, a politician who protested against greed and lack of compassion is shamed.

We are not obligated to show respect to those in power. I refuse to allow those who don't recognize my full humanity to expect politeness of me.

There is nothing polite or civil about capitalist patriarchy, which tightens its grip around our necks and demands an apology when we dare to bite the hand that refuses to feed. Surely that people are left to suffer in poverty should offend us more than insults lobbed at any thin-skinned politician. Surely poverty is more violent than any words used in a “debate” about it.

Who determines what is “civil” and what is “rude?” Who benefits from upholding those social codes? Civility, decorum, manners and the like are used to uphold authority--patriarchy, whiteness, wealth, other forms of privilege--and we are urged to acquiesce in service to maintaining that authority. Whether we are urged to be civil to racists or polite to patriarchy, the goal is the same: to maintain the power of the racist, to maintain the power of patriarchy.

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Dictators, authoritarians, and patriarchs demand obedience, despise disruption, and are especially angered by disrespect. They consider any demand for accountability a form of disrespect. How dare we question them? How dare we expect justice? How dare we dare to be anything but quivering and fearful? How dare we tell them to fuck off, for any reason at all?

We are not obligated to show respect to those in power. I refuse to allow those who don't recognize my full humanity to expect politeness of me.

Polish protesters and British politicians alike would do well to learn about Ugandan feminist scholar Stella Nyanzi who has harnassed profanity into a political force. She was put on trial for offending the longtime dictator of her country and during her sentencing famously yelled “Fuck you fuck you fuck you” and bared and jiggled her breasts. She is running for a seat in the Ugandan parliament in the 2021 elections and she is not shutting up.

Stella Nyanzi leaving court in February after her release. She donned a tiara and a sash that read “FUCK OPPRESSION” and began to address crowdsPhotograph: Sumy Sadurni/AFP via Getty Images.

"If decent language has not been used to effect change on behalf of Ugandans, of what use is it? I would rather insult and change things, revise the balance of power, than keep quiet or be polite in ways that do not change anything," she said.

Patriarchy insists on controlling our mouths and our vaginas and by extension, everything that enters and exits those orifices. Patriarchy reserves for itself the right to offend, the power to be obscene. When I talk about vaginas I want to be clear: not all women have vaginas and vaginas are not exclusively female. It is patriarchy that insists that we follow the dictates of a strict gender binary. It is within that strictly cisgender, heteronormative and heterosexual - and often wealthy and conservative and able-bodied - world that vaginas must be controlled and language policed.

Polite feminism is capitulation. These times of fascism and greed must be met with the political power of profanity. What would the world look like if the energy policing mouths and vaginas was invested instead into policing the very real harm of patriarchal violence?

With that world in mind, my declaration of faith is simple: fuck the patriarchy.

And my message to all patriarchs is clear: stay out of my vagina unless I want you in there.



Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.

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