The Brazen Word

A Jan. 18 New York Post headline read “‘V’ Word Too Hot for St. J’s U.'” At first reading, the muddled acronym at the end drew my interest as the latest butchering of this University’s continuing abbreviated identity crisis. A follow-up story on Jan. 20 reading “‘Students Eye ‘V’ Loophole'” refocused my attention to the possible inferences made by such a one-letter representation.

The most common use of a phrase of this nature is frequented in a mentioning of the “F” word or the “N” word, both of which are considered too offensive to articulate even when quoting a movie line or rap lyric.

Is the “V” word now analogous to a curse word or racial slur? Is its repetition in the play and inclusion in the title the most offensive parts of the “‘V’ word Monologues”?

The “F” word, derived from early modern English, is often said to originally mean “to strike” or “penetrate.” Its modern usage connotes copulation (rather crudely) or, more commonly, an intensified “damn.” Its origin, much like its present-day meaning, is violent and crass.

The “N” word, the most offensive of the trio, derives from the Latin “negro” meaning “black.” Another definition of the word indicates a “burning charring at intervals,” both of which have added to a contemporary slang usage that has come to indicate intra-cultural brotherhood and inter-cultural hate.

The etymology of the “V” word is very different. The term originates from the Latin word meaning “sheath” or scabbard.” Since as far back as we can remember, the passageway to the womb has been held sacred as the avenue for intercourse and birth. Now, in 2007, the “V” word has lost its connection to anatomy through newly formulated connotation indicating sexual excess and vulgarity.

But what about its male counterpart? When the “P” word appears in cinema, the film is usually rated “NC-17.” Film buffs can probably count the number of movies featuring full-frontal male nudity on just two hands-twice by Harvey Keitel in “The Piano” and “Bad Lieutenant” and at least four times by Ewan McGregor, among others.

If female frontal nudity is the most crass part of a film, though, the chance of a more modest “R” rating is much more likely.

Elayne Rapping, a professor of women’s studies and media studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo told the Associated Press in February 2004 that today’s gender-selective mainstream nudity has precedence throughout human history.
“That’s been a constant of Western culture for centuries in representational art – that women have been presented as objects for what in film theory is called ‘the male gaze,'” Rapping said. “The assumed viewer is male, and the woman is to be looked at for male pleasure.”

One theory regarding the double standard suggests that while women have several areas to satisfy an onlooker-a beautiful face and legs may offset other, usually clothed features, a man can never offset the “P” word that has too often identified male virility.

Numerous gender theorists suggest that female sexuality, a subject of male desire, has maintained a subservient relationship to its male opposite. While feminine nudity has typically identified women as sexual objects, male nudity is too threatening to masculine autonomy-it seems, as we have constructed it, unnatural.

So why the “V” in alluding to the “V” word? Is it not just as potentially offensive to refer to the word by its first letter as it is to spell it out in its entirety?

Apparently not.

In an era where we so often assume that we are, after all the past centuries of useless tradition and prudishness, finally progressive, the issue over the “V” word and its articulation remain too taboo for our enlightened society.

While this problem of vulgarity and anatomy seems illogical and strange, the truth remains that we are a people driven by sentiment over reason. It’s clear that the “V” word tragically remains as shocking and vulgar as its “F” and “N” contemporaries.