August 24, 2012
The following contains some adult language used extremely childishly. Consider yourself forewarned, although, if you’ve been following the news enough recently to have gotten over the shock of hearing BBC reporters talk about the Russian punk band Pussy Riot you’re probably not going to be that upset about my language here. Unless of course you’re okay with hearing certain words spoken aloud but can’t deal with seeing them in print. I had an uncle like that. He loved listening to Richard Pryor albums but a copy of Tropic of Cancer would send him screaming from the room.
Some time ago a guy came up to me on the sidewalk. I was going to say "on the street", but I was walking on the sidewalk. For some reason people always say they were "walking down the street" or "on the street" when they mean they were on the sidewalk. If you’re in an area with sidewalks and you’re walking on the street for goodness sake get off the street because you’re just asking to get hit by a car. (Note: "for goodness sake" is not the adult language I warned you about previously, but it is coming up shortly, so you still have time to turn back.) The guy asked me if I had any change. I said no and apologized and walked on, thinking that was the end of it. For some reason this made him angry and he yelled, "You big pussy!" That was the end of it because I ignored him and kept walking, trying really hard not to laugh at the mental image what he’d said conjured. Although much less surreal than my first mental image I actually found it funnier to picture myself as a giant cat, first as a regular human body with a big Hello Kitty head, but then I decided I’d rather be some fancy breed of cat. Of course my first mental image involved "pussy" being a euphemism for "vagina", which got me wondering. I get that this is a term was meant to insult my manhood, to suggest that I’m weak. When did "pussy" become synonymous with "weak"? Rather than looking at history and the circumscribed role in which women were so often placed I’d like to point out that I don’t know of any other orifice or body part that’s capable or squeezing out another human being. Not to mention all those late night commercials for feminine hygiene products that baffle me and leave me with the impression that women have to worry a lot more about their anatomy than we guys do. This is probably why when I was growing up when many girls reached puberty they were given a pamphlet called "On Becoming A Woman". All we guys ever had to deal with was not being able to wear sweatpants for about three years and the awkward conversation that inevitably followed the discovery of a stash of latex gloves or a copy of Stephen King’s Silver Bullet under our mattress, but that’s another story.
Unfortunately the history of "pussy" meaning "weak" seems to have everything to do with its association with women, and it seems to be a euphemism with a very long history, even though "pussy" also has a long history as a synonym for "cat". After all pussy willows have been called that for hundreds of years, and I doubt anyone looked at them and said, "You know what those remind me of? That Andrew Lloyd Weber musical." But let’s say, just because he obviously wasn’t playing with a full deck, that the guy on the street really was calling me a big cat. It’s not much of an insult because cats aren’t exactly weak either. And I’m not talking about lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, and ocelots, none of which you’d want to meet in a dark alley, or even on a sunny sidewalk. I’m talking about housecats, the ones who will kill birds and other small animals and bring them to you. And that’s if they like you. As I said I wouldn’t mind being a cat, especially a fancy breed, and I certainly wouldn’t consider being mistaken for one an insult. Cats helped end the Black Plague in Europe, although part of the reason for the plague in the first place is that people were suspicious of cats because they were associated with witches. Not that there’s anything wrong with witches, who were almost always women, which further undermines any belief that women are weak because if witches are women and women are weak then why would anyone fear witches, aside from the possibility that witches, unlike most women, weigh the same as a duck? Anyway, cats helped end the plague because the cats ate the rats that carried the fleas that bit the frog that ate the wasp that killed the spider that chased the fly, but I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.