A Challenge to the Media: Say the Word ‘Pussy’

As publications tie themselves in knots to avoid printing the word, we should be asking ourselves why we treat it like an obscenity.

What's up, Pussycat? (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

What’s up, Pussycat? (Photo: Getty Images)

When it comes to using profanities, every media outlet has its own standard.

The lack of consensus on curses came into sharp focus today when Fox news analyst Ralph Peters called the president a slang term for a part of the female anatomy. You know, it’s an expression used by frat boys to challenge each other’s masculinity. It’s a word, which starts with the letter ‘P’ and ends with letter ‘Y,’ that is a synonym for a cat. It’s also the first part of the name of a Russian punk protest band that ends with the word “Riot.”

You know what? That’s enough equivocating. Mr. Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, called Mr. Obama a “total pussy.” Stuart Varney, the host of the Fox Business Network show on which Mr. Peters made the offending remark, called the analyst out.

“I can tell you are super angry, and I asked you what your reaction was, but I have got to call you — you can’t use language like that on the program, OK? I’m sorry,” Mr. Varney said.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Peters said, before going on to criticize the president some more.

Clueless actress-turned Fox contributor Stacey Dash also came under fire for using a synonym for saying that she doesn’t give a synonym for excrement that starts with an ‘S’ about the president’s speech on terrorism.

In response to the ensuing outrage, the television network suspended the contributors for a fortnight.

“Earlier today, Fox contributors Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and Stacey Dash made comments on different programs that were completely inappropriate and unacceptable for our air,” Fox senior executive vice president Bill Shine said in a statement. “Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel do not condone the use of such language, and have suspended both Peters and Dash for two weeks.”

Suspension notwithstanding, the media coverage of Mr. Peters’ comment underscores publication’s problematic relationship with the word “pussy.”

According to CNN.com, Mr. Peters called Mr. Obama a “total pu—.” At the Daily News, he was “a total p—y.” The Daily BeastMaxim and Esquire avoided printing the whole word by replacing the ‘u’ with an asterisk. The Daily Caller used an asterisk for the ‘u’ and  first ‘s’ in its headline (but went with the word in full in the actual story).  The Washington Post gingerly referenced the “vulgar” word in its headline. Iconoclastic Gawker posted the actual word in both headline and story, but sarcastically avoided mentioning Fox in the headline (“Someone Called Obama a Pussy on Live TV Today Guess Which Network,” the website coyly, if ungrammatically, wrote).

The famously prudish New York Times has not yet weighed in, but, as we wrote last year, the paper of record overcame its struggle against printing “pussy” in 2014, when refusing to use Pussy Riot’s full name became absurd. However, the profanity adverse paper does still operate on a case by case basis (as highlighted by a recent story that pulled off the linguistically acrobatic feat of publishing an entire story about vulgarities without using any of the actual words themselves).

The word itself, of course, is not intrinsically unprintable. It has been in use as a shorthand for felines for literally hundreds of years. It is only its more recent usage that has rendered it vulgar.

The real problem with the current meaning of the word, and what we should actually be upset about, is that a slang term for the vagina is treated like a curse word.

A Challenge to the Media: Say the Word ‘Pussy’