Cuck: What’s in a Name?
If you’ve been paying attention to any alt-right or “men’s rights” twitter accounts and blogs you will have seen this hot new insult getting thrown around the interwebs: cuck. Pretty much any male who reads this blog or listens to our show is someone who could be called a cuck, regardless of anything else about them. If you’ve never heard this term used, then you are likely experiencing the joys of Facebook’s (and others’) algorithms that keep us socially isolated online, only exposing us to posts we will “like,” which usually means those by like-minded people.
According to Know Your Meme, the word cuck started showing up online as early as 2007 but has seen a drastic increase in usage in the past couple years, with a large spike during this last US election season. The word cuck is a shortening of the word cuckold, which you may remember from studying Shakespeare in school, though it’s been used since the 13th century. Cuckold is an insult that refers to a man who is unaware his wife is having sex with another man. The modern cuck was originally used online with almost the same meaning. It was used to make fun of men whose girlfriend or wife had an affair or was rumored to have been affectionate with someone else. While it can still have that meaning, the word is now more often used to describe men who support racial and gender equality (including immigrant rights) or who seem to allow women to be in charge. Just do a search on Twitter for the term “cuck” and see what you find. WARNING: it’s not a pretty sight.
It’s important to note here that cuckolding also refers to a surprisingly popular sexual fetish where men are aroused by fantasizing about or actually having their wife have sex with other men (separately or while he watches). According to a Discover Magazine article in 2011, cuckold porn is the second-most-popular heterosexual fetish search on English-language search engines and is an extremely popular topic in online erotica. For more information about the science and background of the cuckold fetish you can read more here. What’s important to realize is that calling someone a cuck has likely gained so much traction because a LOT of men actually find cuckolding arousing but won’t admit it so they use it as an insult instead, as a way to mask their own embarrassment and establish their manliness.
Adding Injury to Insult
So why do men feel the need to call each other a cuck when they disagree with them? First of all, the underlying purpose of using an insult like this is to dehumanize someone who disagrees with you. Most people actually have a hard time doing terrible things to other humans (imagine that!) but it becomes much easier when you stop treating a group as humans and instead refer to them as something that is less than that, less unique. This technique of dehumanization has allowed humanity to do some terrible things like slavery, genocide, war, sex trafficking, and much more. By grouping people together and giving them a derogatory name, we stop seeing them as individuals and can more easily ignore their concerns or opinions as a group, rather than having to choose to ignore each one.
The second part is even more insidious and that is the underlying anti-female and anti-people-of-color sentiment. Many of these conservative groups already use sexism, racism, and dehumanization to put down any groups that are not in their majority. Things like discriminatory hiring and voting as well as attempting to put legal restrictions on these minorities (e.g., bathroom bills against trans-gender people) or refusing to legally help them (e.g., attacks on planned parenthood, repeal of hate-speech laws, Trump’s ban on refugees). While most people reading this blog would agree that is already bad, now there is a term being used to insult another white male by calling him a cuck if he does anything to promote equality for women or people of color. This is even used to insult someone who is simply not conservative, racist, or sexist enough, as in the term “cuckservative", used to describe more moderate conservatives. People who are referred to as cuckservatives by the alt-right include Lindsay Graham, Karl Rove, and even Jeb Bush.
Perhaps the most tragic part of this is that, in our culture (even among liberals), we still have such deeply ingrained ideas of a man needing to have sexual control over his woman that an insult about her secret infidelity can be so effective. While the term may be used by the alt-right today primarily in relation to immigration policy, every time it is used and every time we react to it as an insult, the toxic idea of men controlling women’s sexuality is being perpetuated.
Words as Cultural Weapons
In addition to being appropriated for political reasons, the term cuck is also used to describe polyamorous men. In current internet culture, it’s mostly used for poly men because they are promoting women’s rights, but it does take on a whole other level of meaning because our partners probably are having sex with other men. The difference is that, unlike a cuckold, we are aware of it and supportive of it. In fact, around the 15th century, a new word was created to describe a compliant or willing cuckold. This word, wittol, replaces the prefix cuck- with wit-, meaning “to know”. Clearly it didn’t catch on quite as well as cuckold did and it faded out of use.
At first it could seem tempting to resurrect wittol as a response to the resurgence of cuck, but I would caution against it because it still fails to acknowledge the deeper problem in both of these words. In either case, the word has to do with a man’s wife’s behavior. The inherent, toxic problem in all of this is the assumption that the wife is his, that she belongs to him and that anything she does is described in terms of the husband’s permission or lack thereof. One of the most important belief changes in polyamory, that is often overlooked, is that by allowing our partners autonomy, we can also end this cycle of treating our partners as property or as children who must follow our rules and who can only be described in relation to us.
Another example of how pervasive these attitudes are is that cuck is also used to describe a man who is not dominant to his wife. Just today I saw an example on Twitter where an artist was explaining his decision to stop posting certain pictures on Facebook because his “partner lead [sic] him to realize” that it might be offensive to some people, to which someone responded that “his girlfriend cuck’d it up.” In other words, because he admitted to making a decision because of input from a female, he is also a cuck. This term has lately been used frequently when commenting on men who participated in the Women’s March, too.
The Power of Reclaiming Words
So what can we do about this? Turn the other cheek? Well, actually yes, kind of. What if we were to reclaim the word cuck, as some men have already started doing, to describe a man who is strong enough, courageous enough, and smart enough to support the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color? (And even respect the opinions of women!)
There are many examples in our history of minority groups taking derogatory terms and reclaiming them, taking pride in the labels that were once used to hurt them. Many words have been reclaimed to varying degrees of success, such as “bitch”, “slut”, “queer”, “fag”, and the n-word to name a few. The term “yankee” for an American was originally an insult used by the Dutch and British. Many people don’t realize that the word suffragette was originally a play on the word suffragist and was used by reporters to belittle and make fun of the women’s suffrage movement. In an article on TheGuardian.com, there is a quote from Tony Thorne, curator of the Slang and New Language Archive at King’s College London, that is particularly relevant: “Reappropriation of ethnic and sexual slurs starts as an act of bravado by a few of the oppressed, then may become an empowering mechanism for a much wider community.”
Now, before the linguists out there get all upset about corrupting the original meaning of the word cuckold, as used extensively in Shakespeare, I’m suggesting we reclaim this new word cuck, rather than the full word. (You and William S. are welcome to keep your misogynistic jokes to yourselves)
In searching the word cuck on twitter when writing this article, I found a few people who are already on board with taking pride in being called a cuck. Travis Helwig, the head writer for Adam Ruins Everything, and Thomas Middleditch, lead actor on Silicon Valley, are the first examples I’ve come across whose Twitter profiles identify them as a “proud cuck” and “cuck af” respectively.
Becoming a Conscious Cuck
My fellow cucks, let’s embrace this new term and rob it of its power to put us down. In trying to come up with a list of the qualities of a “Conscious Cuck”, I asked some of my friends and fellow writers (true cucks, one and all!) for their input.
Conscious Cucks should be proud that they:
Have enough self-confidence to see others as their equal.
Are not afraid of fair competition, whether it’s from women, people of color, immigrants, or anyone else.
Refuse to try to control other people’s decisions about their lives--sexual, romantic, or otherwise.
Allow themselves to be judged by their character and not hide behind their whiteness or maleness.
Use their own power and privilege to lift, amplify, and protect the voices of those who are less privileged, especially when interacting with others who have similar levels of social capital.
Experience emotions and process them in healthy, responsible ways.
Cultivate their own value independently of how any other person behaves.
Don’t feel the need to have ownership of anybody else’s body or opinions.
What other traits do you think a Conscious Cuck should have? Have you been called this term before? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Jase Lindgren is an educator about ethical non-monogamy, a relationship coach, filmmaker, and sex-positive advocate with Multiamory.com