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“Don’t hit like a pussy, put your hips behind it.”

I look up from my punching bag. The man speaking to me is not my teacher, and I don’t know who he is. He looks at me pointedly and then punches my heavy bag hard, his large arms demonstrating the proper technique. The chains on the bag shake.

I watch him out of the corner of my eye—because I do want to know how to properly hit someone with my full strength. But, at the same time, I’m uncomfortable—and that word, pussy, momentarily magnifies my sense of powerlessness. I drop my gloved hands to my sides. I feel like the heavy bag, still shaking on its chains.

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Before I had my daughter, I’d not spent much time thinking about the connection between my own body and the word pussy…at least not as a belittling term—a way to insult a man’s masculinity or to suggest a woman’s powerlessness. But giving birth to my daughter made me hyperaware of such slights.

In my case, I actually pushed a small human person through said female anatomy. And, after that, it isn’t broken—my pussy, I mean.

It could probably do all of it again many, many times, if I so desired. Not to brag or anything, but my pussy is sort of amazing, thankyouverymuch.  All pussies are. Because, listen: I defy anyone to find a part of the human body, male or female, that is quite as tough as a pussy, save for the uterus.

No really. Think about it.

Yet, while the origins are somewhat entangled, culturally, linguistically, the word pussy generally references female genitalia—internal and external—and, when used in a belittling way, pussy suggests weakness.

The rhetorical device is synecdoche. A part, in this case the pussy, stands in for the whole, in this case, woman. If the part is used to denote powerlessness, weakness, or ineptitude, it implies that the whole, by extension, is these things as well—and vice versa. Now let’s not confuse anatomy with gender, because the vagina does not make the woman—there are women without them and men with them. But the use of the word pussy in a derogatory way is intended to diminish all women, regardless of what is in their pants, and, also, anyone who happens to have a vagina in their pants.

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I feel comfortable saying that giving birth is one of the more challenging things that a pussy can do (…although I keep hearing things about women “voting with their vaginas,” and that sounds pretty challenging as well…but I digress). The process of delivering a child into the world is truly not for the faint of heart. It is an awe-inspiring feat of strength, endurance, faith, bravery, and love.

Personally, I have never felt as strong as I did when my daughter was being born. It was the one time in my life that I did something that was clearly completely and utterly impossible, but for sheer force of will and, you know, biological science. Meanwhile, that same day, all around the world there were more than 300,000 women doing the exact same completely ridiculous feat—most of them were also using their vaginas to do so.

Amazing.

I would never equate reproductive status with womanhood, because, just, no. Nor would I ever diminish the ways of becoming a mother that don’t involve pushing a human person through a vagina. So let’s put birth aside for a moment, because pussies are intended to do all kinds of things—primarily whatever their owners choose to do with them. And, you see, none of the other things a pussy can do are for the faint of heart. None of these things are about powerlessness. So many of the things pussies can do are about blood, pain, passion, love, pleasure…and strength.

Arguably it is the exceptional and mystifying strength of the female anatomy that makes it the focus of constant attempts to diminish, distort, legislate, and appropriate this power. Whether it is through the portrayals of crazed women in labor begging for drugs, or discussions of what parts of women’s bodies are decent to expose and under what circumstances (Essentially: Male visual pleasure, good. Feeding babies, bad), or attempts to limit access to birth-control and safe abortions. Or whether it is found in the reality that women are regularly abused by the men who claim to love them. Or that our made up concepts of female sexual purity are something that women still loose their lives over—both figuratively and literally. Or that young women are still being taught that it is their job to avoid sexual violence, while young men are not being regularly taught to understand sexual consent.

Women’s power is contested over and over—and holding onto it requires so much strength. Somehow, for me, all this crystalizes around that seemingly little insult: Pussy. Don’t be a pussy.

Now, I am not going to be petty here and insult the male anatomy, because I am a fan of the penis. I mean it is no vagina, but it is pretty awesome too (and I’d hate to frighten any of them). Instead I am going to say that all our bodies are amazing, miraculous things. All our bodies do astounding things and are due their credit.

I don’t need to diminish anyone else in order to feel as if I can claim my own strength.

But I refuse to not claim my own strength.

So, I turn back to my punching bag, shaking off the man’s words. And I raise my gloves, hitting the bag with focus. My long hair sticks to the sweat on my chest and back as I repeat the pattern with my fists: One, two, slip, two, body, body. I feel one of my fingernails break in my glove, but I keep swinging.

I tell myself, over and over: Swing harder. Hit. Hit like a pussy.

Photos via Hillary Savoie.

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Hillary Savoie is a writer, advocate, and mixer of killer cocktails. She is also mother to Esmé, a beautiful little girl with multiple rare genetic conditions. Hillary has blogged about life with Esmé since 2012. Her writing has appeared on Motherlode—the NY Times parenting blogThe MightyVector—Boston Children’s Science and Innovation Blog, and the Huffington Post Blog, among others. In 2015 she published two short memoirs, Around and Into The Unknown and Whoosh. Hillary is the Founder and Director of the Cute Syndrome Foundation, which is dedicated to raising research funds for and awareness of PCDH19 Epilepsy and SCN8A Epilepsy. And she holds a doctorate in Communication and Rhetoric from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which was great preparation for parenting Esmé, who is an expert in nonverbal persuasion. In her free time she enjoys gardening, dancing to Beyoncé and the Muppets with Esmé, snuggling her geriatric cat, Chicken, and dressing her daughter up as famous women from history. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @HillarySavoie and Facebook @HillarySavoieWriter

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