Today was the first day that I actually taught for the Sport in the Modern World class I am TAing this semester. Although lecture met last week, the discussion sections were delayed to ease students into the semester and to give them something to talk about once we actually got into the section.
We focused on Clifford Geertz’s famous piece, “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight.” In the article Geertz plays on the sexual innuendo present in the word “cock” in both Balinese and English. According to Geertz, cocks “are viewed as detachable, self-operating penises, ambulant genitals with a life of their own” (417). In Balinese, the work for cock can also mean warrior or soldier, a political candidate, or bachelor. The multiplicity of the meanings of the word cock led to an interesting discussion in which people shouted “Why you would bet on your uncle’s cock if his cock sucks?” and “I don’t understand why they cared so much about their cocks!”
What was most interesting about the discussion, however, was the dynamics of the discussion between me and the students. The male students, for the most part, were mature about the discussion and were able to discuss the sexual connotations of the word with humor but also with maturity. I, on the other hand, found myself blushing every time I said the word cock nor did I find it easy to say the word “penis.” For some reason, it still feels like a dirty word. I also have a hard time saying the word “vagina.” I still want to call them “private parts.”
I’m not sure where this reticence comes from. I study gender. I study sex. I read about castration, berdaches, and menstruation. I don’t blush when I read about these things, but for some reason, when I get up in front of a class full of students, I can’t bring myself to say “vagina,” “penis,” or the word “cock” without giggling. Someone suggested it might because of my conservative background and general uncomfortableness with human sexuality. It may also just be a general insecurity about my own sexuality, or perhaps I’m just immature.
The question remains, though, why can’t I just say the word “cock?”
*All references to Geertz come from Clifford Geertz, “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight,” The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973)