(Cross-posted from Feministe)
It's true. I swear a lot. It's a fact that gets brought up frequently at random times by people who have spoken with me.
Apparently, I shouldn't swear.
Why is this?
A) It makes me sound unintelligent
B) It makes me sound angry
C) It makes me sound trashy
D) It's unladylike
Trick question. It's actually all of the above, according to a number of people I've spoken to.
I understand that swearing is not appropriate in every situation. I make sure to censor myself when I am at work, around people I am not acqainted with, or around people I know are offended by my language. However, when I have been told that swearing makes me sound unintelligent, angry, trashy, or unladylike, it has not been because the person making these statements has been offended by my language. It seems to come from a place of concern about how I will be perceived if people hear me using vulgar language.
Fair enough. Certain segments of the society I live in have problems with women doing "unladylike" things like wearing pants, having sex with multiple partners, drinking, and swearing. Women being looked down upon for engaging in what some deem unacceptable behavior is not an uncommon experience.
I know that that, quite frankly, is bullshit, and when people express their concern about what people will think about me because I swear, I tend to laugh it off.
Then I met a girl a few days ago who is a few years younger than myself. She didn't talk much, but when she did finally open her mouth, some of the first words she
spoke were what some people would consider vulgar. I was shocked by this, and when I thought back on this later, I was surprised that I felt this way.
I swear. My friends swear. I listen to music that comes with parental advisory labels. In none of these situations am I ever shocked by or give a second thought to the "vulgar" language. But when a girl in her teens swore the first time I met her, I froze.
I was thinking about this. I don't have a problem with women swearing, so did my reaction have to do with this girl's age? If so, does that mean I buy into the idea that young girls are innocent, and that violating that sense of innocence somehow violates the essence of their girlhood?
I hope not. The idea of the innocent, virtuous woman plays into patriarchal ideas that women needing to be protected by men, the only people who can stand guard over all that is good about them. And that's certainly not how I want to think about young women who use words in the same way that I do.