Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Parental Advisory: Explicit, Unladylike S**t

(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.


Anonymous said...

The swearing thing has (sorry) nothing to do with your being a female, or a feminist.

The use of expletives in language DOES, from a grammatical and psychological standpoint, imply lower intelligence.

It simply DOES. I'd say exactly the same thing if a man was peppering his language with it, as if a female was doing it.

In fact, I have. Same with looking trashy, or low-class.

It does.

Compare these two:

"I find that film to have been rather pedantic, the humor was sophomoric, and the acting was deplorable."

"That fuckin' movie sucked fuckin' ass, fuck! I mean, goddamn that shit was boring!"

Has nothing to do with what's between your legs, no matter how much you want to make it about that.

Language like that is fine, in private company amongst people who know you very well.

Outside of it? No, it's not appropriate.

Amelia said...

If you have time, I suggest you read the comments on this post on Feministe. Commenters there have made many of the points I would like to bring up to you.

For example, how swearing does not imply lower intelligence, and how equating swearing with being of lower class is classist (it plays into differences in educational availability for those who have money and those who don't, etc.).

The (60) comments on my post at Feministe, I think, would be a good place for you to start your education. Lots of intelligent folks over there, and guess what? Some of them swear!

Anonymous said...

For example, how swearing does not imply lower intelligence, and how equating swearing with being of lower class is classist (it plays into differences in educational availability for those who have money and those who don't, etc.).


One doesn't need a degree from Harvard or Yale, or even to set foot in the door of such an institution in order to have an acceptable, well-rounded vocabulary.

Again, it implies lower intelligence. I'm sorry, but a bunch of random feminists on some site I've never heard of can't really argue with linguistic fact.

It's because the person involved is using less adjectives, and nouns, and replacing them with one of, perhaps five generic words.

Everything of that nature becomes replaced with "fuck" or "shit" for the most part.

Finer points of communication are lost, and mostly "Oh fuck" becomes the word of the day.

Amelia said...

I am choosing not to engage further with you because of your unwillingness to hear from a number of people who have already taken the time to discuss these same topics elsewhere.

I'm sorry, but a bunch of random feminists on some site I've never heard of can't really argue with linguistic fact.

Linguistic fact? Anyway, you have no idea what type of arguments are being made at Feministe, and if you refuse to take the time to head over there and read up, I will no longer be posting your comments here. My space. My choice to reject what you have to say. All it takes it a little time to read what others have already said about these issues you take as "facts," and if you do not want to put the effort in, consider yourself rejected in my moderation duties.

Anonymous said...

So when someone tells me cursing is not being a gentleman, it's just as sexist?

This isn't 1950 anymore, women have it no better or worse than any man I know.

Amelia said...

I would like to call Anonymous (at 4:52pm) for "What about TEH MENZ!?!?"

Newsflash: Anonymous says all the women he knows are equal to all the men he knows. Sexism effectively ended!!

Hate to break it to you, Anon, but the world is larger than just the people you know. Elements of sexism exist in the world (and some of it is brutal), whether or not they do in your own group of friends.

DJ said...

I suppose it's worth asking- this girl who surprised you with her language... would a boy of equivalent age who seemed equally quiet and did the same thing not surprise you as much?

Truth is, though, I don't think the answer matters that much. There are going to be people you meet whose basic natures make blue language seem a bit stunning when they use it. That doesn't mean, if it's a girl, that you've bought into the concept of automatic innocence in young women.

We've all been brought up with certain concepts of what innocence looks like, and obviously the message to appear innocent whether or not it's the case is directed almost entirely at girls. So it's actually quite logical that you'd be surprised by someone who superficially fits that mold dropping a few f-bombs, and that the person in question would be female. I don't get shocked anymore because I'm an old cynical goat, but it absolutely happened to me in the past and will happen to almost everyone at some point.

This stranger's opinion: Don't sweat it. The way we act in one-off situations, especially when it comes to instant reactions, rarely indicates some deep-seated part of our personalities that we weren't aware existed. If for some reason this keeps happening and you can't shake the feeling that it's somehow bad when you hear girls curse, then you may want to investigate it a bit more.

As for Mr. Anon, it's interesting to see someone actually fall into the age old fallacy of equating learned correlations with natural fact. Especially on this topic- it's stunningly foolish for someone to make such a mistake with regards to language, given that language is man-made, and thus attitudes towards the use of language must necessarily be dictated by cultural norms. And it takes into account no relativity; where does "that motherfucking pharmaceutical-industrial complex" fall on his scale?

With luck, we'll never know.

Boudicca said...

In my experience there is often a sexist element to swearing as well as a classist element. My work often takes me to construction sites where I generally I inspect the work of, or give direction to, construction workers who are generally male (I'm a female engineer). More often than not, these men make a concerted effort to avoid swearing around me, apologize when they do and/or police each other's language since 'there's a lady present'. I find this annoying since they should be focusing on me being the engineer (in a position of power over them), NOT focusing on me being a woman (implying I may need their protection).

I've found a quick, effective way of clearing up the situation using a bit of humour. I say something like, "Hey! No fucking swearing around me! I'm a god-damned delicate fucking flower and I won't put up with that shit!" Then we all share a laugh and get on with the work.

Perhaps the young women were using similar shock tactics on you. Is there any reason you can think of that they might do that?

Amelia said...

DJ, I'm not sure if a boy the same age would have shocked me as much because in my recent memory I have not had an experience to look back on. But I agree with the rest of your comment.

And Boudicca, because this girl was not talking to me (she was sitting next to me and talking to someone else), I can't tell for sure if she was intentionally trying to talk. That was the only time I heard her speak all night and her language was addressed to someone she had a deeper relationship with, the nature of with I could not completely discern. Hm...