A recent national survey of over 1,000 adults by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that, in general, women are more reluctant than men to curse in public.
Why? Is it because women’s lives are so perfect they have less reasons to say “fuck?" Doubtful.
If anything, we have more than enough reasons not only to say "fuck" but combine it with "this shit."
The reason women are more likely to consider cursing rude and, therefore shy away from it, is because we are held to higher standards of politeness. In Jeff Guo's Washington Post article, "The incredible double standard of rudeness," he highlighted the work of Robin Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In the 1970s, she studied the differences in speech patterns between men and women and found that "in situations where men might curse, women would instead utter phrases like 'oh dear,' or 'goodness' or 'oh fudge.'"
She attributed this behavior to childhood conditioning that teaches women that "ladylike" behavior — often equated to acting pleasant, deferential, and, oh yeah, quiet — is not only desirable but basically required to live a happy life.
We're taught that talking "rough like a boy" (aka anything disagreeable above a Disney princess giggle) is considered rude and, consequently, "subjected to criticism as unfeminine." To survive in a male-dominated environment, she concluded, girls are taught to "hobble their own speech."
Well, I'm calling bullshit.
I don't believe cursing should be considered rude or "unfeminine." I do the stereotypical "feminine" actions like styling my hair or wearing lipstick regularly, but you can bet your ass that if I accidentally burn myself with my flat iron or smudge my lipstick, I'll drop the F-bomb without batting a heavily mascaraed-eyelash.
Granted, I didn't start cursing around age thirteen to make a feminist statement about gender normative speech. I did it because it was a personal form of expression and much-needed catharsis.
I learned how to curse from listening to my sailor-mouthed sweetheart of a mother who, ironically, forbid my sister and I from applying her vocabulary lessons to our own lives until we were eighteen. According to her, that was when she began swearing, as a direct result of meeting our father — a detail she never forgot to leave out.
She'd made up for lost time since then. Without intending to, she not only provided the perfect example, but a reason to rebel.
The first time I cursed I experienced what I would consider the equivalent of Lorelai Gilmore's Pop-Tart epiphany. I don't remember what I said, but damn (it was probably that), I remember how good it felt.
By cursing, I was doing something I was deliberately told not to and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, becoming someone other than the person I was told to be.
For a young woman, constantly influenced by her parents, her friends, the media, and about five thousand years of patriarchy, doing anything unexpected can be a crucial step toward self-discovery and self-actualization.
Because cursing serves a self-expressive purpose, especially for women, I don't think it's "rude."
I think interrupting another person when they're speaking is rude. I think talking down to someone is rude. I think saying something deliberately hurtful is rude. (A sidenote on vulgar slurs: I don't consider that "cursing." I consider it bigotry. Don't say that shit. But, by all means, go ahead and say "shit.")
And I think judging and criticizing someone's behavior because they don't conform to your stereotypical gender expectations is rude.
So I’m going to curse whenever I damn well please and, in the immortal words of Amy Poehler, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”
I'm not advocating that women — or anyone, for that matter — shout curse words from the top of their lungs in public places and/or around small children. (Although, as this video proves, it's adorably powerful when they drop some F-bombs themselves.) I'm not even advocating that women curse in the comfort and privacy of their own homes if they don't want to.
I am advocating that everyone debunk the archaic notion that speaking with a clean, "polite" vocabulary is a prerequisite to achieve a certain, approved kind of femininity necessary to be a woman.
Throwing out an expletive in casual conversation might not be the textbook definition of politeness, but it isn't rude either. More importantly, it doesn't makes me any less of a lady.
As long as I'm not saying anything abusive or bigoted, I shouldn't have to censor myself to please someone else.
To combat "the incredible double standard" of politeness, we, as women, need to assert our right to self-expression. We need to "unhobble" our speech. We need to redefine what it means to be "rude."
Basically, we need to cut the shit.
I am woman. Hear me swear.
Cover image via Giphy