Awareness | Posted by Talia W on 05/14/2010

Females and Four-Letter Words

no more swearing

no more swearing

58% of women curse in public. Are you of that 58%? Is it a fact that you’re proud of, or a bad habit that you’re trying to kick? Cursing is something that should be avoided, and definitely by girls, because of the negative effects, double standard, and anti-feminist terms.

There are many negative effects of cursing. When you curse and people around you don’t, people may feel you’re unpleasant to be with and may become uncomfortable with you, which can endanger relationships. It’s commonly accepted that people who use bad words are ignorant, unimaginative, disrespectful, immature, whiny, offensive, and have nothing better to express themselves with. People will also assume that you have a bad attitude, lack of control, and little character if you curse. Society has deemed cursing as an unacceptable practice, and when you use bad words, you give off a bad impression.

While there are lots of negative effects of cursing, they will be doubly applied to girls. People often shrug it off or think slightly less of boys when they curse, but will usually be horrified at a girl with a potty mouth. How many times has a teacher or parent scolded you for cursing, and then let a boy or brother curse, criticism-free? “My brother can curse, but I get in trouble [for cursing] because I’m a girl. It [makes] me feel annoyed [that] things aren’t fair,” Hollie S. said. “Guys should not get away with this stuff!” Gila G. complained. I also know this from personal experience: there was a boy in class who cursed and the teacher never said anything, but a female friend of mine would curse and always got yelled at. Like, what? This is a double standard that is totally unacceptable! While it’s currently a fact of life, there’s no reason that it should continue to be so. Try to make people around you of this subtle form of discrimination, and make sure your brothers get yelled at when they curse, too!

You should definitely try to watch your mouth in general, but you should specifically make sure to avoid words that are derogatory to women. It shocks me when I hear girls calling fellow females words like slut, ho, b***h, etc., since it undermines everything that feminists have been working for. Such terms are used to keep women as a subservient class and inferior to men. When men use such language against women, they intend to intimidate them (and often succeed). “It [made] me feel so slight and small [when a boy cursed at me],” Ahuva M. said. “Once…a boy…cursed me and I was so dumbfounded…that I…tried to eradicate the scenario from my head!” Rena W. shared.

Because of my strong feelings against cursing, I created an organization called Bleep!, whose mission is to stop kids and teens from cursing. Bleep!’s mission is not to tell people that they can’t curse; everyone has the right of freedom of speech. Bleep!’s mission is to show people the negative effects of cursing and convince them to avoid bad language. So far, Bleep! has almost 500 members (some quoted above) in 22 states and ten countries. By becoming a member, you’re stating that you understand the negative effects of cursing, and you receive an optional monthly newsletter. To join, email bleeporg@gmail.com with your name, state/province, and email address. Bleep! also does programs with schools. If you would like to bring Bleep! and its message of clean speech to a school near you, email bleeporg@gmail.com for more information. Check out Bleep!’s website at http://sites.google.com/site/bleeporganization for Bleep!’s general attitude towards cursing.

Is it an ironclad statement that people will think that you’re a bad person if you curse? No. Of course not. One of my best friends curses, and I don’t think she’s a bad person! However, the next time you hear a girl call her friend a b***h, what are you going to think of her?

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  • Julie Z @ at 11:30 am, May 14th, 2010

    hey everybody

    i just wanted to clarify why I posted this article. I understand why a lot of you don’t understand why this is feminist or on this website. I initially had some problems with this article, too, when it was submitted. as any regular reader of this blog knows I swear a lot myself – in my posts and in life.

    the main reason i posted this is because I don’t want to turn people away from writing for the fbomb just because I personally disagree with them. I think it’s really important that we see all kinds of perspectives, even if they don’t seem feminist. In fact, that Talia saw this as a feminist article means she could use the (hopefully PRODUCTIVE) feedback from readers.

    the other reason i posted this is because i think the idea of swearing as a double standard SHOULD be discussed more – I personally think that by girls not swearing then they’re ADHERING to that double standard.

    Also, the fbomb has posted a pro-swearing piece before, by Marissa B, originally posted at the very beginning of the FBomb, which I’ve updated so that it’s seen as being posted today. I think it’d be cool to compare those two articles.

  • Amy CT @ at 11:46 am, May 14th, 2010

    I would never call anyone else a “b***ch”, as you put it, but I don’t think that there is a major problem with women “cursing” in general – if there is good cause for it.

    I don’t swear off hand or flippantly, but when I genuinely have nothing else to say, why not? Isn’t it a bit more of a double standard to say that it’s NOT ok for women to?

    Or did I get completely the wrong impression from this?

  • Jill @ at 11:50 am, May 14th, 2010

    Amy, I totally agree. I read this more as “swearing is bad but it’s DOUBLE bad when you’re a girl!” It barely even paid lip service to that double standard, and it seems to reinforce that girls who swear should stop because of what people think.

    As a lady with a trucker’s vocabulary, I expect better from this blog than “girls are too delicate to swear.” Is this a sponsored post? It seems at total odds with the rest of the blog.

  • Sarah @ at 12:05 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I think you’re really talking about two issues. First, swearing or cursing in general. Second, curse words that are female-specific, and their potential to harm.

    I think your argument about why no one should curse is unconvincing. Honestly, swearing seems like a BIG DEAL in high school, but later it just becomes much less surprising and/or significant.

    What do you think about uses of bitch that reappropriate its meaning to be empowering instead of derogatory?

  • Maren H @ at 12:07 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I totally agree with what you said about the negative consequences of cursing, however; I think you emphasis on the importance of GIRLS not cursing because of extra societal pressure is offensive. It plays into the “girls should be ladylike” stereotype.
    I do strongly agree that misogynistic curses shouldn’t be used ever.
    Thanks for the article, it was interesting.

  • Zoe Y. @ at 12:19 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Sorry but I really don’t agree with this post.

    I understand the double standard of boys vs. girls cursing and I think that is relevant to point out. I also understand why we shouldn’t be using words like bitch, ho, slut, etc., because they are derogatory to women. These things, I agree with.

    But fuck is one of my favorite words and swearing is part of my personality.

    Good luck with your organization. We are all entitled to our own opinions and I hope you do well!

  • Steph B @ at 12:38 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Fuck that shit.

  • Talia W @ at 12:53 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Hey, it’s Talia here, creator of Bleep!…

    I feel horribly guilty if I gave the wrong impression here. When I say that women shouldn’t be cursing, I don’t mean that men should be allowed to say what they want with no judgments. I mean that neither sex should curse, but as this is a feminist forum, I’m discussing why women specifically should not curse on sex-based reasons. I don’t mean to keep the whole “ladylike” impression going (I even yell at my friends for saying “lady” when they should use the word “woman” as “lady” is a patronizing term).

    Everyone has different opinions, and especially on topics like this; I totally support that! Bleep!’s mission is also not necessarily to stop kids from cursing, but also to have people think about what they’re gonna say before they say it.

  • Laura H @ at 1:00 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I do agree that misogynistic words should never be used. That said, I also think that there’s a case to be made for reclaiming these sorts of words.

    For example, I’m against calling a girl a slut, but I think it goes deeper than just using the word. A slut might be someone who has had several sexual partner, but I don’t really see what’s so wrong about that; I’m all for free expression of sexuality. It all comes down to “slut-shaming” the double standard…again! If a slut is someone who is free in their sexuality and doesn’t care what anyone things about them, then I’d be proud to be one.

    However, I can’t say that I agree with the point about the negative effects of cursing. I read Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti recently and she cursed all over the place, and I’m okay with that. Far from feeling that she used such words because she’s unintelligent or inarticulate, I got the impression that she’d taken a good long look at the world and decided that some things are just fucking unfair. There are times when euphemisms just won’t do.

  • Laura H @ at 1:11 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Sorry in advance for the double posting but I wanted to make another point quickly…

    I just checked out the Bleep! website and saw something that concerned me slightly. There is a section called “The Words” which categorizes curses depending on how bad they are seen to be. This ranges from category one (shut up, stupid, etc) to category four (shit, fuck, etc.

    My problem lies with one of the words in category two: “retarded”. This word is described as “slightly objectionable”. I disagree. I think that describing someone as a retard is always completely and horribly offensive and wrong. It’s always wrong to make derogatory comments relating to people who are mentally handicapped. This goes beyond making people feel uncomfortable or coming across as unintelligent.

    I wouldn’t think any less of someone who said any of the words in category four, but someone who used that word as an insult would be able to count on me picking them up on it every single time.

    What do you guys think?

  • scary joann @ at 2:12 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I agree with all these comments. I don’t really have anything to say that hasn’t been covered already. In fact, I sort of second everything Laura said.
    I really didn’t like the part about why girls especially shouldn’t cuss. It reminds me of something my hick high school PE coach would lecture us on.
    I live in a small town full of rednecks flying the southern flag and loving the way using hate speech is suddenly edgy. I was a little ball of rage and hate until I started cussing comfortably and fluidly enough to spit back at the cow hands hitting on me.
    Cussing made them take me seriously when I got mad. I wasn’t just a proper lil’ darlin hollerin out of frustration. I was a tiny demon who’s vocabulary suddenly blossomed when pissed. I don’t feel like cussing made me seem stupider (I used that argument for not cussing when I was christian in sixth grade) I feel like it only made my colorful words even more vibrant. I honestly think cursing helped me become addicted to language and eventually writing.
    Also, if you take back certain words like bitch and turn them into compliments then when people yell them in your face you can laugh in theirs and thank them kindly.

  • May @ at 3:46 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I really think that telling feminists not to swear because of their gender is completely anti-feminist. The whole point of feminism is that you don’t let gender roles control who you are as a person. Yes, society judges women more harshly than men, but this isn’t something you should just let influence you if you think society is WRONG about it!

  • Valerie B. @ at 4:05 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Oh goodness, I didn’t expect to see this on a feminist website that not only curses on a regular basis, but is named FBOMB (the name doubles, check the info.) Women should be alllowed to swear if men are allowed to, that’s that. Feminism is about not letting gender roles control you, as May pointed out.

  • Tessa @ at 5:14 pm, May 14th, 2010

    Wow…how is it feminist at all to reinforce gender stereotypes with “girls shouldn’t be cursing”. Perhaps you think we’re too ladylike to be cursing? I don’t understand this article, and saying that we shouldn’t be cursing because we’re females is, frankly, offensive. Fuck this article. I can’t believe it’s on a feminist website.

  • Heather @ at 5:24 pm, May 14th, 2010

    I’m going to echo what mostly everyone else has covered. As a female, society has taught me that I am supposed to be a certain way: stay quiet, don’t curse or be loud or exercise my voice, be polite even when I shouldn’t have to be, etc. Screw that: I like to curse. I don’t use derogatory terms, but I like dropping a few f bombs here or there (and let’s keep in mind there are PLENTY of negative words that aren’t curse words– plenty of people say lame, retarded, gay, or calling people crazy or insane when they are just bizzare). This doesn’t make me a bad person. I am about reclaiming my space and voice as a woman, and if people want to look down on me because I curse, then it’s their problem, and not mine.

  • Ashleigh @ at 12:57 am, May 15th, 2010

    I agree with you. Although I won’t lie, when I get incredibly angry over something a swear word can sometimes pop out. I DO think also though that people who consciously swear do it because they think it makes them sound cool or “hardcore”. it doesn’t. I have to agree with society in thinking it makes them sound ignorant.

  • Glen Coco @ at 2:16 am, May 15th, 2010

    This article went the complete opposite direction that I expected it to. While I’m completely opposed to using offensive, sexist words such as slut and whore, I’m actually making an effort to swear more. I always find myself biting my tongue instead of swearing out loud because society has taught me that swearing is “unfeminine,” and a guy thing that isn’t as appropriate for girls to do. That just reinforces traditional gender roles. So I think swearing can be very powerful and very feminist.

  • clai @ at 2:41 am, May 15th, 2010

    F*** that. I’ll say whatever I like, thanks. It’s society’s problem if they are going to judge me, and I think that if I will be judged more for being a woman swearing,that is all the more reason to do it more and break down people’s expetations. What exactly about this is feminist?

  • toongrrl @ at 4:21 am, May 15th, 2010

    Damn…..I use “Bitch” and “Dick”.

  • Sarah @ at 5:01 am, May 15th, 2010

    Fuck that shit.

    You honestly are talking a load of rubbish. Swearing is actually good for you! If you stub your toe, and swear, it actually reduces the pain.

    Stephen Fry, widely accepted to be a fountain of knowledge and be better informed than google- as well as being one of Britains best comic writers- refutes all of these old fashioned points of yours here

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM

  • rach @ at 2:26 pm, May 15th, 2010

    i recently had a massive drive to stop myself swearing – i work in primary schools, and in an elderly home, so i’d rather not be pulled up on bad language. also, around a catholic friend of mine, i cut down on saying things like ‘jesus’, ‘holy shit’, and ‘holy mary, mother of god’ as expletives because it offends him.

    i think not swearing is a matter of respect. yes, it’s an effort to stop myself from swearing, and you could easily argue that by stopping myself from swearing, i’m changing my speech patterns for somebody else, and therefore willingly submitting to other people’s ideas about how i should behave. but frankly, i’d rather be seen as respectful and courteous, and if that means swapping ‘jesus christ’ for ‘jeez louise’, and ‘holy shit’ for ‘holy moly’, i think that’s an acceptable trade-off.

  • O'Phylia @ at 3:39 pm, May 15th, 2010

    Before I post my response to this, I want to say that honestly, I don’t swear much. I have nothing against it whatsoever, I just don’t do it unless someone has royally pissed me off.

    Now, my response:
    What is identified as a swear word? For instance, though I do think “ho” is a bad word, I don’t consider it swearing. I avoid using that word when dealing with women, but I have called men “sluts” and “hos.” (Huzzah for double standards!!) I do however, consider “bitch” a swear word.
    BUT! I consider “bitch” a GOOD, swear word. I feel it means a woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself! A woman who gets boys angry because they can’t stand the truth that comes out of her mouth! I, O’Phylia, reclaim this word. I use it as badge of honor. Thank you.

  • alexia @ at 11:34 pm, May 15th, 2010

    freedom of speech? anyone? fuck is actually one of my favorite words as it can be used to convey all kinds of diverse expressions of LIFE.

  • bullshiht @ at 12:26 am, May 16th, 2010

    You know what offends me? When people are offended. Find something else to do with your time than finding reasons to be offended. Like volunteer work, a cure for cancer, etc.

  • ACW @ at 8:12 am, May 16th, 2010

    I understand your point of view, even if I disagree.
    Under ‘Membership’: “the point of membership is to remember that it’s not beneficial to use bad words.”
    My response (categorize under ‘bringing a little levity’): When I stub my toe and let loose a choice phrase, doing so is beneficial because it serves to lower my blood pressure.
    In all seriousness: while I agree that it is easy to become desensitized to cursing and its effects on ourselves and others, I think that choosing to censor ourselves not only plays into the double standard of making the world a better place *for others*, but increases our sensitivity to the effects of others’ cursing, making daily interactions with others who don’t censor themselves more stressful for us.
    Additionally, I am curious as to the demographics of Bleep’s members… specifically, which portion constitutes which gender.
    Talia, your goals are admirable, but I’d recommend honing your methods of persuasion. The tone of this post and its accompanying link raises my hackles, because I rally behind empowerment, and detest self-righteousness, martyrdom, and victim mentality.

  • Stephanie T @ at 5:05 pm, May 16th, 2010

    I have to second what O’Phylia’s said about reclaiming words.

    Also, I actually just took a linguistics course that talked about the gendered implications of swearing, so I wanted to share an article which I think is important to the conversation: Deborah James’ 1988 article “Gender-linked Derogatory Terms and Their Uses By Women and Men”.

    It’s a pretty common sense introduction to the topic and the conclusion, which I highly suggest you read if nothing else, more or less claims that college-age youth are doing a lot to influence the gender-implications of swearwords and to blur the gender line of swearing.

    So while I recognize the point that the posted article here is trying to make I feel that rather than trying to give the whole system of swearing up as unsalvageable in an attempt to make this “fair”, we should do more of this kind of influencing work that destabilizes gendered norms if we really want to see progress.

  • typhonatemybaby @ at 1:15 pm, May 17th, 2010

    i find that misogynist words are usually best applied in insults when applied to the gender they dont normally apply to.

    also, the whole point of swearing is the piss people off. im sorry but this article seems to me to be utterly idiotic.

    btw: if you want a good opinion of people who think swearing begets a lack of expressiveness then take a look at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM

    its the great man stephen fry on the subject…

    but anyway, going back to “It’s commonly accepted that people who use bad words are ignorant, unimaginative, disrespectful, immature, whiny, offensive, and have nothing better to express themselves with. People will also assume that you have a bad attitude, lack of control, and little character if you curse. Society has deemed cursing as an unacceptable practice, and when you use bad words, you give off a bad impression.” as you said in the post.

    here is what i think of the quote, given that my views are roughly aligned with stephen fry here (He is, after all, a fucking national treasure): either your trolling us all, and doing it damn well, in which an obvious troll is obvious, or (and, yes i am covering both bases here) you are just damned uninformed. then again this post could just be a fake put up by some ethics group.

    personally though? i think this is a joke

  • Anghella @ at 10:16 pm, May 18th, 2010

    When I tell you to fuck off it does not indicate my lack of intelligence or limitted vocabulary. It indicates that I want you to fuck off. It’s the simplest, most effective way to communicate that you’re taking up too much of my energy right now and I don’t want to deal with dealing with or educating you.

  • Talia W @ at 7:18 pm, May 21st, 2010

    Hey yawl, it’s Talia W, creator of Bleep!, here again…

    It would take me a really, really long time to respond to every single point mentioned here (and I’m surprised and flattered at the same time that there are so many – I love hearing feedback, positive and negative), so I’m just gonna mention a couple things – feel free to email me with your critique at bleeporg@gmail.com! I would love to be able to discuss this on a one-on-one basis.

    When I was writing this article (and another, similar article for another feminist blog), I thought it was self-evident, but apparently not…when I say that girls shouldn’t be cursing, I mean that boys shouldn’t be cursing, too. I don’t think anyone should be cursing, however as this article was written for a feminist blog, I focused on women and their relation to cursing. I certainly do not condone the double standard, but it’s a fact of life that I wanted to mention.

    As for the reclaiming bad words concept, I originally had that in the article and ended up cutting it – I think such an idea is interesting, but personally do not condone it – I’m the anti-cursing girl. I don’t think any bad words should be used. You’re allowed to disagree; I’m not trying to censor anyone.

    Seriously, I mean it – e me at bleeporg@gmail.com!

  • Lee @ at 1:11 pm, March 17th, 2011

    Do you really have to moderate the ways that other people speak?

    Swearing is part of the way I talk, and it has been for a long time. I don’t appreciate the whole “If you use language that I don’t agree with, you are a lesser person than me!”angle you have going on.

    It is rude as hell.

  • Lucy @ at 5:53 pm, June 12th, 2011

    Personally I think the only words that shouldn’t be used are the ones used to marginalize and degrade people of a certain group (the n word, faggot, retard, etc.) Those words are actually offensive and hurtful. But if you think a words like fuck and shit are bad just because they’re “impolite” and “unladylike” then FUCK YOU!

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