Are you a self-declared pottymouth? Does the word fuck sometimes drop from your mouth unexpectedly when you’re talking to your mom, causing you to have to stop, apologize, and find your groove again? If the answer is yes, you’re my kind of woman, and stop apologizing. (Why woman? Because I have yet to hear a man call himself a pottymouth, or apologize for being one.)
I’m going to argue that all girls should be able to swear when the occasion demands it. A girl needs her armour, and by girl, I mean everyone from a six-year-old to a 96-year-old female person. This is a sometimes hostile world to women. If the #MeToo campaign shows us nothing else, it shows that women experience sexual harassment at work. Further, all women have been exposed to aggressively misogynistic attitudes. If you disagree, please tune into the news for one day.
Why do we teach girls not to swear?
When I was a girl, I learned that it was not ladylike or polite for me to swear. Swearing is offensive. A good girl is a silent girl. If you have to resort to swearing, you’ve proved you’re unworthy. I was fresh meat for the playground, and when I got savaged, I had nothing to say. I spent too many hours inventing great comebacks after the fact, while feeling stupid and frustrated with my weak oh yeahs?
Is that what we want to teach young women?
Swearing is more than cursing – it’s a clear sign that this shit will not be tolerated. When faced with harassment and aggression, shouldn’t a girl be able to verbally defend herself with practice and ease? It takes time to learn the subtleties and nuances of swearing, because it’s the language that means business, sometimes needed during business hours.
Swearing takes time to master. It’s a powerful tool, not fit for every occasion. It’s not right to swear when ordering lunch, or in the normal, ordinary course of events, but I’d highly recommend it if you’re literally fighting off unwanted attention. Get the fuck off me is so much better than Get off me because it feels powerful in a situation when a girl needs all the power she can muster.
Swearing sends a clear message whereas silence can be misread as compliance. A woman who can say fuck off is less likely to be mistaken for a woman saying yes. I have sometimes had to pull out the big gun when attempting to have a quiet drink alone, after my polite no thank yous have had no effect. I can tell you that fuck off is immediately understood (and so effective that it’s often reciprocated with an instant fuck you, too, bitch). I can attest that men understand and value fuckspeak. Why don’t women?
Swearing is raw emotion. There are situations where it is handy to be able to dig deeply into the raw and emotional, and I hear women allow themselves to swear when they are describing something that hits them hard. My fucking asshole husband had an affair. Fuck cancer. I was fucking laid off, after all I did for that fucking company.
Why do we throttle it?
Swearing can be a test of strength. I’ve worked in jobs where the first test I faced was the language of the workplace – the easy who the fuck does he think he is, and the gotta finish this fucking job. A woman needs to understand there is a difference between the casual profanity of the workplace and directed sexual aggression.
Swearing is the language of anger. I’ll argue that it’s healthy for a girl to swear. Where else is the anger going to go? It may go underground and end up as passive aggression or gossip. I spent years of my life reaching for anger and coming up with angry tears. Try to imagine me preparing for an important confrontation, one where I’m going to be negotiating for something very important, and ending up with a snotty Kleenex as my reward. Now imagine me at work. Wouldn’t you want your daughter to do better than a snotty Kleenex?
Swearing can the language of confidence. If you hear a woman complete a successful round of venture capital financing, wouldn’t you expect her to celebrate her win with a fucking A, we fucking did it?!?!
The process of swearing takes time to come to terms with in a physical sense. Most women are simply not versed in calmly engaging in a swearing exchange. My sister and I sometimes tell each other fuck you, bitch as an endearment – a way to say we understand each other right down to the core. A girl needs to learn to say the words and hear the words without major emotional disruption. Some of us are so conflict-averse that if we hear swear words thrown at us, we’ll agree to anything just to make it stop. That has to stop.
A girl who can swear grows into a woman who swears. She may occasionally be considered rude. I’ll take rude over angry, silent, throttled, frustrated, browbeaten, and compliant.