I will never forget the time when I was arguing with a guy about something, and I inserted a swear into my remarks. Instead of listening to what I was saying and why I was upset with him, he responded simply, “That’s not very ladylike.” If I hadn’t been shaking with anger before that remark, I certainly was after it. I was furious that he disqualified everything I had to say because I wasn’t acting in a way that fit in with his gender expectations.
Needless to say, this is a person who is no longer in my life. Unfortunately, he is not the only one who thinks women shouldn’t swear. Just back in January, in an interview with ThinkProgress, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee criticized women who swore in the Fox News office. He remarked at how he is used to men swearing in the workplace, and said that, “This would be considered totally inappropriate to say these things in front of a woman. And for a woman to say them in a professional setting, we would only assume that this is is a very, as we would say in the south, ‘That’s just trashy!'”
So according to Huckabee, the only problem with men swearing is that they are doing so in front of women. He must think that our fragile lady parts are just not strong enough to be confronted with such foul language. While men swearing in front of women is simply “inappropriate,” women swearing is a whole different story. A woman who behaves in the same manner as a man is “trashy.” In this universe, a man who swears is simply ignorant of his surroundings, while a woman who swears has no self worth and is reduced to the level of garbage.
This isn’t a conception exclusive to politicians. Women and men celebrities are constantly held to unequal standards when it comes to swearing. Take, for example, a couple of years ago when Bill Nighy came very close to swearing on live TV. Instead of being ridiculed for this, Esquire magazine posted an article in which Nighy lamented over how people don’t swear correctly. Nighy is quoted as saying, “Very few people use the f-word correctly and properly. It’s pronunciation. The insertion of it into a sentence.”
Contrast this to the time Helen Mirren said that being almost 70 (she was 68 at the time) was “f****** awesome.” Here is a woman who has lived a very successful life and is thriving while nearing 70 years old, and she simply wants to celebrate that. Yet she was viciously attacked for these comments. One Daily Mail reporter compared her to an “uneducated trollop.” Similar to Huckabee calling women who swear “trashy,” what Mirren was saying was also completely disqualified and her character was attacked.
The reporter took it a step further and even said, “The sorry era of ‘ladette’ culture has surely shown us that the more society—in some perverse form of sexual equality—encourages young women to behave like oik-ish young men, the less they are treated well by men.” So pretty much, women shouldn’t swear because men don’t like it and so they won’t treat women as well. But remember, it is completely okay for men to swear, as long as they are doing so properly.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many situations in which swearing should not happen. You’ll notice in this article, for example, I haven’t sworn (although I really, really, really wanted to at many points) because it is a context under which swearing would be inappropriate. The key here is that swearing in these situations is inappropriate for people of any gender, not just for women.
I understand now why that guy responded to my swearing with “That’s not very ladylike.” He too is under the impression that women have to fit some sort of preconceived mold that includes being proper and feminine at all times. The problem is that I strongly disagree with the status-quo conceptions of what is proper and feminine. I don’t think there should even be status-quo conceptions of femininity. It is up to me to decide whether my actions are proper—nobody else.
The true resolution to our disagreement was not that I shouldn’t have sworn. It was that the guy shouldn’t have pissed me off in the first place.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.