Women who say “fuck”.

Yep, you might have guessed it: I’m one. Guilty as charged. The scandalous, Anglo-Saxon   “f-word”; dropping the “f-bomb”; “wtf”, etc. The first time I remember hearing it used unself-consciously was at a gay bar in the Valley in Brisbane in the 1970’s. Now why would that be? 

I had been brought up to believe that if you had to use the f-word, you must have a limited range of  vocabulary. People appear to be shocked when you use it but quite often  they use it themselves. Common etiquette assumes it might be OK to occasionally use it amongst friends or family but inappropriate in public or formal events. These rules can be broken (& frequently are) by men but not very well accepted if you are a woman. Hang on a minute – what the….? Why not? 

Recently I attended an excellent blogging workshop taught by Chrys Stevenson at the Sound Bytes literary festival in the Sunshine Coast hinterland township of Cooroy. At the beginning of the session, Chrys announced that she says “fuck” & asked who would be offended. For a moment we students looked around at each other, then roared with laughter. Nobody was offended. We were all women, except for one man, a volunteer sitting in at the beginning. So why was no one shocked? This was, after all,  a semi-formal, pre-booked event  attended by people who were mostly strangers to each other. 

Chrys told us that she never used to write the f-word in formal articles submitted for publication or posts on public sites, etc. One day, however, Chris explained, try as she might, there was no synonym that could convey precisely what she wanted to say. No other word seemed to fit the sentence & in fact, the synonyms seemed wishy-washy. Under such circumstances, it actually was more appropriate to use “fuck”. 

We all know the wimpy substitutes: firetruck, fig, fruit, etc. Yeah, I know – wimpy. They just don’t cut it when you are writing an emotive piece on a topic about which one is passionate. That notwithstanding, why is the f-bomb’s use tolerated when uttered  by men but elicits “tut-tuts” when expressed by women? I am sure you have all heard hushed responses to women who swear along the lines of  “that foul-mouthed woman” or “she talks like a fish-wife” etc. 

When I was studying for post-grad qualifications in linguistics nearly 20 years ago, I submitted a paper on taboo language. The research by eminent socio-linguists revealed that most girls are brought up to be “nice” & to ” speak like a lady” so as to move up the social ladder & mix in better circles of similarly “nice” people. This tenet was, however, erroneous when analyzed. In fact, women who were at the top of the social ladder, especially if they held senior positions of power in their respective professions or society, were noted to swear much more than women from less educated, lower income backgrounds. The conclusion was that having the confidence to use the f-word without care for the apparent consequences indicated high status.

By extension of this argument it is interesting when one looks at the superior status that men assume in our society. They can get away with saying “fuck”. Men, who automatically consider themselves to already be top-dog, swear at the drop of a hat. Confident, high-status women also feel free to use the word, but it is the listener who is shocked & offended because they are not expecting a woman to hold such a position of power. 

Is this yet another example of inequality still prevalent in our society? She swears so she must be equal to men – ouch! Of course, the gratuitous over-use of “fuck” can have an adverse reaction regardless of whether it is uttered by men or women.”

“F-off”, “f-you”, etc, are, unlike the adjectival use expressed to punctuate or draw attention to something important, are words of anger & abuse. Any word uttered  to abuse another person is unacceptable.Abusive language, especially used in relationships, is commonly used by men.  I want to make it quite clear that this is not the usage I am discussing. 

As Chrys explained, it is best used to effect when the synonyms fail to punctuate what you are trying to express.  


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