How and why do women swear?
Content warning: this article involves the use of excessive explicit language
I love a good sprinkle of shits and fucks just as much as the next guy. Although, it would be more apt to say I love a good sprinkle of expletives just as much as the next female-identifying individual. Since, as it turns out, men and women swear in very different ways, and for very different reasons.
It’s become a bit of an urban legend that people who swear frequently are more intelligent than those that like to wash their mouths out with soap. But it is an urban legend supported by actual fucking evidence, in the form of research undertaken by Dr. Richard Stephens and his team in 2017. I for one seek great comfort in that fact when I try to justify my dirty fucking mouth to my parents and siblings by arguing that it’s because a scientist said I have a higher IQ – which everyone knew was the case along, except now I can back myself up with some proper empirical evidence. For women, those who swear more frequently may not just be smarter, they may also have more emotional intelligence than men and demonstrate an implicit understanding of negotiating feminism, even in our very speech acts.
Social psychology scholar Karyn Stapleton decided to examine the reasons men and women swear, according to self-reported responses (Montell, Wordslut, p. 201). Both sexes use cursing for humour and story-telling, to release anger, to hide vulnerability and to create emphasis. Interestingly, it was women alone who swear because they considered it part of their personality. It was also women alone who reported to swear as a show of intimacy and trust, suggesting something pretty fucked up about the patriarchy. If a woman swears at a man, she comes across as hot-headed, and probably ‘asking for it’. If a woman swears among other women, it is perceived as a symbol of trust, affection and solidarity. This is certainly true for myself; I swear more freely among my female friends because I am less afraid that I will be judged and also less likely to be sexually harassed while I express how fucking angry I am that yet another man stroked my ass.
In fact, women who swear more creatively are leading the charge in our feminist takeover of a patriarchical language (don’t even get me started on the gendered nature of Italian and Spanish). Have you ever noticed that the most obscene curses refer to women’s genitalia? I for one am particularly uncomfortable with using the word c*nt – so uncomfortable that it is the only curse in this entire article which I am choosing to censor. But there’s a whole plethora of female-centric curses that are perceived as some of the most vulgar in the English language. A few others that come to mind are pussy, slut, skank and motherfucker. Notice anything else about those examples? Calling a woman a skank or a slut reduces her identity to her sex life, and asking to suck her pussy or lick her out doesn’t portray the complexity of the vulva, but reduces it to the vessel for a penis. These curses are inherently phallic, and portray women and sex from the perspective of a cisgender male – which seems pretty fucked, if you’ll excuse my shitty French.
Here’s something else that has come to my attention: these more obscene phallic curses tend to be avoided by women. In her novel Wordslut, Amanda Montell argues that women’s avoidance of slurs such as c*nt demonstrates a show of unity and mutual support for other women, which is a good explanation for why I am so very hesitant to describe a woman as a real c*nt, but use it quite freely to describe another c*nty man who tripped, fell onto my tits and happened to accidentally squeeze them in the process.
Montell offers an excellent solution to overcoming this phallic shitfuckery: inventing liberating female curses. A man yells ‘suck my dick’? Try responding with ‘suck my clit’. If it takes ‘balls’ to do something apparently brave, like sexually harass an innocent woman, surely it is much braver for something to take tits? I have certainly enjoyed the empowerment of returning male cat calls with something decidedly yonic. Yonic, by the way, is not a word I invented (which I have been known to do from time to time) but is the female equivalent of phallic. Now why did I even have to Google that? Oh that’s right, probably because the patriarchy controls our use of language to the extent that ‘female-centric’ was the best way I could imagine to describe the opposite of phallic, until I learned there was an actual fucking word for it.
So how about we express our anger towards a language controlled by the fucking patriarchy in the best possible way: with our dirty, skanky mouths as we tell men to suck our fucking clits.