In one of my earlier run-ins with authority (though I don’t recall who this authority figure was), I remember being told that swearing wasn’t permissible because it wasn’t lady-like*. I didn’t understand, at the time, what the implications were for being lady-like: though I understood to a certain extent that women and girls could be ladies–meaning a lady was a hyper-femme type of girl or woman–I felt that a lady more or less resembled a Disney princess. To me, that meant not having a lot of choice in their own affairs, being seen by the men in their lives as helpless, and having to wear big poufy dresses.^ Because of this portrayal of girls (all of the Disney princesses apparently being teenagers) I didn’t have any interest in being a lady: I was more content to play with my TMNT action figures, play sports, read books, and investigate nature.
Probably around the same time in my life, I remember being told that swearing was bad because it wasn’t ‘proper’ or ‘polite.’ I didn’t quite understand that rationale, however, because I had heard my parents swear before. I had also heard some swearing on TV: I distinctly remember being about five or six and watching the TMNT live-action film for the first time and hearing Raphael yell “Come back here! I’m not finished with you! DAAAAAAAAAMMMMN!!!” after his first introduction to Casey Jones. My understanding of swearing at that time in my life was that it was something used in moderation to express frustration that could not be done in any other way. I more or less think the same way now.
As I grew up I became more attuned to the meanings of swear words (fuck, for example, being a colloquial term for sex), and accordingly I was permitted more liberties in my vocabulary. Generally I couldn’t direct swear words at anyone, because of the hurt they could cause. I also had to be careful using them on the soccer field, as it was a yellow card-able offence. They were were okay in some moderation, however, like when I had issues remaining vertical or ran into something.
By my late teens I began really thinking about why these words were considered so disdainful, offensive, ‘impolite,’ or ‘not proper.’ I don’t get why saying “shit” or “fuck” is such a big deal. “Shoot” does not have the same liberating feelings as “shit,” in my opinion.
If, for those of us who are trying to disrupt ongoing systems of oppression, why do we have to be ‘polite’ in doing so? What is so ‘proper’ about oppression? Nothing. Nothing is ‘proper’ about oppression. Yet, I’ve been told that, when explaining how cultural appropriation is harmful to those whose cultures are being consumed, swearing myself, or linking to posts and/or articles that do, makes the points I make no longer legitimate.
Furthermore, I don’t get why swearing isn’t a bigger part of academic discourse in the arts/social sciences/humanities. For me, swearing in academic work is a decided, deliberate, act of disruption. Like social justice activist Julie S. Lalonde, swearing, for me, “is a deliberate attempt to disrupt class structures & definitions of ‘politeness’.” So I am going to swear. And I’m going to keep swearing.
A goal I set for myself a few years ago was to have an academic piece of writing published in a journal or a book. I know it can be done, and has been done by others before me. So far in my own work I’ve tested the waters a little bit: I swore in a term paper, and purposefully in conference paper presentation or two. I will do this, it’s a matter of figuring out where these words would have the most disruptive power.
Until those words get published my vocabulary will continue to be littered with swear words, because, quite simply, look at all the fucks I give.
^no no no