Noah Brand has a few choice words for the sexist stereotypes surrounding a few choice words.
A private Catholic school in New Jersey has drawn controversy for a “civility campaign” wherein girls—and only girls—are asked to take a no-cursing pledge. School administration is quite open about the one-sided nature of this policy, stating “We want ladies to act like ladies.”
I don’t want to pick on one small school as the epitome of human evil or anything, but I have a particular interest in swearing, and I can confidently say that this incident is symptomatic of a larger problem. It’s based on cheesy old sexist stereotypes, and as usual with those, it’s got two sides and they both suck.
First and most obviously, this is some serious bullshit about girls. It’s yet another way women’s voices are silenced, before they even become women. They get taught, quite literally, that because they are female, there are things they can’t say, ideas they can’t express, language they are not allowed access to. They get a nice little box labeled “Ladies” that they have to cram themselves into, regardless of whether it’s a good fit. And sure, it is a good fit for some folks. Size 8 shoes are a good fit for some folks, but if you make them mandatory for a whole gender, you’re going to have problems.
And speaking of dumb, limiting, ugly, harmful gender stereotypes, let’s look at what this says about boys and men. Because that’s the other side of this coin: boys are exempt from “civility”. Boys are expected to swear, because they’re intrinsically unrefined and dirty and gross, a stereotype promulgated by every form of media, all day. This ties in with the domestication narrative, the idea that men are naturally uncivilized and it’s women’s job to civilize them and, of course, clean up after them. It’s also a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course. Tell a kid every day that they’re supposed to be gross, stupid, and uncouth, and sooner or later they’re just going to take your word for it.
So yes, this bullshit swearing policy is just one school, but it’s a clear example of a problem that runs deeper and wider than that, one of those paired stereotypes that warps people’s minds in subtle ways, that goes unexamined because people vaguely accept it as “just the way things are.”
As my dear departed mother would have said, fuck that noise.