Womens' Words: Should we stop cursing?
Today's guest post comes from high school student Talia Weisberg, creator of Bleep!, an organization dedicated to eradicating the use of foul language by today's youth. Talia created Bleep! at age 14, and today runs its website, blog, and also organizes programs for schools and youth groups.
Janice Dickinson, Sharon Osbourne, and Sarah Silverman have several things in common; one is that they’re all infamous for cursing copiously. While I commend them for having a devil-may-care attitude towards what others will think of them, I find such speech patterns disturbing. In my opinion, cursing is something that should be avoided, and definitely by women, because of the negative effects, religious implications, double standard, and sexist terms.
When you curse, there are many negative effects. It’s commonly accepted that people who use bad words are ignorant, unimaginative, immature, whiny, disrespectful, and offensive. It also shows that you have a bad attitude, lack of control, and little character. When you curse and people around you don’t, you become unpleasant to be with and people may feel uncomfortable around you, which can endanger relationships. Society deems cursing unacceptable, and when you curse, you give off a bad impression. People will apply this bad impression to your family and community. Your community can be any extended group you call yourself a part of, whether it’s your circle of friends or religion.
Judaism is very critical of cursing. As human beings, we have a foot in two worlds: the physical and spiritual. What makes humans different from all-physical animals is the power of speech. “Since speech is a unique ability of humankind and a special gift of God to distinguish humans from animals, it must…never [be used] for degrading purposes,” Rambam says in The Guide for the Perplexed. Speech is one of the biggest strengths we have. However, with every power comes responsibility. We were blessed with the ability to express ourselves, and to abuse such a power is showing God disrespect. An integral part of the Jew’s life is to become closer to God; by cursing, we are anchoring ourselves to the physical world.
Despite the leaps and bounds feminism has taken in the past few decades, the double standard in cursing has not improved significantly. People tend to think even less of women when they curse than they do about men. A couple years ago, when I was in middle school, there was a boy who cursed and never got in trouble, but female friends of mine who cursed would always be scolded.
“As for the double standard about cursing: a man is allowed to blaspheme the world because it belongs to him to damn - but the same curse out of the mouth of a woman…is considered presumptuous, and thus an impropriety or worse,” Orthodox-Jew-turned-radical-feminist Shulamith Firestone says in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Women have to know that when they curse, they’ll be judged more harshly than men are.
There are hundreds of bad words, and dozens are extremely offensive towards women. Words like slut and ho, two of many similar words, refer to sexually promiscuous women. A b***h is a malicious and spiteful woman, and is one of the most common disparaging terms towards women. The beyond-awful c word, reputed as the most offensive English word, refers to female genitalia and is used against women. “It is one of the few remaining words…with a genuine power to shock,” Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, said. When a woman uses such language against a fellow woman, it horrifies me. “I have been called a b***h [by a female] and…it made me really upset,” Levana O. said. “It definitely made me cringe every time [a girl] would hail one of her mates by yelling ‘hey, b***h!’,” Olga M. said. It defeats the purpose of the hard work of women from Rosa Sonneschein to Blu Greenberg to call a fellow girl slut or b***h.
Males use derogatory language towards women to intimidate and perpetuate their oppression over the female population. They usually achieve the desired effect. “Once…a boy…cursed me and I was so dumbfounded…that I…tried to eradicate the scenario from my head!” Rena W. shared. “I felt like dirt [when I was called a slut],” one girl said. “It makes me feel so slight and small,” Ahuva M. admitted.
Some feminists have tried to reclaim the b word, like the gay community has done with the term queer. I respect such efforts, but would not personally forward this attempt. As evidenced by my creation of Bleep!, I greatly dislike cursing, and think that all bad words should be avoided. I discourage both sexes from cursing due to the negative effects (addressed above), and I especially discourage girls from using words like slut, b***h, etc., from a feminist and anti-cursing standpoint. Such words are used to keep women as a subservient class, as inferior beings to men. Why perpetuate such a class system?
Talia Weisberg is a freshman at Manhattan High School for Girls in the heart of New York. She adores writing and has finished five (as of yet unpublished) books.