So, before we get into the meat of this story, here’s apparently what it takes to get a paid gig in the Herald:
- Quote the New York Times
- Quote the Huffington Post responding to the New York Times
- Make some Shelley Bridgeman-esque comments which show you don’t understand the concepts being discussed
- Quote Jezebel responding to the New York Times
- Name-drop Charlie Brooker and Caitlin Moran to establish cool cred
But the matter at hand is of course the overblown, overplayed, overhyped issue of Ladies Swearing. We have to say “ladies”, not “women”, because it emphasises the terrible naughtiness of the bad words.
And that’s only the start of the bingo. One quote says “I may get my bra-burning card revoked for this”, which is secret code for “look at me, boys, I’m not one of those feminists“ but actually, to anyone who knows basic feminist history, just makes you look like a snivelling tryhard. Author Rebecca Kamm nails #3 with this musing:
First of all, isn’t swearing odd? We open our gobs and emit an ultimately arbitrary sound – it should be harmless. Yet what comes out can feel like a slap in the face, splashing dark paint over all the other innocent words.
Shit! The sounds we make with our mouths have meaning assigned to them by others? Meanings which are actually arbitrary? This is amazing! I’m going to call this brand-new concept speech.
But that’s okay, it just proves Rebecca is totally above all that societal stuff, which is why she’s qualified to tell us that actually swearing is gross, but real feminists understand that it’s gross no matter who is doing it.
UNLESS THEY’RE A COOL, CLEVER PERSON LIKE CHARLIE BROOKER OR CAITLIN MORAN OF COURSE.
I mean, I’m not even going there with Caitlin Moran, and will instead refer you to this most excellent parody Twitter account.
But that last little bit there? Pretty much sums up my fucking problem with hand-wringing pearl-clutching discussions of swearing.
It’s classist. It assumes that swearing is something low, dirty, uneducated people do because they don’t know how to express themselves like Proper Gentlefolk. (See also: similar “all I’m saying is I don’t like it” criticisms of non-standard forms of English. Especially those used predominantly by people of colour.)
Oh, but if you’re a clever person, if you’re somebody which has been handed a Cool Edgy Clever Celebrity licence, then saying fuck is totally edgy and radical and thought-provoking and it makes you kind of sexy and dangerous. Because people already know that you’re not a dirty uneducated poor person, so your swearing is ironic.
My swearing is not ironic. I swear because it adds emphasis. (In some contexts, I swear because Mythbusters totally proved it increases pain tolerance.) I swear because I like playing around with words. I definitely swear because it challenges people’s preconceptions about me as a middle-class, varsity-educated white girl from a Good Family.
And I also swear because I’m a fucking New Zealander, and swearing is pretty part-and-parcel of our particular brand of English, and because the people who most often write about how uncouth and vulgar Those Young People are getting are in fucking denial. I’m sorry, people, the Toyota “bugger” ad came out fourteen fucking years ago. No one complained about the “where the bloody hell are you” ad in 2006 because it was dirty, they complained because it was fucking naff (and would have had far better rhythm if they dropped the “bloody”).
Of course, I’d probably swear a lot less if we didn’t have a mainstream media containing items like the Herald, happily publishing columns like this one (and don’t start me on Shelley Bridgeman) which … honestly, I still don’t actually know what Kamm’s point was, or why it couldn’t have been conveyed far more clearly in a tweet.