I’ve heard the argument before that many profane appellations are demeaning toward women and non-average sexualities. Now, after about eighteen years of never using obscenities, I’ve found I rather enjoy them – perhaps more so than if I had used them during that stage of adolescence in which they are used for the sake of being used or to piss off teachers and parents. But it’s recently occurred to me that many profane appellations aren’t completely skewed toward insulting women and homosexual men. Instead, these words and the fact they are discouraged and/or forbidden are far more deprecatory against sex and sexuality in general. (For the record, when I use the words ‘profane’ and ‘obscene,’ these are the descriptors that society at large gives to the words in question.)
Think about it. Cunt, pussy, and boob are all insulting words referring to women’s primary sex characteristics. But then you can turn around and see that there are plenty of insults using male genitalia. “Oh, balls (or bollocks).” “I really cocked that up.” “Don’t be a dick.” “You’re really being a limp dick, you know that?” And for men, you have the double whammy of having your genitals maligned and your masculinity, should you be insulted instead with reference to feminine obscenities. “Don’t be a pussy.” And women, you’ve been insulted because anything involving a woman is automatically insulting towards men, but women don’t get painted with masculine obscenities nearly that often.
But more than that, think of some of the non-genital related obscenities: bastard, son of a bitch, bitch, whore, slut. The women get it mostly on this one, since calling a woman a bitch, whore, or slut insults her but not her presumed partners, but calling a man a bastard or a son of a bitch insults both him and his mother.
And then, think of the four-letter word that censors consider the worst of them all: fuck. How telling is it that in our society, the word for rough and/or animalistic and/or casual sex act is considered the worst obscenity? It suggests that sex, especially sex that is rough, animalistic, or casual is automatically so bad, that just the word to describe it is forbidden. There are other sex words that are considered obscene as well, like bugger and screw and blow – anal sex, a milder word for fucking, and oral. In the case of bugger and blow, that’s probably a hit against homosexuals, but I would also suggest that we look more broadly: it’s a hit against anyone bottoming or submissive – the one being penetrated or the one on his or her knees – which describes most often women and “womanish” homosexual men performing for the so-described “man” in the relationship.
Now, is any of this going to stop me from enjoying all these words? Hell, no. I actually rather enjoy the feel of “bitch,” “fuck,” and “bastard” in my mouth when I’m by myself, or I’ve hurt myself, or when I’m writing. It’s very satisfying to have words that are harsher and more emphatic just by using them. However, I think it’s important to know the cultural context of the words used and why people react the way they do to profanity, or why they get offended, or why they get hurt.
People’s language tells you a lot about the culture in which they reside, and knowing what language is forbidden tells you what that culture is afraid of. The overuse of the words takes away some of the power of the forbidden, but it also loses some of the emphasis when the power matters or when it can be turned on its head. So you know what? I’m going to link you to George Carlin’s Seven Words. Have a bitching day.